Coldwater Crew Wins Hartzog Award!

By Anna Waugh and Kathy Swenson

Congratulations to the Coldwater Crew, winners of the 2013 Midwest region Hartzog Award! In 1970, the Volunteers-In-Parks program started with a few hundred volunteers. Today, more than 220,000 VIPs donate their time, skills, and talents to the National Park Service every year. The George and Helen Hartzog Awards for Outstanding Volunteer Service recognize the exemplary contributions of these very important people. This year, the Midwest regional award goes to our very own Coldwater Crew.

Crew Leader Jim hauls buckthorn brush

On a cool day in June 2012, volunteer Crew Leader Jim Stensvold met with us to propose the idea of trained volunteers leading other volunteers in habitat restoration.  Kinnell Tackett, another volunteer Crew Leader jumped on board and the Coldwater Crew was born! As a partnership park, the Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has owned little land, primarily inaccessible islands, until recently when they acquired 29 acres of land at Coldwater Spring. This site, occupied by abandoned derelict buildings, was to be restored as an oak savannah and prairie. As the buildings were coming down, the Coldwater Crew moved into action beginning with buckthorn removal around a 3.5 acre grove of oak trees. One group met every Thursday morning while another met one night a week. By the time the site opened to the public in fall 2012, the oak grove was buckthorn free. As trees were planted on the site, watering the trees became a high priority. The only source of water is the spring the site is named after. Today, just one year after opening to the public, Coldwater Spring is a beautiful developing oak savannah and prairie – and it couldn’t have happened without the crew.

Between June 2012 and September 2013, Jim and Kinnell led 63 Coldwater Crew restoration events attended by 95 individuals, many attending multiple times. For most attendees this was their first exposure to park. It speaks to the Coldwater Crew’s dedication that many who were new not only attended multiple times the first year, but came back again the next year. Using the cash value of volunteer time, the Coldwater Crew provided 924 hours of service worth $20,457 or the equivalent of a seasonal employee.

Coldwater Crew members at National Public Lands Day

In the Coldwater Crew's first year, so much buckthorn was removed that the chipped buckthorn filled 13 semi-trucks! The following year, the group prepared the site for future tree and shrub plantings, removed additional buckthorn, and watered, watered, watered keeping alive nearly 500 newly planted trees and over 1,200 plants and shrubs during drought conditions. The regular participants have also become very knowledgeable about the park and Coldwater Spring’s history. Coldwater Crew often shares their knowledge with park visitors.

The long-term commitment of the Coldwater Crew to their work is inspiring. Week after week, month after month, the Coldwater Crew comes ready to work. Whether the group is 2 people or 15, the productivity and attention to safety and detail is remarkable. Projects that park staff thought might last a couple weeks were finished in half that time with all work performed top-notch. Members of the Crew had a strong desire to introduce others to this volunteer opportunity, encouraging co-workers, neighbors and family to join. This group is also exceptional in that they come from such a variety of backgrounds, from college students to retirees, and from those with full-time jobs to those looking for work. When new people show up for their first day, the rest of the crew welcomes them and often they end up returning. This is why the group keeps growing!

If you’d like to join the Coldwater Crew, please contact Anna Waugh at awaugh@missriverfund.org. The crew will start its 2014 season in the second week of May.

Thank you to REI for their support of the Coldwater Crew. Congratulations to everyone who participated in the Coldwater Crew in 2013!

Coldwater Spring house