Sustainability Thread: Climate Conversations

By: Rachel Van Vlaenderen

November 05, 2018

Category: Sustainability

The Sustainability Thread series discusses environmental stewardship, a thread the Park District is bound to (it’s the core of our mission). We hope to inspire you to take simple actions to be gentler to the earth.

With more than 27,000 acres of land, visitors and staff see changes every day in our parks and on our trails. Much of what our staff has noticed has been a transformation in our weather and climate. 

Weather versus Climate

Weather is “now” and changes are from day to day. Imagine you are walking a dog. Think of the dog walking back and forth, sniffing around on either side of a sidewalk. The path the dog is taking is representative of weather. Sunny or cloudy, clear skies or rain — sometimes you see all weather conditions in one day! 

Climate is the trending weather pattern over time. The pattern you leave while walking the dog is representative of climate. A human walking a dog is typically walking straight down a sidewalk.

When the Extreme Becomes the Trend

Severe weather is often a first indicator of a changing climate. The difference between one bad weather event and what has been documented is that these extreme weather patterns are becoming trends.

For example, Minnesota DNR has noted that extreme rainfall events have seen a dramatic increase since 2002, while “famous” winter storms have greatly decreased since 1990. 

Research shows that local climate has been impacted over time. Projections tell us that if no action is taken, we could be looking at dramatic winters, extreme rainfalls, and more major weather events than ever before. Explore this climate toolkit for a more in-depth look at these changes.

Changes We Are Seeing

Changes locally have impacted Three Rivers parks and trails in multiple ways. Here are some of the changes we are seeing:

  • Significant rainfall in 2014 caused mudslides and washed out a section of Minnesota River Bluff Regional Trail. This portion of trail is still closed today.
  • Gale Woods Farm experiences a longer growing season and weather patterns that impact the plants they grow and pests they encounter.
  • Erratic snow patterns and warmer winter nights are decreasing the number of days with enough natural snow for skiing, sledding, snowshoeing and more. Natural snow Nordic ski trails at Elm Creek Park Reserve have been open an average of 19 days less in the last decade than in the 1990s, making us more dependent on manufactured snow for a reliable season at downhill and Nordic ski areas.
  • Milder winter temperatures have not killed off ticks, Japanese beetles, emerald ash borers, zebra mussels, and other pests.

Join the Climate Conversation

It is important to start a conversation about these changes and why they are occurring. Having these conversations now will help protect your parks, trails and community for the future.

What changes are you seeing in our local climate? Get curious about why these changes are occurring and start discussing with others about steps towards a more sustainable future. Share stories with staff when you visit the parks, online with the hashtag #ClimateConversations, and with others in your community at an upcoming Climate Conversations event.

Climate Conversations are events hosted by Three Rivers and Climate Generation. Local community members will share their stories and experiences, discuss how they are dealing with these changes in their daily lives, and more. Each conversation is uniquely tailored to the community and hands-on break-out sessions provide opportunities to dive deeper into concepts and solutions.  

Events in this series are free, and reservations are required. Catch one or all:

November 14, 2018 at Gale Woods Farm 
February 16, 2019 at Silverwood Park
November 7, 2019 at Hyland Hills Ski Area
March 2020 at Eastman Nature Center

About the Author

Rachel Van Vlaenderen is the Division Coordinator for the Outdoor Recreation, Education, and Natural Resources Management Division at Three Rivers. She’s been with the Park District in various roles since 2014. She’s a proud University of Minnesota Gopher with a Bachelor of Science in Recreation, Park, and Leisure Studies and minor in Outdoor Recreation and Education. Outside of Three Rivers, Rachel spends time tending to her garden and six chickens who are known as “The Bettys”. She enjoys hiking and exploring nature by the Minnesota River with her dog, cuddling with her cats, and dancing in the kitchen while making (delicious) meals with her husband. 


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