By Anne Queenan
Perhaps you already know Judy Krohn, one of our newest members. If you fell in love with Lake Pepin while enjoying her salads, breads and cuisine at the Harbor View in years past, it’s possible. Or you may have attended the Stockholm Art Fair, where she conversed with passersby at the Flyway Film Festival table, and later listened to her dulcet tones along with a chorus of female band members in “The Hot Flashes.” You may have spotted her afterwards laughing with her husband, Gib, while enjoying a meal with fellow volunteers and artists who helped lure hundreds to the small town for this juried show. Perhaps you shared a meal with her at Pepin’s free, monthly Community Café dinner, or with Lake Pepin’s local food group. Or maybe you met Judy as you joined your civic neighbors through petitions and public meetings to advocate with her for clean water and clean air. If so, you have been touched by her welcoming and inviting spirit, one she credits to those around her in a modest, sincere way.
As one gets to know Judy, it is easy to see how she artfully weaves threads of a strong, social fabric along Lake Pepin, particularly in Maiden Rock, Stockholm, and Pepin, Wisconsin. This has helped the community for years – through protection of the water and land, civic engagement, a local food movement, great bread pudding at community cook-offs and plenty of joy. Fred Harding of the Wide Spot Performing Arts Center describes his neighbor well. “Judy is a force for kindness and compassion here on the coast. Welcoming, friendly, passionate, funny and inclusive.”
Starting small, digging in and keeping it local.
For some, the 1970s was an era appealing to a generation open to moving back to the land. Minneapolis had just opened its first co-op on the West Bank where Judy and Gib lived. They soon fell in love with the spring ephemerals and the wooded countryside of Wisconsin. She was an English graduate from the University of Minnesota. Under Warren McKenzie, Gib studied Mingei, a Japanese ceramic art. They both longed to find a place in the country to live and raise their one-year-old daughter, Grete.
After following up on an ad in the Ellsworth Shopper, for six thousand dollars, a cozy home and a plot of 36 wooded acres from a dairy farmer in Maiden Rock soon became theirs. The price was right as this farmer considered the land, for his purposes, to be unusable. “We had no idea we were near Lake Pepin, let alone the spring-fed Pine Creek just below our new home. We were just kids in our 20s, dreaming about a place in the country with stars in our eyes.”
Forty-three years later, their love of the land and reverence for doing things themselves has resonated deeply. In that time, Gib rebuilt their small home, re-purposing locally resourced materials to create a warm interior with a hand-made ceiling of reclaimed pine, rustic beams from a local barn, and a slate floor from the blackboard of a school. “Our blocks came from the Red Wing Sewer Pipe Company,” he added.
As their daughter headed to school, Judy set her eyes on a grant-funded position in Pepin, Wisconsin to help administer and build the momentum led by Dorothy Hill, with the Citizens for a Clean Mississippi. With the collaboration of attorneys Dick Ricci of Durand and Phil Gartner of Lake City, “We prioritized addressing the affluent from the Pigs Eye Water Treatment plant upstream,” said Judy. “At the time, stormwater and sanitary sewers were combined, so anytime it rained, the sewage treatment plant couldn’t hold the flow and the overflow would land in Lake Pepin. It was dangerous to swim in the lake.” After bi-monthly newsletters, public meetings, trips to the Capitol, one-to-one’s, and a lawsuit filed against Minnesota’s Pollution Control Agency and the Metropolitan Council, that situation changed. New regulation effectively addressed this type of point-source pollution from upstream sources and consequently, brought the phosphorous levels down.
At the time, in the late seventies, Gib was commercial fishing on the Nancy Lynn in Stockholm, which shipped 30-pound carp to restaurants in New York City. He recalls how PCBs (Poly Chlorinated BiPhenyls) were also an issue on the lake, impacting the fishing market. “These carp were big, white steaks and in hot demand. When the fish advisories came out, we couldn’t sell anything over five pounds. So the prices dropped and the market stopped shipping live fish to New York.”
Since then, inch by inch, committee by committee, Judy has continued to play the role of a fully engaged citizen, right alongside her husband. From running a school board and town board, to manning the bar and bringing fresh bread pudding to the local Gumbo Cook-Off, they both enjoy doing their part. “You have to be civic-minded when you live in a small town,” said Gib. As they have been able, the Krohns expanded their property to include the two fields on either side of their driveway and another two acres behind them, endearingly called, “The Grassy Knoll.” Buckets of sap were being collected from the maple trees there on the day of my visit.
The Brook Trout of Pine Creek
In the creek just south of Judy and Gib’s house, more and more native brook trout are enjoying a good life. The spring that feeds Pine Creek begins just below their house on the southern part of their property. In recent years, the creek has received a good deal of restoration efforts with assistance from Trout Unlimited. There’s another reason this creek is so healthy, however. The good neighbors of Maiden Rock kicked in to make it happen. When the last family member on the farm on top of the Maiden Rock Bluff permanently left the farm to move into a nursing home in Red Wing, explained Judy, there were rumors that it might be developed into a golf course. In 2001, neighbors in the watershed worked together and decided to put their property into a conservation easement. Now, through the Wisconsin Land Trust, a long contiguous stretch of wooded land along the creek will remain undeveloped and pristine, forever. Any run-off of sediment or nutrients will be filtered through the wooded land before ever reaching the water.
“We were trying to work throughout the watershed,” said Judy.
There are now two citizen scientists, who go out on a monthly basis from April through October, to measure the flow, turbidity and dissolved oxygen levels of Pine Creek. They report back to the Wisconsin DNR that the creek is quite healthy. Take one guess at who those two citizen scientists are.
Welcome to Lake Pepin Legacy Alliance, Judy, and thanks for bringing Gib with you!