Donated acreage restored to native prairie grass and wildflowers
By Jennie Zeitler, Staff Writer
Grace Covenant Church was built on land donated in the late 1940s by Bill Holm-quist, a long-time member of the congregation. Two years before Holmquist’s death, in 2006, he donated 6.45 acres specifically to be used for a park that would serve not only the congregation but also the surrounding community.
Between those dates, Grace Covenant acquired more acreage in the area around the building.
“There were rumors of a chicken barn going up in the neighborhood, so the church bought the rest of the acreage in self-defense,” said Park Board Member Howard Warnberg.
The entire church complex is 10 acres. The park includes more than 600 feet of shoreline on the Mississippi River.
“We started developing plans for the property about seven years ago,” said Grace Covenant Park Board Member Paul Kuske, also a Department of Natural Resources employee. “The playground and the pavilion were put up about four years ago.”
There are also benches near the river and a fire pit. A custom-painted sign was installed at the entrance to the park about 10 years ago.
“Last year we looked at turning five acres into restored prairie, partnering with Crane Meadows,” Kuske said.
“The church did the site preparation, which included spraying the vegetation and tilling,” said U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife officer Ron Beam. “The area went from a weed bed to a seed bed.”
Fish and Wildlife sponsors the Partners for Fish and Wildlife program.
“We work on private lands to restore native prairies and wetlands,” Beam said.
This spring, the area was seeded with 10-12 pounds of seed per acre. There are nine species of native grasses and 22 wildflower species in the seed mix.
“Big bluestem was one of the grass species planted. There are between 140,000 and 165,000 seeds per pound,” said Beam. “Once the prairie is established, the roots go down six to nine feet. It usually takes two years to be established.”
“It was announced from the pulpit after the seeding that the church had just received several hundred thousand new members,” said former Park Board Member Loren Boyum.
There will be some maintenance of the prairie, Beam said. In about the second year, the area can by hayed, with the cut grasses removed. That will allow light to get down to the native species.
“A prescribed controlled burn will be done in spring, two or three years down the road,” said Kuske. “Prairies need fire to rejuvenate. It gets rid of dead material on the ground and gets light to the ground. We will keep re-seeding every year until the area is established.”
“It’s great to have the people from Crane Meadows help,” said Warnberg. “We wouldn’t have been able to do it without them.”
Boyum pointed out that the park area is in the flood plain.
“Rocks have been placed in the playground to prevent icebergs from taking out the equipment,” he said.
Future plans include more benches, a walking trail around the park, bluebird houses along the trail and picnic tables along the river.
“There is a possible shore fishing site,” said Kuske, “a granite outcropping that could be developed.”
There are already three geo cache sites on the property. They are called “Bear in Mind,” “Fish out of Water” and “E-e-e-e-e-k.” Geocaching is an outdoor activity using global positioning system (GPS) coordinates to hide and seek containers holding little trinkets.
There are also key historic sites in the park’s vicinity.
“It’s in a unique location,” Boyum said. “Across the river was Fort Duquesne, a French fort in the 1700s. It’s now an annex of Lindbergh State Park, at the mouth of the Little Elk River.”
Slightly down river is the former location of the Weherhaeuser-Musser sawmill.
Fish and Wildlife has restored hundreds of acres of both prairie restoration and thousands of acres of wetland restoration throughout Morrison County over the last 20 years.
“We may cover 75 percent or more of the cost of the project,” Beam said. “The landowner signs a 15-year agreement to keep the restoration in place, or repay the cost.”
This year, Beam has restored an eight-acre site near North Prairie where an old ferry used to cross the Mississippi, four acres south of Pillager, 3 acres west of Little Falls and 15 acres south of Hillman.
Holmquist wanted his donation to be used for a community gathering place — a neighborhood meeting place “to rest, play and fellowship by the Mississippi.”
“The city gave us a free building permit for the pavilion because the church was doing the city a service in building a park in this area of town,” Boyum said. “Once the pavilion was completed, we put together a Power Point presentation for the Council and thanked them for helping us get started. Then we paid back the $200 permit fee.”
“Our hope is that having a little piece of prairie in a close urban area will give folks a chance to enjoy a really unique setting,” Kuske said.