Dave may not be your stereotypical tree-hugger. He doesn’t drive a Prius or sport a pony-tail. He drives a Chevy pick-up and often wears deer hunter orange. He worked a union job as a mechanic and
machinist at a car dealership and raised a family with his wife Donna. He served in the army during the Vietnam War. He grew up in rural Minnesota putting himself through trade school while working at Hugo Feed
Mill. Now in retirement, he’s a driving force behind a community effort to create one of the most successful nature preserves in the Twin Cities metro area – Southwood Nature Preserve in North St. Paul. Dave and his family have a life-long love of nature and Southwood Nature Preserve is an expression of that love.
In 2007 Dave and his daughter Carrie, a field biologist with U.S. Fisher and Wildlife, walked through what was then Southwood Park. Buckthorn dominated the forest understory. Giant knotweed and reed canary grass choked the pond. A confusing web of unofficial trails burdened the ecosystem. However, Carrie told her Dad that Southwood was a potential “gold mine.” From that point on, Dave started mining.
Four years later Southwood is transformed. A one acre oak savanna with wildflowers replaced an old dump site for a roofing company. A spacious viewing platform overlooks the pond with blue wing teal, green herons, great herons egrets, mallards and occasionally a bald eagle. Great horned owls, bluebirds, Wood ducks and bats use their newly constructed homes. Deer and wild turkeys wander through. New signs are up and will soon provide wildlife education.
Southwood also draws people: classes from Cowern elementary school across the street; cross-country runners and skiers, dog walkers who get free doggie
bags and who must keep their dogs on leash. Steve Johnson a retired teacher holds classes on bird watching for the Audubon Society along with bug classes from time to time.
Southwood has been a lot of hard work. Dave, Donna, city workers, and volunteers galore have done one project after another. It started with a major buckthorn pull for which Dave designed and welded eight buckthorn wrenches. North Haven Church, Boy Scout troop 188 and North St. Paul High Jr. ROTC pitched in. The City, at Dave’s urging, even hired a crew from the local workhouse.
After the buckthorn removal, garlic mustard took off. When the garlic mustard was almost ready to go to seed, Dave recruited an “emergency crew” from the North St. Paul chapter of the Jr. ROTC to pull garlic mustard on a rainy Saturday. Seven people including Dave and Donna have done “capstone” projects for their certification as Minnesota Master Naturalists. (Now, Dave is president of the North Metro Chapter of the Minnesota Master Naturalists.) Park Commissioner Dave Andren helped design and construct the viewing platform along with other volunteers). Two scouts provided many hours of labor to the nature preserve earning their Eagle Scout badge.
Dave has also sought broader community and political support for the preserve and for stronger environmental protection more generally. He has gone door-to-door recruiting volunteers and donors. He handcrafted more than seventeen gavels made from buckthorn. The buckthorn gavels can only be earned with a $200 contribution to a Southwood Preserve fund or as recognition for significant work for the environment.
If you go to Southwood Nature Preserve on a spring, summer, or fall day
you likely will find Dave and Donna working on something. If you do, be sure to interrupt them. There is only one thing Dave likes better than working at Southwood and that’s talking to visitors about Southwood.