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For Love of Lakes and Rivers

April 20, 2021 @ 7:00 PM - 8:00 PM

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Commemorate Earth Day 2021 and join us for a special conversation with LWV members and author, Darby Nelson, and his ‘paddling companion for life,’ Geri, who, along with 4 extraordinary women, will share their challenges and successes in translating science into wise policy and action on the ground to improve and protect Minnesota water quality.

  • Darby & Geri Nelson go “behind-the-scenes” to share their experiences of writing For Love of a River: The Minnesota and For Love of Lakes, while also managing the special challenges of Alzheimer’s Disease.

  • Dr. Carrie Jennings, Freshwater Research and Policy Director, will facilitate a discussion on the importance of the Minnesota River Basin and advocating for fresh water quality in Minnesota with the following extraordinary women:

    • Dr. Karen Gran, Professor and Earth and Environmental Sciences Department Head, Swenson College of Science and Engineering

    • Kim Musser, Associate Director of the Water Resources Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato

    • Judy Erickson, founder of Conservation Strategies



Darby is an aquatic ecologist and biology professor emeritus at Anoka-Ramsey Community College and an author committed to exploring, preserving, and celebrating Minnesota’s rivers and lakes.

He began a lifelong love of the Minnesota River at age six when he and his family moved to the river town of Morton. In the 1980s, Darby served three terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives, where one of his most significant accomplishments was legislation creating the Minnesota Board of Water and Soil Resources.

His first book, For Love of Lakes (2012), was a finalist for the Minnesota Book Award in creative nonfiction. Darby has been a tireless advocate for the environment, serving on boards for Conservation Minnesota, Freshwater, and the Nature Conservancy, and he was a charter member of the Lessard-Sams Outdoor Heritage Council. He has received the Sigurd Olson Award from the Izaak Walton League, Environmentalist of the Year from the North Star Chapter of the Sierra Club, Willard Munger Award from the Minnesota DFL, Steve Chapman Environment Award from the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, and several teaching awards. He has a PhD in ecology from the University of Minnesota. Darby’s claim to fame is skiing all 49 Mora Vasaloppet cross country ski races.

Geri has a BS in biology and secondary education from the University of Minnesota and an MS in gifted and talented education from St. Thomas. She taught physical science for 25 years in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, coaching science fair students and advising National Honor Society and the Girls’ Science and Math Retreat. She is active in church and several organizations including the League of Women Voters for 45 years, leading efforts in candidate forums, voter registration, and projects dealing with household hazardous waste and pollinator protection. She is proud to be Darby’s typist, first reader and events coordinator. Geri’s claim to fame is being an equal partner with Darby on their many adventures.

Darby and Geri met at the Itasca Biological Station over a round leech with one hundred babies attached to her abdomen. One reason Geri married Darby was his creative ideas about fun things to do. They have enjoyed canoe and kayak expeditions throughout their marriage to Alaska, the Yukon, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Greenland, Norway, and Minnesota. They have travelled to the Galapagos Islands, Norway, Sweden, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland, the Maritime Provinces of Canada, and all over the USA. Their adventures also include Darby’s six years in the Minnesota House of Representatives and the research, writing, and speaking events for For Love of Lakes and For Love of a River: The Minnesota. They jointly received Bemidji State University’s Distinguished Minnesotan Award and CURE’s Riverkeeper Award in 2016.

For more info on Darby and Geri’s work and books, visit www.darbynelson.com.



John Hickman assisted in the writing of For Love of a River. John is a writer and documentary film producer who has been an advocate for the Minnesota River for 30 years. From 1992–94, he served on Governor Arne Carlson’s Minnesota River Citizens’ Advisory Committee and wrote the recommendations for the committee’s influential final report, Working Together: A Plan to Restore the Minnesota River. In 2011, he was executive producer of the film River Revival: Working Together to Save the Minnesota River, which premiered in prime time on the Twin Cities’ NBC affiliate. John’s claim to fame is serving as lead writer on the last, best version of the iconic educational software program Oregon Trail.

How For Love of a River: The Minnesota Book Came To Be

In 2011, Darby was diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment. For Love of Lakes came out that fall and we embarked on a journey to 150-plus events over seven years promoting lake stewardship and the book. After the first two very busy years, Darby delved into the research for and writing of For Love of a River: The Minnesota.

He completed the manuscript in 2016. By that time, we were attending our Memory Café support group for people with memory loss and their caregivers. We had to acknowledge his condition had become Alzheimer’s. His neurologist credited the hard mental work of writing as having slowed the progression of the disease.

For Love of Lakes went through countless revisions before we agreed it was ready to be published. Each refinement made the language more vivid and tightened it up. For the Minnesota River book, reasoning through organizational challenges and wording changes became increasingly difficult. We knew from the beginning that we were in a race against time and memory loss, and eventually we turned to our friend John Hickman to help us through the final stages of the book. His edits were true to Darby’s manuscript; he found Darby’s voice! Thanks goes to John for rescuing the manuscript from languishing on our computer!



Carrie joined Freshwater in 2016. She applies her understanding of glacial geology and landscape evolution to shape policy and technical approaches for managing surface water and groundwater, avoiding hazards, and using resources wisely. Prior to that she was a field geologist for 24 years, 22 of those with the Minnesota Geological Survey and two with the DNR, Division of Lands and Minerals. She was the science reports lead for the County Geologic Atlas program at the DNR in her last two years there.

Carrie and her husband live on a 120-acre farm which is in a permanent conservation easement through the Dakota County Farmland and Natural Areas Program. Livestock is limited to a dozen chickens, a dog and a couple of cats. She has twice been elected town board supervisor and served on the planning commission for Eureka Township.

Her adult son was raised to immerse himself in nature, make his own observations, trust his ability to do science and has a growing appreciation for his mom’s community service and conservation ethic.



Karen is a fluvial geomorphologist, which means she spends a lot of time in rivers, thinking about rivers, and enjoying rivers.  Her research focuses on how rivers respond to change from Holocene-scale post-glacial evolution to century-scale anthropogenic land use changes to decadal-scale post-eruption landscape recovery.

Carrie recruited Karen to work on the sediment issue in the Le Sueur River watershed in 2006 when Karen was pregnant with her second son. She continues to work in this watershed and her son is now 15. She and Carrie are also collaborating on a landslide inventory, one of the more hazardous ways in which sediment is delivered to rivers.  (Karen and Peter in March, 2007 and Dec., 2020 and in the field with part of the team that worked on the Le Sueur River watershed).

Karen and her physicist husband have two boys. Her work on the sediment issuing from the Le Sueur River watershed was written up in many places, and one paper won the Kirk Bryan Award for Research Excellence, from the Geological Society of America, Quaternary Geology & Geomorphology Division (Gran, K.B., Finnegan, N., *Johnson, A., Belmont, P., Rittenour, T., and Wittkop, C., 2013, Landscape evolution, valley excavation, and terrace development following abrupt postglacial base level fall. GSA Bulletin, doi: 10.1130/B30772.1.)



Kim is Associate Director of the Water Resources Center at Minnesota State University, Mankato where she has been working on regional water issues for over two decades. Trained as an environmental planner, Kim primarily focuses on planning, educational outreach, and civic engagement. She is committed to enhancing the public’s understanding of and connection with water resources in the region and enjoys the challenge of taking complex technical and scientific information and making it understandable to broader audiences to help inform planning and decision making. She has promoted the work of Carrie and Karen and other scientists, helping to integrate and translate scientific findings for the general public and has built community support for initiatives to improve water quality.

Kim has a long history of working with citizens and other local conservation partners to support locally-led watershed planning efforts (Le Sueur River Watershed Network, Watonwan Civic Engagement Project). The WRC also hosts conferences, meetings and field tours to share information regionally and demonstrate best practices (Minnesota River Water Storage Forum, Minnesota River Basin Ag-Urban Partnership Forum). She has coordinated a wide variety of Minnesota River based projects, working with teams to distill and disseminate information via reports (Minnesota River Basin Trends Report, State of the Minnesota River Water Quality Monitoring Reports,) and through development of data portals and informational websites (Ask an Expert about the Minnesota River, Minnesota River Basin Data Center, Minnesota Nutrient Planning Portal. In order to share stories, depict landscape change and watershed dynamics, she has also created many videos (Ask an Expert about the Minnesota River) and interactive graphics.

Kimberly is increasingly driven to better understand the social dimension of watershed work supporting partnerships that promote local decision-making and action. She serves on the boards of the Minnesota River Congress, Friends of Minneopa State Park, Friends of the Minnesota Valley, and Minnesota’s Drainage Management Team. Kim lives in Mankato with her husband and teenage triplets and relishes opportunities to share her love of area rivers and lakes, camping, kayaking and exploring natural areas with family and friends.



Judy’s public policy experience began when she was a legislative assistant for former U.S. Senator Dave Durenberger for environmental, natural resource, energy and agricultural issues. Following that experience, in 1988, Erickson centered her consulting career on organizational management and integrating mission with public policy goals through communications and grassroots advocacy. In that role, she served as Executive Director to several Minnesota organizations. In 1992, Erickson and Conservation Strategies transitioned to focus on providing legislative representation at the Minnesota Legislature working with state and regional associations, communities, local governments and businesses.

Judy and Conservation Strategies are working closely with Freshwater to help them navigate the State legislative process for successful passage of their policy initiatives. A major focus this session is to initiate a program in the Minnesota River Basin to store water in order to reduce flooding as well as sediment and nutrient loads to the river.

Erickson and her husband also own Pleasant Valley Orchard, a family farming business specializing in growing strawberries, apples, and pumpkins. Operations also include a farm market, gift shop, bakery and special events. Erickson is responsible for managing the retail operations, communications, marketing and seasonal staff. Pleasant Valley Orchard was named Best Orchard by WCCO viewers in 2015. Judy is also engaged in her community, serving on the Falls Chamber Board of Directors as well as the ABC Leadership Team and Tourism Marketing Committee for the Chisago Lakes Area.

Judy did all this while raising a family of three. The adult children continue to work in the family businesses.

Special note: Judy played a pivotal role in the implementation of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP), which permanently protected 100,000 acres of Minnesota River floodplain. As mentioned on pages 178-79 of For Love of a River: The Minnesota and depicted in Part 3 of River Revival: Working Together to Save the Minnesota River, the CREP law had passed at the federal level with a requirement of matching funds from the state, with three years to make it happen. CREP figured passage would be a no-brainer — $80 million state dollars to get about $167 million federal — but in the first year the state legislature allocated only $10 million. It became apparent that obtaining full funding would require help from a lobbyist. The ill-conceived and ineffective Minnesota River Basin Joint Powers Board declined to provide any funding for one, so the Friends of the Minnesota Valley, led by executive director Nelson French, hired Judy. In Year Two, the MN legislature provided $20 million and, in the final hours of the third year, thanks to Judy and then-Governor Ventura, they came up with the final $50 million.

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