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City is bringing prairie to the parks

Anyone who has been to Schwarz Pond Park lately might have noticed signs saying prairie restoration is going on. Seems weird for an urban area, but it could be the wave of the future.

A company called Applied Ecological Services killed the turf grass in areas near Schwarz Pond Park and Erickson park last fall and this spring prepared the soil for prairie foliage. Last week the company planted its prairie mix in the areas said AES branch manager Chris Raebel.

While currently it looks like someone ripped parts of the parks up, by the end of the summer it will look like a Minnesota prairie complete with tall grasses and wild flowers

Parks supervisor Tom Schuster said the decision to put in prairie areas came out of the city's attempt to become more eco-friendly. The change will have some economic benefits too.

"We were looking at ways to decrease mowing," said Schuster.

Although there are some up front costs, installing the prairie plants will save the city time and money several ways said Schuster. For instance the city won't have to mow the areas, saving employee time and gas for machinery. In addition the areas won't need to be watered.

"While there was some up front costs there will be savings," said Schuster.

The project cost the city $12,500 which includes maintenance from AES for the next two years.

All the seeds planted are Minnesota native. Raebel said the company creates its own mix with plants that were probably originally on the land before it was settled.

In addition to saving the city money in the long run, the prairie areas will have some other benefits too. Raebel said prairie lands tend to be better for storm water run off. Also, the plants help the atmosphere.

For those who like little critters the prairie land will also be more becoming. Raebel said the areas mostly will attract birds and insects but could attract other small animals as well.

"It will provide more of a substantial habitat," said Raebel.

The new look may be a shock for some who are used to traditional turf grass in such areas, but Schuster said he thinks the area will still be beautiful. He added that the prairie foliage was planted in areas that weren't actively used by residents.

"It will be attractive in a different way," said Schuster.

Schuster said the areas done in Schwartz Park and off of Brazil Avenue will be watched closely to see how well the concept works for the city and the public.

If things go well he said the city may look at other areas to install prairie plants.

"I think we're probably going to look at other spots," said Schuster.

The city isn't the first to plant prairie grasses to replace turf grass. Dakota County Technical College has switched some of its lawns over to cut down on mowing as part of its green initiative.