Students work on restoring Belle Prairie Park

Great River Greening gathers volunteers to remove undesirable brush  

By Tina SnellStaff Writer

Steve Thomforde, the ecologist project manager with Great River Greening in St. Paul, spent some time teaching and working with Little Falls Community High School students May 3, at Belle Prairie Park just north of Little Falls.

Thomforde, who specializes in volunteer events, is building awareness of the parks and other areas available for restoration.

“Belle Prairie Park has been declining, as have many other parks in Minnesota,” said Thomforde. “It is in better shape than most, but needs work.”

Students from Little Falls Community High School’s Natural Resources Bridges class, took time off from school May 3, to help reduce undesirable brush in Belle Prairie Park. They are front row: Adam Frank, left, and Nathan Masog. Second row: Jordan Geise, left, and Mason Ringwelski. The partially hidden person in the back is Tom Young.

Students from Little Falls Community High School’s Natural Resources Bridges class, took time off from school May 3, to help reduce undesirable brush in Belle Prairie Park. They are front row: Adam Frank, left, and Nathan Masog. Second row: Jordan Geise, left, and Mason Ringwelski. The partially hidden person in the back is Tom Young.

Thomforde said when the area sustained grazing animals in the park area, the land regenerated itself naturally. Between 100 – 200 years ago, plenty of edible vegetation could be found in Belle Prairie Park and animals such as elk, deer, mice, beaver and rabbits ate the fruits and nuts. The humans in the area ate the white acorns.

“That grazing kept the land open and renewing,” said Thomforde. “The food is not regenerating as it once did. The new vegetation that is growing is not supporting any creatures.”

Thomforde, who is working with Morrison County, would like to see the undesirable species of vegetation controlled. Therefore, he solicited the help of students in Doug Ploof’s Natural Resources Bridges class to help clean up the undesirable brush in the park.

That is phase one of the project.

“All that rotting brush will create excess nitrogen in the soil, the perfect medium for the undesirable plants,” said Thomforde. “Without clearing it, the ground in the park becomes hotter and not suitable for people or animals.”

The second stage of the restoration plan is allowing the good vegetation to take over. The third stage is long-term management.

Thomforde also hosted a public event May 4 to continue the project. Fifteen people volunteered to clean more land and in the two days, five acres were cleared.

Future events will be announced.

Great River Greening began in 1992 with Ben Thompson providing a vision for the Mississippi River in St. Paul. The project ran on both sides of the river from the high bridge to Holman Field. Volunteers did plantings with a goal to restore the ecological function, to create attractive green space near downtown St. Paul and to involve citizens in the project.

The first planting of 2,591 trees and shrubs took place in 1995. By the end of 1996, a total of more than 8,700 trees and shrubs were planted with the help of funds from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Great River Greening was established as a non-profit organization in 1999. Besides plantings, it began removing exotic species, collecting prairie seeds. By the end of 2010, more than 25,000 volunteers had planted 60,586 trees and shrubs and restored 4,000 acres of land.

Besides Belle Prairie Park, the Rice Area Sportsmen’s Club is also having restoration work  done.

For more information about volunteering, contact Thomforde at (651) 665-9500, ext. 16 or e-mail him at sthomforde@greatrivergreening.org.

 

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