Become a Vermillion Steward

What's this? Hastings High School students discover some interesting trash, and learned about macroinvertebrates (stream dwelling bugs) and water quality in the Vermilliion River in the process.

A Treasure at Risk

As the nation’'s last remaining world-class trophy trout stream in a metropolitan area, the Vermillion River is a unique resource flowing through Scott, Dakota and Goodhue Counties. While providing vital wildlife habitat, scenic beauty and recreational opportunities such as kayaking, the Vermillion is also a major Mississippi River tributary and directly feeds drinking water wells in Hastings.

Unfortunately, pollution from failing septic systems, stormwater runoff and agricultural pesticides and fertilizers have impaired the Vermillion's waters. With the population of Dakota County set to double in the next 30 years, the Vermillion River and its watershed need help to remain a valuable source of clean water, wildlife habitat and community recreation.

This is where the Vermillion Stewards project comes in.

About the Vermillion Stewards

The Vermillion Stewards are neighbors, groups and committed citizens from throughout the Vermillion watershed who come together to learn about and help this important, local prairie river and its watershed.

Anyone who cares about their local waters is welcome to join, simply email FMR's volunteer coordinator to be added to the Vermillion Stewards email list. You'll receive notices of upcoming Vermillion Stewards events and activities, most of which are free and take place weekday evenings or Saturday mornings, providing an easy, convenient way to help our local waters and wildlife.

Vermillion Stewards activities include:
• Litter clean-ups
• Bird hikes
• Invasive species identification and removals
• Wildflower walks
• Native plantings
• Prairie seed collections
• Watershed-friendly gardening programs
• An annual trout survey open to all current Vermillion Stewards volunteers
• Additional private outings for local school and corporate groups

Most events are two to three hours in length and are featured in the Vermillion Stewards emails, as well as listed on the full FMR events calendar. It usually just takes an email to sign. FMR stewardship staff strive to keep things as easy and simple as possible to make the most of your time. According to our annual surveys, Vermillion Stewards not only greatly enjoy their volunteer and educational experiences, but make river-frienly changes in their own backyards -- such as planting native species with deep pollution-filtering roots and installing rain barrels -- sharing their knowledge with friends and family. 

Oh, and we also try to take photos at every event and send them to participants. Check out our Vermillion Stewards event albums

Read on to find out more about:
Who can be a Vermillion Steward
How Vermillion Stewards stay connected
Where Vermillion Stewards activities take place
Vermillion Stewards partners and funders

Anyone can join  

The majority of Vermillion Stewards are individuals and families who want to make a difference and contribute to the health and well-being of the local lands and waters. We also work with and encourage smaller groups, of 15 or fewer, to participate. If you are wondering which events are a good fit for you or your group, contact FMR Volunteer Coordinator Amy Kilgore to find out more.

Occasionally, we are able to work with large groups — companies, organizations, churches, etc. — who would like to do a Vermillion Stewards project. If you are part of a larger group, the two to three annual clean-ups are a perfect fit, and/or we may be able to plug you into an upcoming event. Contact the FMR volunteer coordinator to find out more.

We greatly encourage and appreciate neighbors’ involvement and dedication and also welcome groups and individuals from beyond the immediate area interested in preserving this ecological treasure. Students and others with service hours are also most welcome, simply sign up as an individual and bring any required paperwork (or use ours) to the event. 

How we stay connected

Being a Vermillion Steward means actively caring for the well being of the Vermillion River and its watershed. For some, that means coming to a litter pick-up once a year and once a year only, but for others it means being part of a larger community that shares a deep appreciation of the river and commitment to its care.

Everyone who attends a Vermillion Stewards event and provides an e-mail address is automatically added to the Vermillion Stewards e-mail list. Anyone interested in future Vermillion stewardship events is encouraged to join. We keep emails to a minimum, roughly six to eight a year. 

For those seeking to stay connected on a more regular basis, we suggest our twice monthly e-newsletter, Mississippi Messages. The first monthly issue features a calendar of upcoming Vermillion Stewards and other Friends of the Mississippi River events. 

Where Vermillion Stewards activities take place

Generally speaking, Vermillion Stewards activities include many different types of activities throughout the watershed, including many hikes, talks and other events.

However, habitat restoration efforts are concentrated on select locations, each with a larger restoration plan in effect. Volunteer events are part of these larger plans. For example, volunteers may remove invasive species at a summer outing, other volunteers may plant native species at that location in the fall, and then the following spring or summer there will be another event where volunteers tend to the plantings and help maintain the area. This way, volunteers enjoy a short-term commitment but can rest assured their work is never wasted, and can also return to the same area to see the fruits of their labor.

Some annual Vermillion Stewards sites and events include:

  • Annual spring clean-ups are Rambling River Park in Farmington and spring and fall clean-ups are held at CP Adams Park in Hastings. Both of these large parks are within their respective cities, but feature high-quality natural areas including the Vermillion River and lakes and wetlands that feed it.
  • The Hastings River Flats, near downtown Hastings. First used for cropland and agriculture, then as a petroleum storage tank site, Hastings River Flats is now the largest park in the city renown for both its bird habitat and bird-watching as part of the globally significant Mississippi River bird migration corridor.
  • The Sand Coulee Scientific and Natural Area, Marshan Township (just south of Hastings). Home to 13 rare plant and animal species, FMR helped this gem of the Vermillion watershed earn SNA or Scientific and Natural Area status from the Department of Natural Resources — affording it the highest level of protection in the state. The site is home to pussytoes, prairie smoke, and blue-eyed grass to name just a few native plant species that are so important for the health of the watershed and local wildlife. For more on this unique site, visit our pages on the coulee's designation as an SNA, the 2008 restoration season, or download a handout on this special place (not recommended for dial-up).

Please note: Detailed directions and just-for-volunteers map links to event meeting spots are emailed to event registrants in confirmation and reminder emails.

Partnership is key

The Vermillion River Watershed Joint Powers Organization is the primary Vermillion Stewards partner and funder. Additional major funding is provided by the Minnesota Environment and Natural Resources Trust Fund and the Outdoor Heritage Fund as appropriated by the Minnesota State Legislature, Pentair Foundation and Edith H. Hahn Animal and Wildlife Preservation Fund of InFaith Community Foundation.

Friends of the Mississippi River currently works in partnership with the following groups to make the Vermillion Stewards project a success:
• The cities of Hastings, Farmington and Rosemount
• Minnesota Department of Natural Resources 
• The National Park Service, Mississippi National River and Recreation Area
• Bluethumb, Planting for Clean Water
• Coca Cola
• Dakota County Soil and Water Conservation District
• Local high schools in Hastings, thanks to teacher Joe Beattie, and Rosemount, thanks to teacher Veda Kanitz
• Carpenter Nature Center
• Hastings Environmental Protectors
• Lakeville Friends of the Environment
• Dakote County Parks
• Dakota County Technical and Community College, thanks to Professor Dan Stinnet
• and many church, school, 4-H, scout and other community groups who help get the word out about Vermillion Stewards events