This article was a collaboration with Jeff Feece of Rochester Parks.
Prairie Crossing Park in Rochester, Minnesota is living up to its name as the park's managers strive to restore native plants to the site. Members of TPE's Minnesota Driftless Chapter joined the volunteer efforts there earlier this month.
Prairie Crossing is an 8.5-acre public park located on Rochester’s northern edge. Aerial photography indicates that the land was previously part of a farmstead containing 48 acres of oak savanna vegetation. This acreage was grazed on and off for decades until it was purchased for development in the 1990s. The park is all that remains of the native plant community there.
The City of Rochester acquired the park from the developer in 2005 as part of its Parkland Dedication Ordinance (which allows for the allocation of new park land as the city develops and grows). Currently, Prairie Crossing is a mixture of open-grown white and bur oaks with some dense stands of black cherry. Hackberry, basswood, and ironwood are also found on the site. When grazing ceased, invasive species such as European buckthorn and Asian honeysuckle began to dominate the understory, degrading the diversity of native plants and wildlife. However, the park is still both ecologically and culturally significant. It sits near several housing developments that would otherwise have no walking access to nature.
Restoration in progress at Prairie Crossing Park. Photo by Stephen Winter
Early in 2020, the Rochester Parks Department successfully applied for a grant through Minnesota’s Conservation Partners Legacy Grant Program to begin eradicating the invasive species, restore native vegetation, and develop the property as a “Nature Park”. The city is seeking to restore the plant community characteristic of an oak savanna. The park will be usable by people through a set of mowed walking trails and seating areas. In support of the grant application, the Minnesota Driftless Chapter of The Prairie Enthusiasts will contribute hours of in-kind volunteer labor. Areas where they will be especially helpful include vegetation surveys, management planning, and seed collecting and sowing.
More than a decade after its creation, the park is now jumping with activity! In May and June, members of the Zumbro Valley Chapter of the Audubon Society conducted bird surveys at the site. Plant surveys were completed by Joel Dunnette, a member of TPE. These surveys will be ongoing as the park develops. A sidewalk connecting the local neighborhood to the park was installed in June. In July, the Conservation Corps of Minnesota and Iowa began cutting and treating all that buckthorn.
On September 12th, seven members of the Minnesota Driftless Chapter joined with Conservation Corps volunteers to move the cut buckthorn into dozens of burn piles throughout the park. These volunteers got to know each other in the process, learning that many of them were from the greater Rochester area. They enjoyed hearing each other’s prairie and restoration stories and hope this is the start of a long and meaningful relationship between TPE and Prairie Crossing Park.
The brush piles grow with help from TPE members. Photo by Stephen Winter
Thanks to Jon Allen, Michelle Cochran, Ryan Kemmerick, Marsha Rea, David Ruff, Angela Smith, and Stephen Winter for their help! If you're interested in lending a hand with this project, please contact Angela Smith at [email protected].
Volunteers after a day's work. Photo by Stephen Winter