Community comes out to help restore Belle Prairie Park oak savanna

Bringing wildlife diversity back to a park on the Mississippi River

Belle-Prairie-Park from Morrison County Record

Volunteers from the community joined Great River Greening staff this spring to clear undesirable trees and brush at Belle Prairie Park. The effort was part of an ambitious, long-term project, begun in December of 2012, to restore the park’s oak savanna to its historic landscape.

The scattered trees and groundcover of grasses and wildflowers in a savanna attract a rich diversity of wildlife like the bluebird, red-headed woodpecker, and whip-poor-will. They were once common in Minnesota, but are now rare.

This project aims to restore a 40-acre section of the 132-acre park to a pre-settlement state. Work involves clearing the current overgrowth and low-quality vegetation that has created bare, erosion-prone soil and a muggy atmosphere, followed by enhancing a native understory of wildflowers and grasses.

Great River Greening ecologist and manager of the project, Steve Thomforde,said involving the community is key to the success of this multi-year restoration effort. “Oak savannas were largely created by people, using fire to enhance grazing by animals. We do less of these things and need to take new approaches in order to preserve this rich and fast disappearing habitat.”
Where: Belle Prairie County Park, Morrison County, 19000 Riverwood Dr. Little Falls, MN 56345
When: Sat., May 4, 8:30 am – 12:30 pm

Scope of the project: slated in three phases though June, 2015: Clear, plant, and engage the community. Long-term management, designed to increase and maintain ecological integrity, will include controlled burns, supplemental plantings, and possibly new agro-ecological approaches including native nut and fruit production, apiary, selective cutting for wood products, hay-making, and silviopasture. Thomforde will also continue to offer presentations and engage volunteers in the area. More seasonal projects like Saturdays are planned for the future.

This is a project of the Anoka Sandplain Partnership, made possible with support from Morrison County and the Minnesota Outdoor Heritage Fund.

Greening in the News:

05.08.13 Students work on restoring Belle Prairie Park _ The Morrison County Record