When Katie and Josh Larson were looking for a home to buy, they knew they wanted a nice yard for their family to enjoy. After moving into the perfect place on Summit Avenue in St. Paul Park last summer, the couple decided to tie the knot in their backyard last October.
“By 5 p.m., we had to say goodbye to guests just because of how bad the mosquitoes were,” Katie Larson said.
The couple blame a long, narrow strip of marshy land, measuring 4.7 acres, that runs along the back of their lot. The property, owned by the Washington County Community Development Agency, is an overgrown breeding ground for mosquitoes and biting flies, the Larsons say.
The couple several times have requested more maintenance of the property, and now they’re turning to an online petition for help.
“It’s so frustrating,” Katie Larson said. “We are stuck at home because of COVID, but we can’t even go out on our own property.”
Melissa Taphorn, the development agency’s executive director, said the agency’s board will review the Larsons’ petition once it’s presented.
Even after dousing their 2-year-old and 5-month-old with bug spray, just 10 minutes outside can yield about a dozen itchy welts, Katie Larson said. Elizabeth’s eyes have swelled because of bites on the toddler’s face.
Officials with the Metropolitan Mosquito Control District (MMCD) said mosquitoes have been worse than average this year in the seven-county metro area. Heavy rain at the beginning of June made it a particularly bad month, said Alex Carlson, public affairs coordinator for the MMCD.
In early June, traps set weekly by the agency were collecting about 700 mosquitoes — 3½ times the 10-year average — and the count remained higher than average in the metro area for most of the month.
The Larsons have tried mosquito treatments in their own yard. They’ve lit tiki torches and added all kinds of plants — lemon balm, lavender, peppermint, garlic and marigolds — that are supposed to help ward off biting insects. Josh Larson jumped the fence once to try cutting back some of the vegetation, and he’s cut down a tree in his own yard to reduce wet or shady areas near his property line.
Taphorn said the property was last treated June 25 by the MMCD. Staffers from St. Paul Park’s Public Works Department mow and chop some of the vegetation a couple times a year. That work is difficult because of the parcel’s wetlands and elevation changes, Taphorn said.
Most of the agency’s properties are affordable housing units, she said, adding that the strip behind the Larsons’ house “is kind of an oddball property for us.”
Carlson said the community development agency reached out to the MMCD this week about the property, where a 2-acre stretch is considered a high breeding site and treated once a month with a larval control chemical. He put in a request to send staffers to the area to check for excessive breeding and potentially set traps for a mosquito count.
Crews also will explore the neighborhood for other areas of standing water that could be contributing to the problem. “We are going to do some investigation to see if we can figure out where the annoyance is coming from,” Carlson said.
The Larsons said they at least hope to see the vegetation cut back and the water treated to prevent swarms of mosquitoes. The area could make a good dog park or walking trail, they said.
Katie Larson would like to spend more time in her garden and be able to let her children enjoy the play area and sand pit she set up for them.
Elizabeth, she said, “comes in and always says, ‘We have to check for bugs,’ and looks for bites,” Katie said. “Kids need to be outside and be able to play. We just want that option.”