Claire Wirt said she was surprised how many critters she found Saturday in Cascade Creek.

Wirt, 14, was among 11 Girl Scouts helping conduct a water-quality test Saturday afternoon in the creek in Rochester Township.

The informal but scientific examination was part of a group’s ongoing efforts to spread awareness of an upland heron nesting site and to learn more about the environment the birds live in.

ALSO READ: Development decision delayed amid heron concerns

Naturalist Larry Dolphin led the girls from three troops through the testing process as they waded into the creek to gather samples of mud and sand from the bottom.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

“You don’t expect to find anything, because there’s a lot of silt and mud,” said Wirt, a member of Girl Scouts Troop 44714. “But once you dump it on the tar, there’s thousands of tiny little bugs.”

The Olmsted County Board of Commissioners and Rochester Township Board are being asked by a landowner of part of the site, a heron nesting area, to approve a land-use plan and development proposal.

Adjoining neighbors sued to stop work on the land. An Olmsted County District Court judge will receive the final arguments on that case Monday, May 17. The Olmsted County Commission is scheduled to vote on a land use for the 30-acre site Tuesday.

On Thursday, Rochester Township Board agreed to require the developer submit an Environmental Assessment Worksheet if the county board approves the land-use plan for the development.

Paige Wirt, 11, a member of Girl Scout Troop 45001, places a larvae found in Cascade Creek into a collection tray. Wirt and 10 other Girl Scouts participated in a water quality assessment Saturday, May 15, 2021. John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com
Paige Wirt, 11, a member of Girl Scout Troop 45001, places a larvae found in Cascade Creek into a collection tray. Wirt and 10 other Girl Scouts participated in a water quality assessment Saturday, May 15, 2021. John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com

The development plan by International Properties LLC Aderonke Mordi would extend Boulder Creek Lane Southwest north toward Cascade Creek, and split the 30 acres of land into 10 lots for houses.

Neighboring landowners and members of a group called the “rookies,” advocating halting development, invited members of three area Girl Scouts troops to help assess the water quality of Cascade Creek near the heron nesting site. Members of Troops 44589, 44714 and 45001 answered the call.

Those “thousands of tiny little bugs” give an indication of the health of the stream’s ecosystem, Dolphin said.

The water quality and insects and larvae the Girl Scouts were counting in the stream feed the fish and other critters the herons likely use for food while nesting nearby.

“This is just one part of the connection of the herons to the streams,” he said.

Naturalist Larry Dolphin goes over insect and larvae findings with Girl Scouts who were helping with a water quality assessment at the creek in Olmsted County Saturday, May 15, 2021. John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com
Naturalist Larry Dolphin goes over insect and larvae findings with Girl Scouts who were helping with a water quality assessment at the creek in Olmsted County Saturday, May 15, 2021. John Molseed / jmolseed@postbulletin.com

Dolphin, who retired in 2016 after serving more than 20 years as director of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center, is president of the Austin Audubon Society, and volunteers with the Austin chapter of the Izaak Walton League.

The results of the count of larvae and insects indicates the water quality was “good,” according to metrics Dolphin used. He said he enjoyed teaching children about nature, and Scout leaders said the girls were eager for the opportunity.

“We actually had to draw names because we had more interest than space available,” said Heather Schenck, troop leader of Girl Toop 44589.