Exhibits and Science Projects

Sunfish Lake Park Mammal Survey June-August 2021 

by Grace Lehinger-Winden, who spent here summer setting up track plates, cameras, baits, and lures to let us know who lives in Sunfish Lake Park. You may download the report and the pictures.

Warner Nature Center let us have their White-tailed deer – Thanks Vikki and Julie! Watch him being raised into his new position at the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center in our award-winning video “How many chemists does it take to raise a Deer?”  Thanks to Kim for the videography!


“Interpretive” links in the Exhibits

In order to keep  the text font on the exhibit placards large enough to be easily legible, we had to limit the amount of information that is presented.  In the Conservation Easement document, the envisioned nature center had the option of being “observational” or “interpretive”.  We are using the Emy logo to indicate the subjects for which background interpretive information is available on this website in connection with that exhibit/topic. Where you see this symbol in an Exhibit, and

EMY interpretive symbol

wish to see the interpretive information, please go to the Exhibits and Science Projects drop down menu and select the  name of the Exhibit (in alphabetical order).


Things to see and do:

Try using one of Christa’s scavenger hunt photo collections as a trail guide, on the back side of the cards there is an explanation of each picture. An example is shown below. You may borrow a laminated card at the nature center, or print out your own copy from one of the links below.


First set:

Sunfish Lake Park Trail Views 1

Second set:

Sunfish Lake Park Trail Views 2

Are you taking pictures of wildlife or plants?

The Sunfish Lake Park project on iNaturalist is open for observations- Christa set it up as a collection project.  Go to http://www.inaturalist.org , click on the Community tab, go to Projects and search “Sunfish Lake Park”. Click on the blue text that comes up to see the observations posted to this collection so far. Your observations would be most welcome as additions to this collection. Please upload them using your own user id/password, and enter  “Sunfish Lake Park” in the PROJECT field.  If you don’t have an iNaturalist user id, it is very easy to set one up on that website.

Outside Exhibits / Activities 

PRAIRIE PLANT DEMONSTRATION PLANTERS – an Eagle Scout project done by Ben Jasinski and his crew in the Spring of 2019. These 29 planters are arranged along the pathway from the main door up to the patio level. They showcase the 29 species of prairie plants selected to create a diverse community when the City of Lake Elmo did the 17-acre prairie restoration in 2010.


RAIN GARDEN – a project built with design assistance and some expense reimbursement from the Valley Branch Watershed District, this feature collects precipitation run off from the roof. It helps the water soak into the ground instead of carrying nutrients into Sunfish lake, where they would add to algae “blooms”. The plants are chosen to be water-tolerant and also to be attractive to pollinators. Thanks to Carmen Johnson, Master Gardener, for guiding this development.


MESSY PLAY AREA – a space behind the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center for kids to play with natural materials like sand and sticks, jump on the stepping-logs, crawl through the passage, and set up a stick-fort. Thanks to Dar Regan for setting up this area.


BUCKTHORN CROQUET COURT – the mallets, balls, and wickets are made of the buckthorn that we have been removing from Sunfish Lake Park every second Saturday. Not like English croquet which is a well-mannered game played on smooth grass, this game is more challenging due to the rough surface and unpredictability of the path of the ball.  Thanks to Tony Manzara for constructing the set.


BIG BIRDHOUSE – Come and have your picture taken with the “bird of the season” – Jaime the Cardinal, Downy the Woodpecker, Happy the Bluebird, the Goldfinch, White Breasted Nuthatch, the Baltimore Oriole, the Robin, and perhaps others to come. Thanks to bird painter Dick Hartshorn, and to Connie Kirk for the idea of the Big Birdhouse!


BLUEBIRD HOUSE TRAIL – a dozen birdhouses were constructed by the Girl Scouts and Cub Scouts and installed on the perimeter of the acre is leased for the nature center – come and see what is nesting in them.


Science Projects


Birdhouse trail & nesting success survey

On Sunday April 7th, nine members of Stillwater Valley Girl Scout Troop 56493 and three members of Lake Elmo Cub Scout Pack 224 installed a dozen birdhouses at the Sally Manzara Interpretive Nature Center in Lake Elmo’s Sunfish Lake Park. The Scouts had previously assembled the birdhouses at the nature center, and each Scout signed a house using a woodburning tool.  So the houses are named Bellah, Braedyn, Cacelia, Hallie, Hans, Heidi, Isaac, Lucy, Maya, Sarah, Sienna and Violet.  These scouting groups are guided by Stacey and Bill Stoffregen. Funding for the birdhouse kits was provided by the Thrivent Action Team Program, to whom we are grateful.
group-pic-with-new-houses.jpg birdhouse-assembly-1.jpg
installation-by-cub-scout.jpginstallation by Girl Scout 2
In November all the houses were opened to determine who nested there. The contents were moved to our Bird Exhibit as allowed by our salvage permits. To see the illustrated report, click on this link:

Sunfish Lake 

Sunfish Lake was probably created when the land was scraped by the most recent glacier, which melted out about 15,000 years ago. It collects water from approximately a square mile of surrounding agricultural and residential property, and part of the Park. The lake has an extent of about 50 acres but the surface area is quite variable depending on the precipitation of the preceding couple of years. In June 2018 we measured the deepest point as 16 feet, but the water level was quite a bit higher in early Summer 2021 – maybe 3-4 feet more, and has since receded significantly. These changes are especially noticeable at the northwest arm of the lake, which has gently sloping banks, so a small increase in water level results in a large change in surface area. The shoreline of the more southerly section tends to be more steeply banked. Our fish survey of June 2018 found only sunfish (up to 7.5 inches long) visit https://sminc-lake-elmo.org/natural-science-projects/ . The report is available via the link below. Since that survey, it has been reported that carp (goldfish or koi) have been introduced – the survey should be re-done this year. If you are interested in participating, please email us at info@sminc-lake-elmo.org. There is ongoing work on the water quality of Sunfish Lake, details will be made available on the same website page when the work is at a reportable stage.

The Fish of Sunfish Lake – click here to read the report

sunfish lake preliminary fish survey report

The ICE911 Research Project – to slow the melting of the Arctic Ice by making it more reflective.  See Tony and Connie’s Presentation about our work with the Inuit people of northern Alaska – (it is full of pictures and may download slowly)

Inuit Traditions Meet Modern Science -Changing the Earth Together v5

Here is a shorter version presented to the Minnesota Senior Chemists

for more information about this work please visit http://www.arcticiceproject.org