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Earth Action Heroes: Native prairie keepers

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Bloomington Briefing Published August 31, 2021
Updated on August 31, 2021
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Have you noticed patches and fields of prairies at City facilities? Native prairie plantings may look wild, but they’re actually planned landscapes designed not only to add natural beauty but to attract wildlife and pollinators, and conserve resources. Even then, keeping them in good shape takes some care. Park keepers Wade Yunker and Rick VanAnken, pictured above, maintain prairies at Civic Plaza, Public Works and other City parks and facilities.

With a diverse combination of native grasses and flowers, native prairie plantings don’t require as much maintenance as turf grass. No watering is needed and mowing is done just once a year. Some spot weeding is required, but the biggest task is controlling invasive plants. Prairies are occasionally managed with prescribed burns. These are done on a rotating basis to remove thatch and weed seeds, control invasive vegetation and strengthen growth for seasons to come.

“Compared to the cost of grass, prairie plantings are very cost-effective, look good and are good for the environment,” VanAnken said.

Over the years, VanAnken and Yunker got help from some rather unusual sources. At one time, the City used goats to maintain prairies. They love to eat buckthorn, garlic mustard and other weeds. 

There’s a lot to like about working with native prairie plantings. 

“Looking at the prairies and trails, being outside and walking through parks—it’s good to see all of the flowers,” VanAnken said. “I never thought I’d be someone who likes flowers, but it’s pretty awesome seeing what nature does.”