Wildflowers help keep Duluth trout streams healthy

A project near Riley Road in Duluth will help filter water runoff into a trout stream and provide a habitat for pollinators.

Wildflowers will be planted along the side of Amity Creek to build a pollinator habitat and decrease bank erosion. This area was recently dug up to improve the water quality of runoff into the trout stream. (Teri Cadeau /

It may not look like much yet, but by spring, a stretch of Amity Creek will be filled with native pollinator plants. What started as a water-quality project now has the added bonus of helping keep the air and soil cleaner.

The city of Duluth recently completed construction on a water filtration project near a street maintenance facility on Riley Road, not far from the Jean Duluth Dog Park. The site contains piles of street material, and equipment such as graders and plows come and go from the site. Because the site is fairly close to the creek that eventually becomes Amity Creek, a trout stream, the city's stormwater engineers and street maintenance team worked together to create structures to improve the quality of runoff that reaches the stream.

Duluth street maintenance lead worker Geoff Vukelich stands along the main retention pond and surveys the area which will be planted with wildflowers along Amity Creek. (Teri Cadeau /

"So we've been working on this infrastructure for the month of August," said street maintenance lead worker Geoff Vukelich. "There's a sediment basin up here to collect the heavier solids, which lets the clean water roll over the top, which helps stop material like salt and sand from entering the stream."


Next to the sediment basin is a retention pond discharging colder water back into the stream, which Vukelich said is imperative for healthy trout streams.

When the water project was drawing to a close, Vukelich noticed they'd saved a bit of money in the construction process and suggested they look at turning the area into a pollinator habitat.

"We ran the numbers and realistically, it only cost about $300 more to create this half acre of wildflowers and native grasses," Vukelich said. "If we seeded it ourselves, it wouldn't have cost much less and we wouldn't get the added benefits to the environment. At that point, it's kind of a no-brainer."

The city contracted with Northern Ecological Services to seed the wildflower habitat. The plants will include black-eyed susans, varieties of milkweed, goldenrod, yarrow and more.

"There's also a lot of tansy in this area, so we're going to have to watch to see if it will try to take over the area," Vukelich said. "But we won't find that out until next year." Tansy is an invasive species native to Eurasia.

Straw covers the native grass plantings near the new structures built to filter out sand and salt from water runoff near Amity Creek. (Teri Cadeau /

Some native grasses have already been seeded, but the actual wildflower plantings will take place in October. The boreal native plantings will also help sequester more carbon than the existing turf grass and help reduce erosion around the site.


In addition to the plants, the street team also moved some trees around the site to provide more shade and improve the soil stabilization.

"It's all about making sure the water discharge here is clean and cool," Vukelich said.

And he's already seeing some results. The day after the team dug out the water retention pond, Vukelich saw more frogs in the area.

"It just goes to show you, if you give nature a chance, it will flourish," he said.

Teri Cadeau is a general assignment and neighborhood reporter for the Duluth News Tribune. Originally from the Iron Range, Cadeau has worked for several community newspapers in the Duluth area for eight years including: The Duluth Budgeteer News, Western Weekly, Weekly Observer, Lake County News-Chronicle and occasionally, the Cloquet Pine Journal. When not working, she's an avid reader and crafter.
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