Enlisting Volunteers to Bridge Shoreline Restoration Gaps

By Karen Terry, Associate Extension Professor

Itasca Waters, a non-profit group in northeastern Minnesota, is building a program with the long-term goal of having healthier shorelines on -- and cleaner water in -- Itasca County’s 457 lakes. To achieve that goal, people will need to change the way they manage their lakefront properties: shorelines restored to native vegetation, surface water runoff redirected away from the lake, septic systems upgraded to meet modern-day standards, smaller lawns and no fertilizers. These are not new ideas … but it’s been hard to implement change on a large scale. How does Itasca Waters plan to get it done?

First, they hired the University of Minnesota’s Center for Small Towns to conduct a survey of lakeshore property owners. What they learned is that almost everyone agreed that water quality was important or very important, and most of them felt like they (the property owners) were, at least in part, responsible for protecting water quality. Over half of those respondents said that they would like more information about how to reduce their property’s impact on the water quality of their lake. Specifically, nearly half of the survey takers believed that planting native plants on their shoreline would improve water quality, but only 22% had actually planted any native species.


Native flowers and grasses are often included in restored shoreline plantings. Photo credit: Karen Terry

Based on the survey results and subsequent discussions, Itasca Waters identified that one of the barriers to property owners implementing beneficial landscaping practices was a lack of information and not knowing where to obtain that information, and from there the Shoreland Advisors Program was born. The Shoreland Advisors are a corps of volunteers who will meet one-on-one with any landowner who contacts Itasca Waters requesting a visit. The volunteers come from all walks of life and range from those who are already very knowledgeable about shoreland management to those who are interested in helping but not yet equipped with the tools and knowledge to sufficiently address questions from landowners. Itasca Waters reached out to Extension’s Water Resources Team to provide training and resources for those who need it.

The training has been divided into two tiers, with the initial offerings happening this spring. This will include two workshops, a webinar, and the creation of a notebook of resources for the volunteers to take in the field with them. The first workshop will be Shoreland Property Management for Water Quality 101, and it will cover the basics of how landscaping decisions affect water resources. This will address concepts and topics such as impervious surfaces, grading, rain gardens, shoreline buffers, water-friendly lawn care. The second workshop will take the volunteers outside to visit properties (restored and not yet restored) and allow them to go to sites that are similar to those that they might be asked to visit as volunteers. Landscaping practices (both good and not-so-good) will be discussed, and the volunteers will have the opportunity to practice interacting with landowners in a mock roll-playing exercise.

Later in the summer, a webinar will be offered for volunteers to learn about the Department of Natural Resources’ Restore Your Shore tool that was developed to allow users to assess features on a property and come up with a ‘score.’ Over time, the property owner can make changes and improve their score. This tool will be useful for Shoreland Advisors to use with the landowners as a way to identify what areas most need improvement.

Extension will also create and assemble a series of factsheets, locally-relevant maps, and other key resources into a notebook for volunteers to use on visits. This resource will be available electronically and as hard copy.

The second tier of training, which will likely happen in 2020, will be more in-depth, including hands-on workshops such as planting and maintaining rain gardens and shoreline buffers. All of the training is optional and offered by Itasca Waters at no cost to the volunteers. The goal is to have at least 20 volunteers trained and ready to start making site visits in June.

Resources and links:


Itasca Waters: http://itascawaters.org/

Itasca County Shoreland Guide to Lake Stewardship: http://itascawaters.org/shoreland-guide-2018

Score Your Shore: https://www.dnr.state.mn.us/scoreyourshore/index.html