Keller Creek – A Channel for Restoring, Learning and Recreation

By Sage Passi

Mounds Park Academy biology students kick off this year’s planting season at Keller Creek.


Keller Creek is a passageway that has long been a thoroughfare for people traveling up and down the Phalen Chain of Lakes. Planting along Keller Creek is an annual affair as we restore this corridor. This spring, the relatively cool weather and frequent rains helped to make the buffer planting a success. Amazingly, not a single restoration session had to be cancelled despite the imminent rain forecast on many of our scheduled planting days!

Chris Klatt, Natural Resources Intern, Tracy Leavenworth, education consultant, and Don Vegoe, Ramsey County Master Gardener, assist Mounds Park Academy students in restoring native plants along the Keller Creek buffer.

Now in its third year, this latest phase of the restoration creek buffer project encompasses an area along the east side of the creek between the north parking lot at Lake Phalen near the boat launch and just south of the Frost Avenue Bridge. To prepare the area, invasive trees and shrubs were removed. The turf grass along the edge of the path next to the creek was killed and a seed mix planted beneath the erosion blanket fabric that covers the planting area.

To prepare the site, discs on the seeder cut slits in the dead turf and seed
was then dropped onto the soil. A heavy roller helped to close the slits and increase the seed-soil contact.

In mid-to-late May, over 375 students in fourteen classes from Mounds Park Academy, L’Etoile du Nord French Immersion, Weaver Elementary, Level Up Academy, Harmony Learning Center and Roseville Area Middle School gathered at the site to install 3,500 native plant plugs with the help of Natural Resources staff, Simba, interns Chris, Matt and Anna, education staff, Sage and Tracy, and Ramsey County Master Gardeners. These native plantings are now in the ground and thriving.

A student in Harmony Learning Center’s Adult ESL
class plants at Keller Creek.


Liddy Rich, ESL teacher at Harmony School, helps her students learn new
vocabulary words while they are oriented about the planting.

In the coming weeks, Natural Resources staff and Ramsey County Corrections inmate crews will install plants on steeper slopes and in the water in areas that were too hard for students to navigate.

Prior to coming out to the creek, classes studied the history of changes along the creek, learned about the planting zones (the upland prairie, wet meadow and emergent zones) and the ecological value of buffers and their role in preventing erosion. To review some of the creek’s many changes over time, go to this link.

Since the restoration project began three years ago, park patrons that walk by the restoration area often share positive comments and express appreciation for the work that is taking place in the park. Kayakers, canoeists and even paddle boats glide by on the creek, taking in the beauty of the area. A bicycle and walking path along the creek often carries people who are traveling between Phalen Lake and Keller Lake or others who are making connections to the Gateway Trail. At the weir or other bridges over the creek, you will often find people fishing. One sunny morning during the restoration project, a student spied a sturgeon lingering by the weir’s wall. When asked what he has been catching, a nearby fisherman reported that he often sees blue gills and big mouth bass in the creek.

The weir in Keller Creek

On most of the planting days, time was built into the schedule for students to explore the aquatic life in the creek. They collected samples of water and found abundant damselfly nymphs, an occasional dragonfly nymph, a variety of beetles, aquatic worms and other macroinvertebrates. Beneath the weir and other bridges you can see vibrant colonies of eel grass waving in the shallow flow of the stream. This vegetation provides habitat for some of this aquatic life. 


Anthony Larkin, a Level Up Academy teacher, climbs down along the weir to point out a turtle to his students.

After planting, many of the classes tried out some newly learned techniques for monitoring water in the creek. They collected water and then carried it onto the weir to measure the creek’s pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen and transparency.

Jodie Hardenbrook, a science teacher at Roseville Area Middle School,
looks on as her students pour creek water into a transparency tube
to measure its clarity.

Except for the first day of the planting when the turbidity of the water was somewhat murky after a rain, the water was remarkably clear. Dissolved oxygen levels were in the 8-9 ppm range and the pH measured around 8.6.

A Harmony ESL student carries water up from Keller Creek
to test it for dissolved oxygen, pH and temperature.


The portages near the weir make it handy
to get down to the water’s edge.


How to Get to the Restoration Area

Starting from the South:

To give you a feel for the restoration’s progression, take a stroll along the creek from bottom to top or the reverse. It is really easy to access. One option is to park in the lot on the north end of Lake Phalen. Take the walking path to the north along the creek. The straw erosion control blanket delineates the restoration. If you look closely, you will see thousands of young native plants popping through the blanket. On your way you will pass by a monument near the Frost Avenue Bridge that provides pictures and history of the area.

Starting from the North:

You can also access the full length of the creek restoration from the north, starting with the first stretch of the restoration completed two years ago. Enter Keller Creek Regional Park through the Golfview Picnic Area entrance. This entrance is just north of Roselawn Avenue (south of County Road B in Maplewood). You need to be traveling north on Highway 61 in Maplewood to get to this entrance. Take the road in the park to the top of the hill, park in the lot at the top and walk down the newly paved pervious asphalt trail to the bottom. On your left you will see the newly dedicated Tuj Lub courts adjacent to the creek. Tuj Lub is a traditional Hmong top spinning game. These courts officially opened on June 10 with a grand opening celebration.


Senator Foung Hawj presents spinning tops to partners who helped make the Tuj Lub Courts possible. Partners include Ramsey County, the City of Maplewood and the Legacy Fund.


Proceed south along the east side of the creek to the weir where the restoration was done two years ago. If you cross over the weir and walk along an informal trail on the west side of the creek you can see the now thriving wet meadow areas planted by students and other volunteers in 2016. 

The vibrant wet meadow was established last year on the west side of the creek. In the background you can see the Tuj Lub dedication celebration held at the new courts on June 10.


Cross back to the east side of the creek and continue to walk along the creek. You will pass under several arched bridges and eventually arrive at the north parking lot of Lake Phalen. The creek opens up into Round Lake and then its waters flow through a channel into Lake Phalen and eventually south to the Mississippi River!

You can also paddle the creek and put in at a number of spots including any of the following lakes in the Phalen Chain of Lakes: Lake Phalen, Keller Lake or Lake Gervais. To download our WaterTrail map go here.


Kayaks are commonly seen along Keller Creek. If the water is deep enough they can pass right through under the weir, but when the water in the creek is shallow the stone portages make it easy to get around the weir and re-enter the water.