August 13, 2018 | Topics: Places
By Valerie Mann and Nick Spittlemeister
When you think of Bristol Woods County Park, a prairie is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. As the name suggests, most of the park is made up of dense forest communities, dominated by oaks, maples and hickories. Nonetheless the Pringle Nature Center, which is located within Bristol Woods County Park, has embarked on a multi-year journey to establish a tallgrass prairie in the large open field to the north of the nature center parking lot. When the park first opened it was a mowed field of grass. Prior to that the Pringle family used the field to grow feed for their cattle.
In October of 2011, funds donated to the Pringle Nature Center by the Kloss Foundation enabled a four-acre expansion of the prairie. These funds were used to purchase approximately 40 lbs. of seed comprised of various native prairie grasses and forbs. With a tractor was supplied by the Kenosha County Parks Division and a drill seeder graciously rented to the center at no cost by Schmidt Implement in Salem. These, along with volunteers from the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, allowed us to prepare and seed about four acres of the open field. These new acres of prairie joined with the single acre of prairie established in 2007 provide over five acres of habitat for birds, reptiles and insects. Importantly, they also provide the nature center with a valuable resource for educational programs.
The prairie boasts a wide variety of flowers such as blazing star, cup plant, and big blue stem that attract songbirds to nest and eat. Visitors can stroll on mown paths through the middle of the prairie, listening to the birds and insects, and feel like you’re “away from it all” and one with nature.
In 2014, our prairie was certified by Project Monarch Watch as a Monarch Waystation. To be considered a waystation, the resources necessary for a monarch’s survival and to sustain their migration must be in present. We have been tagging monarchs since 2009. During our summer camp programs, the monarch rearing table is the first thing the kids go to when arriving for their program. This past spring, one of the monarchs we tagged was found in El Rosario, Mexico – 2,053 miles from where it was born!
One of our field trip programs is Mighty Acorns®, which is a Chicago Wilderness program for students in the region to learn about stewardship. Third through fifth graders visit a site three times a year for a total of nine visits for the program. In the fall they visit our prairie, where they are shown how to collect seeds to be reseeded into the prairie as well as to use when we add to the existing prairie. The students love to collect the seeds – especially the fragrant yellow coneflower seeds and the Indian Grass seeds that ripple right off the stem into their hands.
Establishing a thriving prairie is a time intensive project involving years of pulling weeds, controlled burning, seed collecting, and over-seeding. If you would like to assist with any of these tasks please call 262-857-8008 or email the center at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Valerie Mann is a Naturalist at the Pringle Nature Center and Nick Spittlemeister is on the center’s Board of Directors.
Photos by Eddee Daniel, Preserve Our Parks board member and project director for A Wealth of Nature.