Since moving to Rochester a couple of years ago, Whitewater State Park in Southeast Minnesota (between Rochester and Winona), has quickly become one of my favorite places in the state and I know I’m not alone in feeling this way; with nearly 350,000 visits per year, it’s among the most popular state parks in Minnesota. The crystal-clear water of Trout Run Creek and the fact that no matter where you go in the park, you’re never far from the beautiful, flowing Whitewater River and views of the spectacular bluffs that surround it, make it an unexpected, hidden haven in the middle of what is otherwise a largely agricultural landscape.
I’ve always said that my job with Conservation Minnesota is perfect because it combines my organizing skills with my passion for the outdoors. But, even though I have no trouble gushing to others about how much I love my work, sometimes with all of the issues we work on, I forget to connect all of the dots in my own head. Last week, I was out at Whitewater working on my fly casting and appreciating the simultaneous frustration and excitement of being able to see the trout – that aren’t biting – because the water is so clear. I actually get to watch them pass on whatever fly I’m throwing. “This is amazing”, I thought. But then I started wondering, “Have I been doing enough to protect this fragile place? I’ve been focusing a lot on renewable energy a lot this past year, but what does that have to do with these streams?”
For all of the work Conservation Minnesota and similar organizations do to protect water quality, promote clean energy and encourage conscientious stewardship, ultimately it’s community leaders who need to take ownership of the potential threats to their local environment and come up with plans to address them.
That’s why I was so encouraged a few weeks ago when Rochester Mayor Ardell Brede issued a proclamation calling for Rochester to be fueled 100% by renewable energy by the year 2031.
It might sound unrelated to the streams and the fish—after all, Rochester is 30 minutes away and it’s just one town. But, it’s actually hugely impactful. From a scientific standpoint, his proclamation addresses the problem of mercury in our water—an issue caused primarily by emissions from coal plants that can make fish toxic and unsuitable for human or animal consumption. But, it also sends a strong message to his community and the state that Rochester is moving forward and doing so with a commitment to being an example in the region.
The cities in southern Minnesota might not seem large compared to the Twin Cities, but they still offer their own carbon footprints and the decisions they make have a ripple-effect on smaller surrounding towns. When Rochester, Winona, or Mankato make bold decisions, it sends a message to the other communities that rely on them for jobs and economic stability and Mayor Brede’s proclamation will do just that. Now, going forward, conversations about transit and growth will be looked at regionally through the lens of clean energy and that will make a difference outside of Rochester, too. To me, it’s hope for the future of a beloved natural refuge and pride in the community in which I live and will raise a family. I’ll continue to work across the southern part of the state, advocating for renewable energy and good environmental policy, identifying and supporting strong champions like Mayor Brede and reminding myself that the magnitude of the task ahead can seem daunting, but that with every bold action, the seed is planted for a dozen more.