About The Wandering Naturalist

The Wandering Naturalist podcast explores the natural and cultural history of the 27,000-acre Three Rivers Park District and the surrounding Twin Cities area. Hosted by Brandon Baker, an interpretive naturalist at Eastman Nature Center, and Wildlife Biologist Angela Grill, the podcast covers a new topic each month. Baker and Grill discuss the basic science and biology of each month’s topic and interview expert guests for a lively and in-depth conversation on how natural and cultural history shapes and impacts the parks of today and their surrounding communities.

Join us as we wander from park to park and discuss the stories of the past, the nature in our present, and how they have shaped our parks. Come explore with us!

The Wandering Naturalist podcast has been honored with a Media Award from the National Association for Interpretation. Learn more about the award.

October 2021: Fear of Nature

Episode 102 — Removed from Nature, A Real Fear: A Historical Perspective

Bill Walker, Historical Programs Supervisor, joins us to give a European historical perspective on fear of nature. Why did early American settlers fear the wilderness? Was Henry David Thoreau talking about wilderness at Walden's Pond, or something else? How did Manifest Destiny play into American's fear of nature? 

Episode 103 — Removed from Nature, A Real Fear: Fear in Our Parks?

John Moriarty, Senior Wildlife Manager, talks to us about whether we have anything to fear in our parks. We discuss what, if any, animals pose threats to us in Three Rivers Parks; how perceived lack of control makes humans pretty bad at judging potential threats; and steps you can take in our parks to remain safe.

Episode 104 — Removed from Nature, A Real Fear: The Only Thing to Fear is… Yourself?

Grant Armour, Recreation Program Specialist from our Outdoor Recreation School, talks to us about how the greatest threat in nature is ourselves. Grant discusses the importance of knowing your boundaries and recognizing when you are in a growth state or panic state when trying recreational activities. He gives tips on how to evaluate activities in nature to make sure you are safe and prepared.

September 2021: Trees

Episode 99 — Fall Colors to Spring Buds: What's Happening?

Join Angela and Brandon as they discover what trees do in the winter. Learn what causes fall colors, how trees produce the colors, and what goes on inside trees before they start growing in the spring.

Episode 100 — Fall Colors to Spring Buds: The Tree Nursery

Hear from Shawn Howard, Nursery Operations Supervisor, and Paul Kortebein, Senior Manager of Horticulture and Forestry, as they discuss how Three Rivers raises and plants thousands of native trees and shrubs each year. Learn about the challenges of starting a native nursery back in 1970 and how it is still helping to restore forests in all of our parks.

Episode 101 — Fall Colors to Spring Buds: Maples and Climate Change

Dr. Rachel Putnam joins us to talk about how climate change is impacting forests in North America. Hear about her own research on how different sugar maple populations may adapt to climate change.

Want to learn more about trees? Check out past blog posts on why trees change color in the fall and why some keep their leaves in the winter.

August 2021: Mussels

Episode 96 — Mussels Matter: What Is A Mussel?

Alan Holzer from Mississippi Gateway Regional Park joins us to talk about what mussels are, their unique life story and survival strategies, and why mussels are now one of the most endangered groups of animals.

Episode 97 — Mussels Matter: Restoring Mussels

Hear from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and a Clemson University graduate student about their studies of mussels. Learn how they are affected by humans and what successes they have had restoring some species, including endangered ones.

Episode 98 — Mussels Matter: A Trip To The Zoo

Liz Gilles from the Minnesota Zoo discusses the zoo's Show Us Your Mussels Challenge. Learn about the work the zoo is doing to educate people about mussels and what research is being done to figure out how to reintroduce mussels.

July 2021: The Crow River

Episode 93 — The Rivers That Shape Us: The Crow — Keeping it Clean

In this episode, we explore the third river in Three Rivers: the Crow River. Dan Nadeu from Wright Soil and Water Conservation District explains why the Crow River used to be called "the armpit of the Mississippi" and how the partnering with farmers in the area is crucial to improving the river's water quality.

Episode 94 — The Rivers That Shape Us: The Crow — Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program

Brad Redlin, manager of the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program, shares more about the team effort between the Department of Agriculture and farmers to improve water quality in Minnesota. Learn how water quality certification works and how it leads to more sustainable farming.

Episode 95 — The Rivers That Shape Us: The Crow — A Farmers Perspective

Jerry Jennissen's farmland includes the ditch that is the official start of the Crow River. Any action he takes on his farm has a direct impact on the entire river. Hear about his experience with the Minnesota Agricultural Water Quality Certification Program and why sustainable farming matters to him.

June 2021: Fishing

Episode 90 — Casting a Line: Fish Habitats

Join us as we dive under the water to explore fishing habitats with Brian Vlach, Senior Manager of Water Resources at Three Rivers.  Diverse aquatic habitats throughout Minnesota support a huge range of fishes, not all lakes are the same. We also discuss how climate change is impacting fish populations in Minnesota.

Episode 91 — Casting a Line: Local Fishing Tips

Nick Sacco from Three River's Outdoor Recreation School and Janine Kohn from the Minnesota DNR drop us a line to go over fishing basics such as how to get started, what equipment you might need, where to go, and proper fishing etiquette. 

Episode 92 — Casting a Line: Fishing in Our Parks

Park Service Assistant Thao Vang talks to us about fishing in Three Rivers Park District, how fishing has changed over time for Hmong culture in Minnesota, and how to create a welcoming environment for people new to fishing.

See some of our favorite spots to fish from shore on the blog!

May 2021: Coffee for Birds

Episode 86 — Coffee for Birds: What's a Bird Got To Do With It?

Many migratory birds that spend summers in Minnesota live on coffee farms in the winter. Learn how coffee farms affect birds and how they can help support a wide array of bird species. 

Episode 87 — Coffee for Birds: Supporting Local Communities

Amanda Eastwood of Westrock Coffee Company talks about what it's like buying coffee from farmers, how the process can support local economies and improve the health of farmers, and why that is important in the coffee trade. She also shares tips on how to tell if your coffee supports coffee farming communities.

Episode 88 — Coffee for Birds: Coffee Farmers' Perspectives

Three coffee farmers share their perspective on farming everyone's favorite morning drink. Ashley Prentice in Guatemala, Gabriel Miari in Brazil and Mario Palomo in Honduras discuss their approaches to growing coffee and steps they have taken to be environmentally friendly. Translation is done by Giannina Posner.

Episode 89 — Coffee for Birds: Minnesota Roasting

Anne Costello of Peace Coffee Company in Minnesota discusses how coffee is roasted, the environmental impacts of roasting coffee, and best practices in the coffee industry. Julia Holiday, a historical interpreter from Three Rivers, coffee substitutes of the past.

Want to learn more? Read Brandon's reflection on why he drinks bird-friendly coffee on the Three Rivers blog.

April 2021: Accessible Outdoors

Episode 83 — Accessible Outdoors: An AuSM Partnership

Hear how Three Rivers and The Autism Society of Minnesota have partnered to provide programming specifically designed for people with autism spectrum disorder. Learn what autism is and how programming can be adjusted to create a welcoming environment for participants with autism. Cristina Palmisano, interpretive naturalist at Lowry Nature Center, explains how she started the partnership and how programming at Three Rivers has grown. 

Episode 84 — Accessible Outdoors: Adapted Programming

At Three Rivers, we want everybody, of any ability, to participate in programs and enjoy experiences outdoors. Sam and Tracy Tabaka from Three Rivers' Outdoor Recreation School talk to us about adapted programming and equipment offered at Three Rivers. Learn how programs are adapted, why this is important, and some etiquette on the trail when someone is using adapted equipment.

Episode 85 — Accessible Outdoors: Planning for Everyone

At Three Rivers, we believe you belong here. Making sure that "you" applies to everyone is a continual job that requires a lot of work behind the scenes to ensure our parks are accessible. Hear form Chris Boyer, executive director of Three Rivers Park District Foundation, about what the Foundation is and how it helps make our parks more accessible. Then, Lynn Stoltzmann, Director of Facility Services, and Designer Nate Straka, talk to us about how we evaluate the accessibility of our parks and makes necessary changes.

On the blog, learn about Three Rivers' unique relationship with We Can Ride, an organization that provides equine assisted activities and therapy (EAAT) out of Baker Park Reserve.

March 2021: Healing In Nature

Episode 80 — Healing in Nature: Get the Prescription

Mayo Clinic's Dr. Brent A. Bauer shares the science behind how parks and greenspaces improve physical and emotional well-being. 

Episode 81 — Healing in Nature: Soap for the Soul

Listen in as Angela and Brandon immerse themselves in Minnesota's first certified forest-bathing trail at Silverwood Park with a certified ANFT Shinrin Yoku guide.

Episode 82 — Healing in Nature: Opt Outside

Retired biologist and current Three Rivers volunteer, Mike Sweet, shares his goal to get outdoors every day to enjoy the benefits of interacting with nature.  He describes the welcomed surprises that evoke both feelings of relaxation and energization.

Find more ways to practice mindfulness in nature on the blog!

February 2021: Nature of Love

Episode 77 — Nature of Love: "Weird" Mating Habits in the Animal World

We're celebrating the most romantic month of the year by exploring the weird — at least to us — mating habits of animals. From fencing flatworms to snails that shoot love darts, learn about some of our favorite animal reproductive strategies.

Episode 78 — Nature of Love: The Love Life of Plants

Missy Anderson, propagation specialist at Three Rivers Park District Nursery, tells us all about the love life of plants. Do trees really alternate their forms every generation like ferns do? Why does plant reproduction make you sneeze? Listen to find out!

Episode 79 — Nature of Love: The Language of Flowers

Why do we give flowers on Valentine's Day and other celebratory times? It has something to do with the language of flowers, a tradition at least as old as Shakespeare where certain flowers carried specific messages. Learn about the history of this tradition and the meaning of a few flowers from Jayne Becker, Three Rivers cultural heritage interpreter.

Learn all about the unique mating ritual of the American woodcock on the Three Rivers blog!

January 2021: The Landing

Episode 75 — Landing into History: Archelogy 

Listen as Anne Ketz, co-founder of 106 Group, discusses how archeology has revealed human use in the area of The Landing going back 3,000 years. Learn about the award-winning archeology project 106 Group did in partnership with the Shakopee Mdewakanton Sioux Community on the village of Tinta Otunwe, and the importance of working with American Indian communities as an archeologist. 

Episode 76 — Landing into History: Modern Management 

It takes cooperation between education and natural resource management to interpret a historic village. Listen as Steven Hogg, natural resources supervisor, and Bill Walker, historical programs supervisor, discuss how nature and history are managed at The Landing.

Learn more about The Landing.

December 2020: At-Risk and Vulnerable Species

Episode 72 — Discovering at-Risk and Vulnerable Species  

Three Rivers Wildlife Supervisor, Steven Hogg, joins hosts Brandon and Angela to discus at-risk species that live in Three Rivers. Learn which species we've introduced and which have found their own way to our restored habitat.   

Episode 73 — Protecting at-Risk and Vulnerable Species  

The Twin Cities area is home to more than half the citizens of Minnesota. Despite this, the area still has diverse wildlife thanks in part to progressive open space planning. Minnesota Department of Natural Resources Nongame Specialist, Erica Hoaglund, joins to share what makes this central region unique and the challenges of conservation.   

Episode 74 — Volunteering for at-Risk and Vulnerable Species 

Hear from Three Rivers volunteer Allison Weyer who is making a difference with the Blanding's turtle, threatened species in Minnesota. Learn how monitoring during nesting season can lead to nighttime missions to protect nests from predators. 

On the Three Rivers blog, learn about the regal fritillary butterfly — a species of special concern in Minnesota that is now thriving in Crow-Hassan Park Reserve.

November 2020: Prairies

Episode 69 — Fire to Frost: A Prairie Story of Seasons

Minnesota once was home to 18 million acres of prairie; today just over 1 percent is left. Protecting and recreating grassland is one of the most critical environmental challenges facing Minnesota. Listen as Brandon and Angela explore the seasons of the most endangered ecosystem: the tallgrass prairie.   

Episode 70 — Fire to Frost: A Prairie Story of Restoration

Three Rivers Wildlife staff members Brian Fredlund and Mitch Haag discuss how controlled help a prairie ecosystem.

Episode 71 — Fire to Frost: A Prairie Story Across Minnesota

Guest Megan Benage with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources shares her connection to prairies and how it's all about balance and diversity.

Learn about some of the most unique plants in the Crow-Hassan prairie on the Three Rivers blog. 

October 2020: Spiders

Episode 66 — It Came From the Bottom of the Web: Spiders 101 

Angela and Brandon share stories of getting up close and personal with spiders. Monica Rauchwarter from Richardson Nature Center talks about spider basics and clears up common misconceptions. 

Episode 67 — It Came From the Bottom of the Web: Spider Webs and Spider Brains 

Larry Weber, author of A Guide to Webs and the Spiders that Make Them, joins us to discuss why he loves spiders, their webs and even spiders that live through winter. Dr. Anthony Aletta discusses his research on spider brains. 

Episode 68 — It Came From the Bottom of the Web: Spider Research and You 

Chad Heins, professor at Bethany Lutheran College tells us how many spiders are in Minnesota thanks to help from citizen scientists and iNaturalist. Learn how you can contribute to his research.

Uncover more spider myths and facts on the Three Rivers blog!

September 2020: Fungi

Episode 63 — Fungi are The Life of the Party: Exploring a Kingdom

Listen in as we discover what makes fungi so unique — from acting as nature's recyclers to infecting hosts to connecting trees in a wood-wide web.

Episode 64 — Fungi are The Life of the Party: Fungal Invaders

Angie Smith, Director of Natural Resources, and Dan Commerford, Forestry Supervisor, explain why we discourage harvesting wild mushrooms in Three Rivers. Learn about fungi that negatively affect our parks, and how we are fighting oak wilt and Dutch elm disease.

Episode 65 — Fungi are The Life of the Party: Grow Your Own!

Learn why Gale Woods Farm has a mushroom forest and get tips for growing your own edible mushrooms at home.

Learn more about foraging in Three Rivers on the blog.

August 2020: Monarch Migration

Episode 60 — Mexico to Minnesota: Piecing Together the Monarch Migration

Learn how and why monarchs make the long journey back and forth between Mexico and Minnesota

Episode 61 — Mexico to Minnesota: Tagging and Planting

Listen in as naturalist Jim Gilbert tells the story of how a monarch his students tagged confirmed where Minnesota's monarchs migrated. Learn what you can plant in your garden to help monarchs and other pollinators.

Episode 62 — Mexico to Minnesota: Monarchs from a Chicano Point of View

Chicana professor Karen Mary Davalos shares how Chicano, Chicana and Chicanx artists are inspired by the monarch butterfly. Jesus Ramirez explains how his Chicano culture and the monarch helped him go through a metamorphosis in life, from gang member to educator.

Learn more about the great monarch migration on the Three Rivers blog.

July 2020: Farming

Episode 57 — Minnesota’s Agriculture From the Past to the Future: Learning from Native Elders

Brandon and Angela speak with Seneca Elder Hope Flannigan about Native farming practices before Europeans reached Minnesota. Hope explains the difference between wild and domestic plants, how Dream of Wild Health is using Native farming techniques today, and what we can learn from Native farming to make a more sustainable future.

Episode 58 — Minnesota’s Agriculture From the Past to the Future: The Rise of Dairy 

Elise Bushard of Lowry Nature Center and Historical Interpretation Supervisor Bill Walker tell the story of how one man started the Midwest dairy industry. Learn how Wendelin Grimm bred the first winter-hardy alfalfa, leading to profitable commercial dairy in the region.

Episode 59 — Minnesota’s Agriculture From the Past to the Future: Sustainability

Hear from Tim Reese and Melissa Hochstetler of Gale Woods Farm about what sustainable practices they use and how you as a consumer can help farmers transition to more climate-friendly practices.

Learn more about Wendelin Grimm and how farming and environmental stewardship go together on the Three Rivers blog. 

June 2020: Fireflies

Episode 54 —  A Light in the Dark: Fireflies 101

Listen as Miranda Jones, firefly expert at Eastman Nature Center, shares facts about firefly biology, why they glow and where you can find them.

Episode 55 — A Light in the Dark: You Can't Handle the Truth!

Professor Sara Lewis shares some of her knowledge from over 30 years of studying fireflies. We discuss a female firefly nicknamed a vampire that deceives male fireflies. Hear about Professor Lewis' latest research on firefly conservation and how you can help.

Episode 56 — A Light in the Dark: Citizen Science and Fireflies

Climate change may lead to more species of fireflies in Minnesota as our growing season gets longer, but habitat loss, pesticide use and light pollution are all decreasing the number of fireflies. Learn how to help scientists collect data as we discuss the citizen science project Firefly Watch with one of its founders, Don Salvatore.

Learn more about the magic of fireflies on the Three Rivers blog!

May 2020: Raising Children

Episode 50 — Are You My Mother? The Parental Spectrum of Nature

Listen in as Angela and Brandon celebrate Mother's Day by discussing the variety of parental care found in nature. Some animals are hardly involved in raising their offspring while others put in as much energy humans. It all depends on the species and their life strategy.  

Episode 51 — Are You My Mother? Farm Babies

Visit Gale Woods Farm with supervisor Tim Reese to learn all about farm babies. Learn about Lamb Watch, a volunteer project, and other farm babies you may encounter while at Gale Woods. 

Episode 52 — Are you my Mother? Historical and Cultural Ojibwe Childcare

Childcare among humans has differed throughout history and within many cultures, but it has never been easy. Listen as Michelle Defoe of the Red Cliff Ojibwe talks about traditions she has reclaimed after they were lost or suppressed during the Boarding School area and how she feels they have helped her in raising her children.

Episode 53 —  Are you my Mother? Historical and Cultural European Childcare

Listen as guest Jayne Becker from The Landing explained how early European settlers managed childcare. How was the diaper invented? What games were played? Tune in to find out! 

Learn more about the good, the bad and the ugly of raising farm babies on the Three Rivers Blog!

April 2020: Trumpeter Swans

Episode 47 — Swan Song to Trumpets of Success: Trumpeter Swan Basics

Get to know North America's largest waterfowl: the trumpeter swan. Discover fun facts and basic biology, and learn how to identify them from other swan species. 

Episode 48 — Swan Song to Trumpets of Success: A Historic Timeline

John Moriarty, senior wildlife manager at Three Rivers, explains a timeline of events that starts with the disappearance of trumpeter swans from Minnesota and ends in reintroduction success. Learn more on this historic rehabilitation and how Three Rivers started it all. 

Episode 49 — Swan Song to Trumpets of Success: Current Swan Research and Rehabilitation

Trumpeter Swans are now a common sight in the metro area but we still don't know that much about their movements and habitat choice. In this episode, hear from David Wolfson, a Ph. D. student at the University of Minnesota, and Dr. Renee Schott, Medical Director and Senior Veterinarian of the Wildlife Rehabilitation Center of Minnesota, about what we do know about their movements and how to rehabilitate them. 

Learn more about wildlife reintroduction on the Three Rivers blog!

March 2020: Urban Sprawl

Episode 44 — Under Pressure: Urban Sprawl - A Spectrum of Parks

Luke Skinner, Associate Superintendent of Three Rivers Park District, discusses how and why we have created a spectrum of parks — from parks primarily for recreation to parks with large tracts of recreated habitat.

Episode 45 — Under Pressure: Urban Sprawl - To Develop or Not to Develop?

Learn how we decide which areas of a park should be developed and which should be preserved from Associate Superintendent Jonathan Vlaming and Senior Wildlife Manager John Moriarty.

Episode 46 — Under Pressure: Urban Sprawl - 80/20

Steven Hogg explains Three Rivers' 80/20 policy, why it is so important for managing the habitat of our park reserves, and how we use GIS to track it.

February 2020: The Mississippi River

Episode 41 — The Rivers that Shape Us: The Mississippi and its Geology

Tune in as we discuss one of the rivers Three Rivers Park District is named after, the Mississippi River! Ashley Smith, interpretive naturalist at Mississippi Gateway Regional Park, teaches us how earthquakes, glaciers, volcanoes and even a tropical vacation helped shape the Mississippi River. 

Episode 42 — The Rivers that Shape Us: The Mississippi and How Geology Shaped its Use

Hear from Matt Cassady, program specialist with Minnesota Historical Society, as he explains how the geology of the Mississippi River has influenced the way humans have used the river over the past 10,000 years.

Episode 43 — The Rivers that Shape Us: The Mississippi, Dams and Birds

Why does Three Rivers operate a dam and how is it used to stop invasive species? Find out from Elm Creek Park Reserve and Mississippi Gateway Regional Park maintenance chief Nick Beaufeaux. Listen in as National Park Service Ranger Sharon Stiteler explains why the portion of the Mississippi River that runs through Minneapolis is a National River and Recreation Area and why it is important to migrating birds.

Learn how the Mississippi helped build the Twin Cities on the Three Rivers blog!

January 2020: Life Under the Ice

Episode 38 — Ice, Ice, Nature: Life Under the Ice

Join us for the start of season two as Brandon and Angela dive into to a listener-requested topic: Life Under the Ice. Explore the murky depths of a lake in the winter, and learn which creatures stay active all winter and which go dormant. 

Episode 39 — Ice, Ice, Nature: Invasion of the Oxygen Snatchers

Learn how aquatic invasive species impact life under the ice and what you can do to help. Hear from Amy Timm, Three Rivers' Natural Resources Supervisor for Water Quality.

Episode 40 — Ice, Ice, Nature: From Ice Harvesting to Ice Fishing, How Humans Use Ice

Listen as park volunteer and ice harvest historian Tim Graff explains how and why people harvested ice in the 1800s and how you can experience ice harvesting today. Learn how to ice fish from Brent Hennen, Recreation Program Specialist at our Outdoor Recreation School,  and learn some tips for how to add as little stress to our winter fish as possible.

Learn more about the history of ice harvesting on the Three Rivers blog!

December 2019: Winter Strategies

Episode 35: Winter Strategies — Should I Stay or Should I Go (Getting MADD)

Angela and Brandon investigate three strategies that animals use to survive the winter: migrating, adapting, and going dormant. Learn how these strategies work as we dig into the winter habits of beavers, coyotes, birds, butterflies and ground squirrels.

Episode 36: Winter Strategies — Bird Banding and Winter Migration

Did you know that Minnesota birds have five types of migration habits? Hear from Ron Refsneider, retired biologist for the Minnesota DNR and Master Bird Bander, as he shares what his bird banding data indicates about Minnesota birds' winter habits.

Episode 37: Winter Strategies — Turtle Habits and Human Clothes

John Moriarty shares new research about what turtles do in the winter; it turns out it's a lot more complicated than just sleeping in the mud! Hear tips from Heather Gordon from the Outdoor Recreation School on how to dress for the cold.

Learn more about winter strategies on the Three Rivers blog, including how bats survive winter, what we learned from the Medicine Lake turtle study, and how to brave the cold and embrace winter.

November 2019: Deer Management

Episode 32: Buck-ing the Trend — Deer 101

Hear about the history of deer management, why it's necessary, and how Disney has impacted deer populations. Learn about deer habits and why controlled hunts in our parks are important.

Episode 33: Buck-ing the Trend — Managing Our Deer

Listen as Wildlife Supervisor Steven Hogg and Nursery Supervisor Shawn Howard discuss what steps we take to keep our parks healthy with a large deer population. Learn about the ups and downs of deer-management techniques, including hunting, exclusion fences and smells. 

Episode 34: Buck-ing the Trend — Hunters, The Next Generation

Ryan Barth, Outdoor Education Supervisor at Baker Near Wilderness Settlement, and Bill Vollbrecht, Golf Maintenance Supervisor at Eagle Lake Golf Course, discuss how they are mentoring children by teaching them about deer hunting. We discuss why it is important, the ethics of hunting amidst a growing human population, and youth-mentored deer hunts help promote a new generation of environmental stewards.

Learn more about deer management on the Three Rivers blog!

October 2019: Zombies


Zombies are all around us! In fact, you may have even encountered zombies in your life, right in nature. Join Angela and Brandon to explore the creepy world of zombies in nature, including horse hair worms, fungi and cat parasites. 


Our guests, students Evie and AJ and Three Rivers Forestry Supervisor Dan Comerford, join us to investigate other real-life zombies. Learn about Evie and AJ's award-winning project, Zombees, and hear from Dan about how plants can become zombies.


Zach Molis from The Landing provides a historical perspective on how the idea of human zombies came to be. Why are we so fascinated with apocalyptic scenarios?

Want to learn about more creepy crawlies? Check out the Three Rivers blog for a look at the spiders of Minnesota.

September 2019: 50 Years of Stewardship


To celebrate the past 50 years, Brandon and Angela are talking to special guest Bill Walker, Cultural Resources Manager of Three Rivers Park District, to discuss the how and why Three Rivers was created. 2019 marks the 50th Anniversary of Minnesota's first public nature center, the Lowry Nature Center at Carver Park Reserve. It also marks the 50th anniversary of the first planted prairie at Crow-Hassan Park Reserve. Join them on a journey to discover this rich history and how the two are connected. 


The first nature center, Lowry Nature Center, was built in 1969. Tag along as hosts Brandon and Angela interview Tom McDowell, retired park employee of 40 years, to explore the story of how outdoor education molded our mission of promoting environmental stewardship through recreation and education in a natural-resource based park system for the past 50 years. 


Listen in as Brandon and Angela journey to 1969 to explore Crow-Hassan Park Reserve and the first planting of the restored prairie. Joined by Senior Wildlife Manager John Moriarty, they dig deeper to discover the challenges that  seeded the way for large-scale restoration with what is now the largest, first restored prairie in the metro area. Now home to unique wildlife and a high diversity of plant life, you will want to hear this origin story. 


Three Rivers has worked to make our parks home for surrounding communities and wildlife over the past 50-plus years. Building a foundation on educating others for a chance to nurture an interest in natural happenings in the outdoors led to many great things, including prairie restoration. Kirk Mona, interpretive naturalist, joins to discuss the present and future of Three Rivers' mission. 

Learn how prairie restoration in Three Rivers began and how it has evolved since 1969 on the blog.

August 2019: Bees

Episode 22: Bees, Cows, and your Lunch — To Bumblebee be or to Honeybee?

Wander with us as Angela and Brandon investigate the differences between bumblebees and honeybees. While unique, they both face many of the same challenges, and both are important pollinators for our food.

Episode 23: Bees, Cows, and your Lunch — Farmer Tim and the Bees

Tim Reese, supervisor of Gale Woods Farm, tells us about his experience raising bees, how bee keeping has changed in recent years, and how Gale Woods Farm manages to be a working farm while still using bee-friendly practices.

Episode 24: Bees, Cows, and your Lunch — Native Bee Atlas

Britt Forsberg from the University of Minnesota Native Bee Atlas discusses how the university is discovering which bees live in Minnesota. Learn how to make your yard bee friendly and get tips on planting for native bees. 

Want to learn more about bees? Read Honeybees, Bumblebees and the Case of the Collapsing Hive on the Three Rivers blog.

July 2019: Dragonflies

Episode 19: Here there be Dragon(flies)—The Transformational Journey

If you have spent time near water this summer, you have likely witnessed dragonflies buzzing by. But did you know that dragonflies live two lives? Wander with us and discover their unique life cycle that spans across land and water.  

Episode 20: Here there be Dragon(flies)—Creatures of Aquatic Habitats

Listen as we talk with Mitch Haag, a Wildlife Operations Specialist at Three Rivers Park District and founding board member of Minnesota Dragonfly Society to learn more on the importance of aquatic habitats and where you can find dragonflies.

Episode 21:  Here there be Dragon(flies)—Cultural Fascination to Research Subjects   

Hear dragonfly scientist Ami Thompson talk about her study subject, the fascinating, migrating, Common Green Darner.

Love dragonflies? Discover more fun facts on the Three Rivers blog!

June 2019: Water Quality

Episode 16: A Day on the Water—Too Many Vitamins

Wander with us as we dive into water and the issues it faces. How are phosphates and nitrates like vitamins? How are our lakes impacted? Are polar bear livers really connected to this? How is the Three Rivers' maintenance staff changing salt use in the winter to help our water? 

Episode 17: A Day on the Water—Testing Our Watersheds

Listen as John Hess, a a member of our Water Quality department, shares some of the challenges our waterways face, how he monitors them, and what you can do at home to help keep our lakes and rivers healthy.

Episode 18: A Day on the Water—1800s and Today

Zach Mohlis from The Landing-Minnesota River Heritage Park shares with us how people used the Minnesota River when Europeans first settled the area. Learn how farming practices have changed and their impact on the river. Nick Sacco from the Outdoor Recreation School talks to us about the water-based activities you do can in Three Rivers, and we debate whether log rolling is a paddle sport.

Learn more about water quality and why swimming beaches close on the Three Rivers blog.

May 2019: Wildflowers

Episode 13: April Showers, May Flowers—Growing While It's Snowing

Can plants really grow when there's snow on the ground? Tune in to find out as Angela and Brandon explain how tiny plants can grow and flower at a time when other plants dare not even show their leaves.

Episode 14: April Showers, May Flowers—Earthworms, Buckthorn, and Flowers, Oh My

Are earthworms good for forest flowers? How do invasive species like buckthorn affect them? Join us as we talk to Missy Anderson, the Invasive Species Coordinator for Three Rivers Park District, and Alex Roth from Friends of the Mississippi. Learn what you can do to help native flowers.

Episode 15: April Showers, May Flowers—Flower Medicine and Taking Photos

Pauline Bold from The Landing shares how people historically used early spring wildflowers, including as medicine and food. Disclaimer: Do not try to use these as food or medicine yourself. Listen to learn why. Photographer Laura Jarriel shares tips for taking photos of spring wildflowers with our phones.

Learn how to identify six spring wildflowers and where to find them on the Three Rivers blog.

April 2019: Frogs

Episode 10: Calls of Spring — The Racket of Frogs

The frogs are fresh out of hibernation, a sure sign of spring. Have you heard them yet? Join Brandon and Angela as they discuss the biology of frogs and toads to explain all that racket they make. 

Episode 11: Calls of Spring — Start of a Journey

John Moriarty, Senior Manager of Wildlife for Three Rivers, talks about the creation of Minnesota's frog survey. With 14 species of frogs and toads in the state, there is much to learn about their calls, how to identify them and why we monitor them.

Episode 12: Calls of Spring — Monitoring Frogs in the Dark

Citizen scientists help conduct frog surveys by listening for and recording frog calls. The data they collect helps determine status, distribution and population trends of frogs. Hear from volunteer Dianne Rowse about this experience.

One of a frog's most well-known features is its tongue. Learn all about the myths and realities of frog tongues on the Three Rivers blog!

March 2019: Maple Syrup

Episode 7: Wandering the Sugar Bush — A Native Perspective on Maple Syrup

Join us as we talk with Ojibwe students about their experience with maple syrup. We discuss how they maple syrup today both on a reservation and in the middle of the cities; how today's techniques differ from their ancestors; and what maple syruping means to them. 

Episode 8: Wandering the Sugar Bush — The Science of Syruping

We talk with our Forestry Supervisor Dan Comerford about the unique structure of maple trees that allow us to turn its sap into syrup. Explore with us as we discover the science behind maple syruping and learn how climate change will impact our maple trees.

Episode 9: Wandering the Sugar Bush — Cooking with Maple Syrup

Discover the secrets to cooking with maple syrup as Andi Anderson from Gale Woods Farm joins us to help us in the kitchen. We discuss how to substitute syrup for sugar in recipes. We also help you decode the meaning of Grade A and Grade B syrup.

Sugar maples make maple syruping possible. Learn all about these iconic trees on the Three Rivers blog!

February 2019: Owls

Episode 4: Strange Calls in the Night—Super Ears and Keen Eyes

Join Brandon and Angela as they explore how owls can not only survive the winter, but raise their young when the rest of us are hunkered inside waiting for spring. Find out if owls have super-hearing like superman, how their eyes help them see at night, and what makes owl feathers special. Discover the adaptations that help these owls thrive in the cold.

Episode 5: Strange Calls in the Night—Tracking Owl Nests

Do you know where owls nest? Hear how volunteer Paul Schlick coordinates a group of volunteers to track and document owl and other raptor nests in Elm Creek Park Reserve. Paul explains why this project is important, some of the challenges they have faced, and the opportunities for partnership with the Raptor Center that his data has created.

Episode 6: Strange Calls in the Night—Owl Ambassadors

Join us as Interpretive Naturalist Adam Barnett explains why nature centers keep owls as ambassadors for their wild kin. He recounts his time working with the Raptor Center, shares some of the joys and challenges of working with captive owls, and shares with us what to do if an injured owl is found.

Get a hoot out of owls? Read more about them on the Three Rivers blog!

January 2019: Snow

Episode 1: Snow (and its relationship to animals)

In this first episode of The Wandering Naturalist, hosts Brandon and Angela provide some insight on the science of snow and how it impacts the animals who depend on the subnivean layer.

Episode 2: Snow (and its relationship with plants)

In the second part of this series on snow, Angela and Brandon talk about the advantages and challenges snow brings to plant life.

Episode 3: Snow (and its history with Minnesota) 

How did humans interact with snow before the advent of modern heating and insulation amenities? Learn all about it as hosts Brandon and Angela talk with an expert from The Landing.

Interested in learning even more about snow? Find out how snowmaking helps support winter activities on the Three Rivers blog!

Your Hosts


a naturalist in a blue shirt and tan hat

Brandon Baker is an interpretive naturalist at Eastman Nature Center and has degrees in biology and environmental studies from St. John’s University. Brandon's passion is connecting people to the great outdoors. Each year he introduces thousands of children and adults to the natural world through innovative and informative interpretive programming. He enjoys learning how human history and the natural environment have combined to shape the world we live in.


a woman in a white shirt and pink ball cap smiling while holding a dragonfly.

Angela Grill graduated from Minnesota State University—Mankato with degrees in ecology and geography. She has a passion for being outdoors and ensuring conservation of the natural heritage of our lands. As a wildlife biologist at Three Rivers Park District, she enjoys working on a wide range of projects from restoring prairies to pollinator surveys. Outside of work she can be found in the garden where she is in the good company of wonder dog, Sid, and two rented chickens, Cersi Henister and Princess Leialot.

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