Although the coronavirus pandemic put a damper on planned in-person events for the Crow Wing County Master Gardeners program, gardening advice for county residents is in high demand.

The Crow Wing County Board heard an update on the program Tuesday, July 14, and was introduced to the program’s new coordinator, Brittany Goerges. Goerges told the board while COVID-19 changed plans for 2020, much of the in-person activity shifted to the virtual realm. Presentations once given at the Brainerd Public Library took place instead online. The first of these presentations drew 88 viewers, nearly double those who typically travel to the library.

“It’s been interesting because at the same time as COVID was hitting and due to COVID, there’s been this big resurgence and interest in gardening and self-reliance and food security,” Goerges said. “So I feel that the master gardeners have still really been able to help Crow Wing County residents during this time.”

Goerges noted a recent edition of the “Ask the Master Gardener” column in the Brainerd Dispatch — discussing ground cover plants in shady areas — garnered 60,000 views on BrainerdDispatch.com.

RELATED: Ask the Master Gardener: Ideal plants for ground cover in shady areas

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“That kind of really illustrates the interest and increased need for good, sound gardening advice at this time,” Goerges said.

Susanne Hinrichs, University of Minnesota Extension regional director, told the board Goerges has jumped in wholeheartedly to her new role.

“This time of year is a busy time because gardens are growing and insects are out and farmers are farming, so a lot of the questions come in,” Hinrichs said. “ … We’re providing that value in that way. What’s important about this is any information we share, we’re not trying to sell anything. So it’s unbiased information and it’s research-based.”

New Crow Wing County Master Gardener Coordinator Brittany Goerges (left) and Diane Greiwe, statewide volunteer coordinator, speak to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, July 14. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch
New Crow Wing County Master Gardener Coordinator Brittany Goerges (left) and Diane Greiwe, statewide volunteer coordinator, speak to the Crow Wing County Board Tuesday, July 14. Chelsey Perkins / Brainerd Dispatch

Those in need of advice or information related to horticulture may call the Crow Wing County Master Gardener helpline at 218-824-1068.

The board approved reinstating the program coordinator position in January after eliminating a version of it in 2016. The position now occupied by Goerges is half-time and focuses on volunteer coordination. About 60 volunteers participate in the master gardener program in Crow Wing County.

Extension is a century-old partnership between the U of M, state and county governments to help make university research and knowledge accessible to Minnesota residents. Its origins arise from the university's status as a land-grant institution, colleges established on federally donated land in the 19th century to increase agricultural and technical education for citizens.

Created in 1977 by the University of Minnesota Extension, the master gardener program trains volunteers to help others in their communities with horticulture. This includes a range of activities, from assisting residents with planting native grasses to improve runoff, to educating the public on the importance of pollinators, to answering questions about saving trees damaged by storms. The information used as part of the group's education efforts is based upon research conducted at the University of Minnesota.

In other business, the county board:

Received a legislative update from representatives with the Minnesota Inter-County Association, which lobbies on behalf of member counties for the passage of legislation beneficial to county governments. In light of the pandemic and its impacts, the organization shifted its focus from the established platform to what was needed to support COVID-19 response and continuation of services, the county board learned. Among those were election law provisions to help ensure a safe and secure election during the pandemic.

A proposal approved by the Crow Wing County Board will eliminate 2 miles of trail and add back 4 miles of trail as part of the Pine Center trail system. Map / Crow Wing County
A proposal approved by the Crow Wing County Board will eliminate 2 miles of trail and add back 4 miles of trail as part of the Pine Center trail system. Map / Crow Wing County

Approved a trail modification plan proposed by the North Metro Trail Riders to make changes to the Pine Center recreational trail system. The proposal, which received approval from the Natural Resources Advisory Committee, would see the removal of 2 miles of trails and an existing parking lot on the north end, with the addition of 4 miles of trail on the south end.

Of the proposed 4 miles of new trail, 1.3 miles is considered unmanaged and undesignated by Crow Wing County as a minimum maintenance forest trail. The remaining 2.7 miles of trail is designated minimum maintenance and managed by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. All 4 miles of proposed trail expansion are currently used by vehicles for recreation, public access and forest management purposes, according to a summary of the trail application.

Approved a preliminary plat for Gateway Storage, a proposed commercial storage facility in Ideal Township. The plat will consist of five nonresidential lots for storage units and one common lot. Variances were necessary as part of the proposal due to the fact storage units will be sold individually and not rented. The variance addresses lot size and width. The parcel is located on County Highway 16 in a commercial zone.

Approved a final payment to Anderson Brothers Construction Co. for aggregate shouldering maintenance. The final contract amount was 18% below the original expected cost, or $16,568.50 saved. Total approved for payment was $75,604.

Agreed to advertise for sealed bids for the installation of rumble strips along segments of county highways 3, 16, 18, 29 and 31. The project was originally scheduled for 2021, but a request for board action from County Engineer Tim Bray noted the Minnesota Department of Transportation has federal funds remaining in its Highway Safety Improvement Program to move future projects to 2020. The project will be 90% funded with these dollars.

Removed a tax-forfeited parcel from the Gull River Memorial Forest to be put up for public sale at the July 24 public land auction. The DNR approved the sale of the parcel in early March, and it was classified as non-conservation.

Entered a joint powers agreement with the Minnesota Department of Corrections to administer the work release program at the Crow Wing County Jail. The state will pay $60 per day per state offender participating in the work release program and $21.12 per offender for those in Phase 2 of the program. The daily rate increased by about 1% over the previous year’s agreement. The total obligation of the state will not exceed $100,000.

Approved the release of a surety bond in the amount of $500 for the stormwater management plan implementation for the Fishtales Estates plat in Lake Edward Township. Surety bonds are required as part of the process to establish a preliminary plat to ensure developers implement a stormwater management plan.

Accepted a $25 donation from Bryan and Diane McCulloch for the Explorers program. The program comes from the Minnesota Law Enforcement Explorer Association, which exists to promote public service and professional policing among young men and women.

Accepted the resignation of Keith Simar from the Natural Resources Advisory Committee. Simar first began serving on the Lands and Forests Advisory Committee in 2002. That committee was combined with the Parks and Trails Advisory Committee to form the committee in its current iteration.

Simar recommended the appointment of Curt Westerman, the new DNR Forestry area forest supervisor for Crow Wing and Cass counties. Chairman Paul Koering requested staff advertise the opening to allow residents who may be interested in joining the committee the opportunity to apply.

Approved replacing Theresa Goble with Richard Burton on the Crow Wing County Housing and Residential Authority Board. Goble, who represented Commissioner District 1 on the board, submitted her resignation.

Reappointed Land Services Director Gary Griffin as county assessor. Griffin’s term was set to expire Dec. 31. The term for county assessor is four years.

Approved the hirings of the following people: Zachary Lockwood, mechanic intern, highway department; Nancy Malecha, business manager, highway department; and Nicholas Cencer, deputy, sheriff’s office.

Accepted the departures of the following employees: Lorna Heidmann, senior technical/administrative specialist, community services; Lori Dubois, senior social worker, community services; Nichole Marks, child support officer, community services; and Amanda Schneeberger, customer services specialist, land services. Replacement staffing was approved for these four positions.

UPDATE: This story was corrected to include the correct phone number for the Crow Wing County Master Gardeners helpline.

The Dispatch regrets the error.

CHELSEY PERKINS may be reached at 218-855-5874 or chelsey.perkins@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at twitter.com/DispatchChelsey.