SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — Drive southeast of Sioux Falls and you will find Good Earth State Park at Blood Run.
In its early days, the area was a gathering place and trading center for thousands of Native Americans. Now a state park, employees and volunteers are working to restore and preserve the original nature of the area.
This one-time trading post was dedicated as a state park in 2013.
“The convenience will provide city dwellers with great access to nature right at their doorstep,” said Gov. Dennis Daugaard in 2013.
Nearly a decade later, there’s even more nature to explore. Jim Henning has been the park manager since day one and says Good Earth is a working project
“Before that most of the area that is- that the park encompasses was in agricultural production at one time,” Henning said.
The state park stretches 650 acres, and more than a third of that land was used for farming. Those fields are now covered with 30-to-50 different species of native grasses and plants.
“We are not just on a whim building prairie, we are establishing the ecosystems that were in this place,” Henning
This area of the park is home to an array pollinators like bees, butterflies, birds and insects which naturally pollinate the grasses.
Park management at Good Earth State Park manages an array of ecosystems from the prairie grasslands, the forest, to down by the river.
“One of the added benefits to that is that it really provides really good wildlife habitat, we’ve seen a real increase in return of wildlife to this area as well,” Henning said.
“Over time left unchecked or unmanaged, the native grass will fade away. So that does require us to do a few things with it,” Jason Baumann, District Park Supervisor, said.
Jason Baumann is the District Park manager for this area. He and Henning work alongside to manage the prairie and wooded area, which is vital for its survival.
Managing the area comes in many forms, including burning the grasses and grazing, which help these grasses grow back bigger and healthier than before.
“Native grasses need a disturbance and it’s evolved over thousands of years to require this disturbance, and we are getting a process here at Good Earth, more of a routine to give a disturbance to the grass to keep it growing,” Baumann said.
Along with work on the prairie, management has also turned more than half of the land at Good Earth into woodland. They’ve planted thousands of trees, including 15 different species which has brought more than 190 species of birds to the area.
But the area needs constant management to contain invasive species, and that help comes from volunteers and donations.
“We have a volunteer core that is very passionate about our parks and the natural resource and they donate a lot of time, a lot of sweat equity into these parks and they help us manage it, they are the labor force a lot of the times,” Baumann said.
Along with the reconstruction, Henning has spent years researching the area.
“This area where it’s right along Big Sioux River in addition to Blood Run National historic landmark on the Iowa side. This area was home to as many as 10 thousand Native people at one time up until the early 1700’s.
He says that history is one of the main reasons this is now a state park..
“The tribes that are descended of the people who lived here are the Omaha, Ponca, Iowa and Otoe people. They were farmers, fishermen and tradespeople. This was an important trade hub at that time,” Henning said.
and why workers at Good Earth continue to work every day to preserve it.
“I think of myself primarily as a caretaker of the land. We come out and try to do right by the land and I think if you do right by the land, you do right by everybody and everything, it’s a cool thing to be a part of,” Henning said.
“I like creating moments for people if that makes sense. 1:14:02 “After all our hard work, going through and seeing people enjoy it, you know they are creating memories that they will carry with them for their life and it’s something special for me and all state park employees, and that’s why we do it, it’s for the people and the natural resources,” Baumann said.
The park is open year-round, and the visitor center is open six days a week.