By Saundra McBrearty
Part of Preservation Parks’ mission is to conserve the natural features of Delaware County. The park district staff and volunteers are dedicated to restoring natural habitats on park properties. We regularly convert portions of open fields into wetland or tall grass prairie habitats as the remaining park land transforms into our future forests. Native tall grass prairies are the most endangered ecosystem in North America (Kansas State University).
A tall grass prairie is a powerful habitat with vibrant grasses and flowers which paint our September landscape with vibrant flowers every color of the rainbow. Prairie grasses and flowers attract pollinators and provides cover and forage opportunities for wildlife of all kinds. The grasses and flowers grow to heights of up to 8 feet tall, and their root systems grow almost as deep into the soil below, anchoring it and protecting soil from erosion. These tunneling root systems revitalize soil and increase the its ability to absorb water, which reduces erosion and improves local water quality.
For the past dozen years Preservation Parks has planted tall grass prairies in our parks. In the beginning, Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks shared their prairie seeds and mentored us in the process of collecting prairie seeds through the fall, drying them, and planting them through the winter. Once our first prairies were established at Gallant Woods Park and Blues Creek Park, volunteers helped us to collect our own seeds, supplementing seeds we purchased. We have continued to plant tall grass prairies in the parks and beyond.
Our prairie habitats throughout our park district are productive, and we encourage homeowners to plant personal tall grass prairie plots in their own yard. For the past 4 years, we have proudly given away beautiful and informative prairie seed packets, encouraging people to expand and experience this endangered and vibrant habitat. The seed packets include information about Preservation Parks, about prairie habitat, and the mix of flower seeds included.
Volunteers are at the heart of every step in this prairie promotion project. Groups of volunteers collect the seeds in the autumn. Volunteers bundle up in the cold of winter to plant the dried prairie seeds onto our newest park properties. And, in springtime, volunteers socialize as they stuff the prairie seeds into the envelope packets which we will be giving away throughout the summer at festivals and programs ahead.