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As temperatures rise, the sound of animals returning to the St. Croix Valley will soon fill the air. (Submitted photo)

It is never a secret when my son and I go for a walk. You can hear us coming from at least a block away. I’m usually singing because I consider myself to be either Julie Andrews or June Carter, depending on the day. Charlie is tripping along behind me in oversized boots replacing all of my words with cats or some similar nonsense. We talk to animals we see along the way, and not in sweet soothing tones like Snow White. Instead, we yell at the top of our lungs, “Hey squirrel! How are you today?”

This past weekend was absolutely gorgeous. The balmy 45° weather was like a giant box of sugar-glazed donuts after four months of nothing but kale. Charlie and I took the dogs for a walk and didn’t come home for more than two hours. We spent at least 30 minutes of that time talking with a group of chickadees and pewees in the wood at the top of the ravine. “Peee-weee,” they said to us. “Chick-a-dee-dee-dee,” we replied.

Someday soon, the snow will finish melting, the trees will begin to turn green, and Minnesotans of all colors, shapes and sizes will begin dreaming of gardens and spring. This year, for the first time ever, the State of Minnesota is offering funding to residents to plant flowers, shrubs and trees that support pollinator species. The $350 grants will be administered through the Board of Water and Soil Resources (BWSR) and are intended to help people plant native gardens, flowering trees and shrubs, bee lawns, and pollinator meadows. The goal is to protect the newly named state bee – the Rusty Patched Bumblebee – as well as 449 other native bee species, 145 species of butterflies (including Monarchs), and countless other moths, beetles, hummingbirds and flies that pollinate our flowers, fruit and trees. Apply for funding at bluethumb.org.

In addition to state grants, many local entities also provide incentive grants for planting projects that protect water and wildlife. Within Washington County, Watershed Districts and the Middle St. Croix WMO offer grants ranging in size from $500 to $2500 for raingardens, native shoreline and streambank plantings, and conversion of turf to prairie or alternative lawns. City of Oak Park Heights is debuting a “micro-grant” program this year, which will provide city residents with reimbursement, up to $250, for pollinator gardens as well. As a complement to these grants, Washington Conservation District conducts free on-site visits for county residents to help identify potential projects and grants, give advice, and develop planting plans. Sign up online at mnwcd.org to request a site visit, beginning in April.

This spring, East Metro Water Resource Education Program will also team up with Blue Thumb – Planting for Clean Water to conduct workshops around the area. Planting for Pollinator workshops will be offered in Marine on St. Croix (Mar 19), North St. Paul (Mar 25), Woodbury (Apr 7), Stillwater (Apr 28), Mahtomedi (May 4), and Afton/Lakeland (May TBD)(all workshops are 6-8 p.m.). Landscaping for Wildlife will be offered in Hugo/Forest Lake on Apr 23, 6:30-7:30 p.m. During these workshops, staff from Blue Thumb and the Washington Conservation District will recommend the best species to plant to attract pollinators and birds to your yard, and will provide how-to instructions for removing existing turf, planting raingarden and shoreline areas, and maintaining native gardens. Learn more and register at

mnwcd.org/events.

In addition, Pollinator Friendly Alliance will give presentations at the Stillwater Library on May 16, 10:30am and Hardwood Creek Library on May 27, 6:30-7:30pm. Learn more at www.pollinatorfriendly.org/events.

DIY resources are also available online at bluethumb.org and

bwsr.state.mn.us/L2L.

The hills will soon be alive with the sound of music, and with luck, your yard will also be filled with the songs of birds and bees. Say hi to the birds when they arrive, and tell them that I said “pee-wee!”

Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water, a local government partnership with 25 members - www.mnwcd.org/emwrep. Contact her at 651-330-8220 x.35 or angie.hong@mnwcd.org.

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