The Free Press, Mankato, MN

St. Peter news

September 16, 2012

New Gustavus prairie has visitors looking into the past

Coneflower Prairie dedicated at Gustavus

ST PETER — The Kasota Prairie now has a whopping new cousin.

Thousands of years old and preserved from mining by a group of area environmentalists in the 1980s, the Kasota Prairie is just southeast of Gustavus Adolphus College across the Minnesota River and totals 90 acres.

Now the Coneflower Prairie, planted four years ago and dedicated Saturday, has arrived at nearly the size of its older cousin. At more than 70 acres, the prairie essentially doubles the size of Gustavus Adolphus’ Linnaeus Arboretum.

And like proud parents, a couple of Gustavus officials aren’t hesitant to do a little bragging.

“This is the best looking 4-year-old prairie restoration I’ve seen,” said Scott Moeller, arboretum naturalist. “It’s really looking good.”

The never-plowed Kasota Prairie has something going for it, too. Historical continuity.

“The plants that live on the Kasota Prairie are the ones that have been there for 10,000 years,” Moeller said.

But the Gustavus prairie actually has more native prairie plants than Kasota — at least for now, according to Pamela Kittelson, professor of biology and environmental studies at the college.

“This prairie is currently more diverse than the Kasota Prairie,” Kittelson said. “It is a very high quality prairie in its current state.”

Kittelson is one of the many parents of the prairie — part of the group that suggested restoring the Gustavus-owned soybean field west of the arboretum into the ecosystem that dominated about a third of Minnesota prior to settlement. She credits former arboretum director and biology professor Cindy Johnson as a key figure in the planning and fundraising.

The Carl and Verna Schmidt Foundation offered a challenge grant to encourage donations, and dozens of donors came through. With the money in hand, Feder Prairie Seed Co. of Blue Earth was brought in for the planting.

Feder had their hands full, literally, in planting a prairie of such size. (By comparison, 70 acres is about the size of the entire Benson Park in North Mankato — that city’s largest).

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