Friends of Island Lake serve as protectors, beautifiers

Merrill Morse, chair of Friends of Island Lake, tends the rain garden/filtration bed where the trail south of the Shoreview YMCA meets Milton Street. Island Lake is in the background. (Pamela O’Meara/Bulletin)

This sign with an Island Lake Park map is posted beside the rain garden near the southwest corner of the lake off Milton Street. (Pamela O’Meara/Bulletin)

If you are walking along the trail that goes from Lexington Avenue just south of the Shoreview YMCA through Island Lake County Park, keep your eyes open for the colorful rain garden/filtration beds with lots of black-eyed Susans swaying in the breeze, white daisies and a touch of purple and pink blossoms where the trail meets Milton Street. You might even see Merrill Morse tending the garden.

“As we have been working on the beds this summer, we regularly have passers-by asking about them,” Morse said.

“One of our main goals with those beds is to make them more distinctive than typical rain gardens, both by design and by adding more color over time,” he explained. “We see them as a potential demonstration site for good lake and water filtration, as well as an appealing entrance to the county park.”

Morse is a founding member and chair of the Friends of Island Lake, a non-profit environmental group of volunteers who have been working for about six years to beautify the park by planting and maintaining this rain garden and by cutting down invasive buckthorn along both sides of the trail.

“The rain garden is the first layer of filtration, capturing runoff and slowing the flow of water into the lake,” Morse said. The beds fill to the brim during heavy rains, preventing large volumes of water from entering the lake at once. The garden sits on top of an underground drainage system and filtration tank that can eliminate nearly all the road, roof and yard pollution that had been running off into the lake for years.

This system prevents up to 90 percent or more of sediment, phosphorous, heavy metals and floating chemicals from reaching the lake, he added. “Already the difference is visible. Local lake residents are reporting the clearest water in that area of the lake that they have ever seen.”

When this system was installed a few years ago, it was one of the most innovative and largest in Shoreview and the Rice Creek Watershed District, and Friends of Island Lake committed to taking care of it in the hope developing it as a demonstration site, Morse said.

In 2011, the group earned the Green Community Award from the city of Shoreview for helping establish the flower and filtration beds along the popular trail. 

Morse is quick to give credit to many others, including original board members Mary Lou and Roger Klinkhammer and Chris Morlock, along with neighbors, local youths, a church group, and people who take care of the Lake Johanna Fire Department rain gardens. All are people who care about the environment and want to improve and preserve it for others, Morse said.

The organization holds a plant sale in the spring and uses the money to subsidize energy audits of local homes and purchase plants and garden tools, Morse said. Members have worked to preserve the wetlands on Lexington Avenue south of the Y and have helped reduce milfoil growth in the lake as well.

“Friends has been making some small but very significant impacts on the area including and surrounding Island Lake and beyond,” said board member Ann Beane.

The summer flowers in the rain garden are cheery and lovely. Then in the fall, the new asters will bloom, and on the ridge of the rain garden, snowberries with their white berries will draw attention in the fall and winter. Purple irises bloom in the spring. The Friends have been gradually expanding the garden with new plants that will bloom at various times during the year.

“[And] we are selecting many of the plants (all natives) for their appeal to butterflies, birds and wildlife,” Morse said.

“This is about a varied collection of caring individuals who volunteer their time and talents for the good of the local environment...a story of a whole community,” Morse added.

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at


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