Afield in Fridley with Springbrook Nature Center

What puts the spring in Springbrook?

By Sara C. Swenson
Guest Columnist


As a naturalist, one of the most important parts of my job is sharing my knowledge of the natural world with children—and one of the most rewarding parts is that this sharing is not a one-way street. I love talking with kids and getting a window into how they see the world. It reminds me that no matter how old we are, we are all somewhere along a lifelong journey of learning, never completely finished.

A stream at Springbrook Nature Center. (Submitted photo)

Recently, I was leading a group of first-graders visiting Springbrook Nature Center on a school field trip. As usual, they were bursting with observations and questions about what they saw around them: “I see a bird!”—“Look! A bridge!”—“Are there fish in the pond?”—“Which way are we going?”—“Do you live here?”

One question that day besides the ordinary queries was from a boy who asked, with a tone of intense curiosity, “Why is there water here?”

What on the surface may strike an adult as just another unwittingly silly remark (Oh, don’t those kids say the darndest things!) is actually a very good question, and one with an answer that people might not stop and think about very much.

Like most, I first learned about the water cycle in grade school—this crazy concept that all the water in the world is used over and over again through evaporation, condensation, and precipitation—but it was in my college studies when I started putting together what that all really meant for the land and water I saw around me every day. I added more pieces of the puzzle to my understanding, like infiltration, surface runoff, and subsurface (groundwater) flow, and I learned about the concept of a watershed, an area of land which, if precipitation falls anywhere on it, will collect and drain all that water to a single given point on a body of water, like a river or lake. It was fascinating to me to fill in these details, to realize that the water cycle is not just some big global phenomenon, but can actually be tracked on scales small and local, down to a single drop of water.

So, “Why is there water here?”

You can ask yourself that question every time you see water—a puddle in your driveway, rain splashing out of your gutter spouts, the Mississippi River, or the lake at your cabin. Every drop of water you see is coming from somewhere and going somewhere too. As my first grade friend wanted to know, some of the water at Springbrook comes from springs, natural flows of water from underground sources to the Earth’s surface. Water also comes from aboveground flows from areas uphill from the park. Springbrook Creek, which travels west along the Creekside Trail, is spring-fed. So if you ever wondered what puts the “spring” in “Springbrook,” it comes from water, not the season!

Thinking about how water moves through the landscape can give you a new perspective on familiar places. Guests new and old to Springbrook Nature Center have plenty of opportunities to investigate waterways for themselves along our trails. You can walk over a bridge and note which way the water is flowing, you can look out over the wetlands and try to figure out where the water is coming in and going out. Just go with the flow!


Sara C. Swenson is an interpretive naturalist at Springbrook Nature Center, 100 85th Ave. NW in Fridley. Director Mike Maher welcomes comments at [email protected] or 763-572-3589. Go to for more information.