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Carving out space for a savanna in Richfield

Post Date:11/15/2019 1:09 PM

Wood Lake savanna 3 

This fall a crew from Conservation Corps Minnesota has been hard at work on a special project in the south prairie of Wood Lake Nature Center (WLNC). The four-person crew is in Richfield as part of a grant-funded project to transform an area of the prairie into a formal savanna, a very rare ecosystem for Minnesota’s climate and geography.

“The savanna ecosystem is one of the rarest in the state, so we are thrilled to bring it back to health and to utilize it for wildlife habitat and education,” said Amy Markle, Recreation Services Director for the City of Richfield.

The project begins the second cycle of a three-year grant award that WLNC received to manage the prairie and restore the savanna. The funding comes from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and provides approximately $45,000 in capital to WLNC each year.

The four-person Conservation Corp is clearing invasive species in addition to thinning some of the trees from the area where the savanna ecosystem will be cultivated. Following the clearing of the invasive species, native prairie grasses will be planted.

“By thinning some of the trees, the sunlight will really be able to penetrate the tree canopy and help with the growth of prairie grasses below the trees,” explained nature center manager Karen Shragg. “When the invasive species are removed and the prairie grasses mature, this will create a much healthier habitat for birds, reptiles and pollinators to flourish.”

Conservation Corps Minnesota is a made up of a group of young adults who have dedicated a year to conservation work as part of this AmeriCorps-affiliated program. The volunteers receive training and work throughout Minnesota and Iowa.

Sam, a crew leader with the Conservation Corp, explained how he hopes this work will help him find a career in the field. “This is a great way to get experienced,” he said. “I really want to work at a Minnesota State Park, and this is a huge stepping stone to making that dream a reality.”

The crew, who often works along waterways and rivers, has enjoyed their time at WLNC and was impressed by the variety of ecosystems and experiences offered to area residents.

“Being at Wood Lake Nature Center is a unique opportunity for us to be in the heart of the metro while still having an authentic natural experience in a prairie or wooded setting,” said Steven, a first-year member with the Conservation Corp.

Sam added: “I’m sure residents love to come out here and get a taste of nature. If they are like me, it offers a way to find some stress relief from all the busyness of daily life.”

Conservation Corp Minnesota representatives are likely to return in 2020 to continue working on the prairie and savanna restoration projects.

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