Willow Reserve Restoration

A Wildlife Oasis in the City

Willow Reserve is a 23-acre urban oasis on the City of Saint Paul’s North End. The land was privately held and used for agriculture for nearly a century. In the 1960s, the City of Saint Paul and local neighbors purchased the site and established a bird and wildlife reserve.

In the early 1990s, CRWD’s Trout Brook Storm Sewer Interceptor (TBI) began diverting rainwater to Willow Reserve in an effort to reduce flooding. The reserve also includes 16 acres of wetlands that provide excellent habitat for birds, frogs, and other wildlife.

The Challenge

Willow Reserve is a critical stopover point for migratory birds following the Mississippi River Flyway. A 2007 Natural Resource Inventory by the DNR identified 36 different bird species in the reserve. However, as wildlife diversity remained high, plant diversity was low. Much of the site was overgrown with invasive plants and trees, crowding out native species that provide food and habitat for wildlife.

“Willow Reserve may not be the most visible water resource in the District, but it plays an essential role in maintaining a balanced ecosystem. Not only does Willow Reserve help control local flooding in adjacent neighborhoods, but it also serves as a recreational amenity for the entire community to enjoy. We’re proud to be protecting this beautiful wetland.” – Nate Zwonitzer, Water Resource Project Manager, CRWD

The Solution

CRWD, the City of Saint Paul, and the District 6 Planning Council met with residents to discuss the project and gather input to develop the Willow Reserve Restoration Plan. The plan’s goals include removing invasive trees and plants and creating more diverse plant communities to support local wildlife.

Project construction began in the winter of 2016-2017 by removing invasive trees at Willow Reserve. The trees were chipped and used for trails, burned onsite, or hauled offsite. Invasive plants were managed during the 2017 growing season with follow-up treatment and removal as needed through 2019.

For large-scale projects such as Willow Reserve, herbicides are the most effective and efficient way to manage unwanted plants. Herbicides approved for use around water will be used to treat invasive cattails and reed canary grass. All applicators will be licensed and will only use the amount needed for effective treatment. Signage will be posted to ensure the safety of residents.


CRWD has been working in partnership with the City of Saint Paul to improve the overall health and water quality of Willow Reserve. CRWD has conducted wetland function and value assessments through the District’s Monitoring Program since 2000.

Once the District was confident invasive species were being managed effectively, native trees, shrubs, and other plants were added to the site by live planting and seeding, completed in 2018. Monitoring and follow-up to occur in 2019. Long-term management will be required to ensure the plants are thriving and invasive species do not return.

Willow Reserve is an incredibly unique resource for such an urban setting. It provides flood protection for the neighboring community and critical wildlife habitat in an area of the city that has little. The restoration we are working on will significantly improve the quality of the habitat and make the site more of a recreational amenity for the entire community to enjoy.


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