River Park is one of sixty parks in Brooklyn Park, but it’s the only one that touches the Mississippi River. Within its 42 acres, the landscape includes restored prairie, wetland, and woodlands that border the river.
Kimberly Carpenter has been actively engaged with developing a vision for River Park since she moved to Brooklyn Park several years ago, serving on the park advisory commission for six years. This connection grew into a series of art and conservation activities Kimberly has undertaken at the park to become a Master Water Steward. By bringing her service work to her home community, Kimberly says, “I hope to encourage other people like me to become stewards.”
Master Water Stewards (MWS) are community leaders who become certified to educate the public about preventing water pollution. Stewards attend training classes and complete a capstone project that benefits local waterways and incorporates community education. Since the program launched in 2013, 342 new water stewards have graduated, and each steward commits to 50 hours of annual community service to maintain their certification.
While not everyone is able to commit to the rigorous certification process, Master Water Stewards play an important role by empowering community members to take water quality issues into their own hands. “I became a Master Water Steward so I could gain credibility and trust, and so I could meet more people that are committed to environmental stewardship,” said Kimberly, adding, “I don’t see many Master Water Stewards that are people of color.”
Throughout her work on her capstone project, Kimberly has intentionally forged partnerships that are reflective of the members of the communities she serves.
Kimberly’s work in environmental stewardship was informed by her M.Ed. in Youth Development Leadership at the University of Minnesota. As part of her work, she connected with Michael Chaney of Project Sweetie Pie at the Oak Park Center, a neighborhood center in North Minneapolis where youth grow fresh food and learn about urban agriculture. Kimberly was invited to join the Green with Envy composting project, where she served as Compost Captain at Cleveland Neighborhood’s Community Garden. In that role, she worked to ensure that compost from the city stayed in the city, rather than being removed, processed, and resold to residents.
Kimberly later joined the team at Metro Blooms, a nonprofit that promotes gardening as a way to heal the environment. At Metro Blooms, Kimberly promoted equitable development using green infrastructure as a tool to build community resilience in affordable housing communities. During the 2018 Water Summit, a conference led by the U.S. Water Alliance, she was proud to share her work through Environmental Justice Tours of North Minneapolis.
With years of experience in environmental initiatives in North Minneapolis and the northwest suburbs, and ready to take her work to a new level, Kimberly enrolled in the Master Water Stewards program.
Kimberly’s MWS capstone project is two-pronged, focusing on public education and landscape enhancement in River Park. She worked with city officials as well as Hennepin County to determine the project’s scope and assess the wetland’s health.
Kimberly worked with Mary Karius of Hennepin County’s Wetland Health Evaluation Program, other Master Water Stewards, and the Breckenridge chapter of the Isaak Walton League to assess invertebrates and invasive species at River Park. They discovered that invasive tree species such as Black Locust Trees and Siberian Elms encroaching on the wetland were a growing issue.
Between 80 and 90 trees were marked for removal with city support. To get extra muscle, Kimberly reached out to nearby Brooklyn Center’s BCYF Rockets 8th-grade football team. She marshaled the efforts of five parents and six student-athletes to help cut and remove the invasive trees. “The experience helped foster a stronger brotherhood among teammates,” said the team’s manager.
To increase public awareness of waterway protection, Kimberly adopted four storm drains near River Park and participated in the co-creation and the installation of a drain mural. She gathered an artistic team that included lead artist Geno Okuk, Liv Novotny, youth from the watershed, and Laura Stigen, the city of Brooklyn Park’s Art and Engagement Specialist. Together, they walked along the riverside path and talked about connections to water and what it means to be a water steward. The result of their conversations was Geno’s cheerful mural design, which the team installed together early this fall.
Collective action adds up. Kimberly’s collaborative approach to environmental stewardship is raising awareness around water quality issues across generations. Her passion for healthy and vibrant communities shows that everyone has something to contribute to the fight to protect our waterways.