Native prairie grasses to take root at Good Earth State Park

KELOLAND.com Original

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO)– 106 acres of retired farmland on the southwestern edge of Good Earth State Park is to be restored to native prairie.

The land is managed by the non-profit organization, EcoSun Prairie Farms, Inc. W. Carter Johnson, Distinguished Professor Emeritus for South Dakota State University and Chairperson for EconSun Prairie Farms, says one of the reasons for this project is the park wants to go back and put in vegetation that was similar to when the Oneota Indians lived there and survived off bison, which depended on the prairie.

His organization’s interest is broader than that, Johnson says.

Map of the retired farmland at Good Earth State Park. Map courtesy of EcoSun Prairie Farms.

“It is certainly to celebrate the tribes and the habitat that they lived in, but also we are looking at prairie as sort of a rescue cover of our land and a way to improve our environment but also to find an economic way to do that,” Johnson said.

Johnson says there’s almost no tall grass prairie left, and EcoSun Prairie Farms is wanting to get prairie back in the landscapes.

The Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation has contributed valuable funding to launch this project.

The crop field that they will be using was planted to soybeans last year, Johnson says, which is the appropriate way to start this project. They have now planted native grasses and forbs on the ground. They have five different plant communities, so the prairie will not be all uniform. Then they will apply herbicides and wait for rain.

Johnson says the first year of restoration is called the weed stage, and during the stage, the plants will be very short. That is because they have to focus on growing their roots, so they can come up again next year. During the second year, the plants will be taller. After three years, there should be a good representation of an established prairie.

As far as the trails, Johnson says that after the second year, there should be plenty of things for people to look at as they explore this part of the park.

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The restored prairie ground will add the opportunity for park visitors to walk through expansive fields of tall grasses and shorter flowers. This will also provide areas for wildlife such as monarch and skipper butterflies, native bees and prairie birds such as bobolinks, meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows.

According to a news release announcing the grant, prairies benefit the ecosystems through providing fish and wildlife habitat, pollinating crops, soil health, erosion control, flood attenuation, groundwater recharge, water protection and purification, carbon storage, climate protection and biodiversity of all classes of organisms.

With Good Earth State Park being located near Sioux Falls, this project will provide city-dwellers with the opportunity to experience prairies for themselves, Johnson says. It will show visitors why the prairie is important and why people care about it.

“There’s very few places of big cities having a prairie of this size right next door, on public land,” Johnson said. “There are nature conservatory places, which are terrific, but they are private, and you can’t just walk on them and poke around but you will be able to on this one.”

Previous prairie restoration near Colman, South Dakota. Photo courtesy of EcoSun Prairie Farms.

This is EcoSun Prairie Farm’s second time doing a major prairie restoration, Johnson says.

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