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Collaborative grant will help restore natural space at Prairie Park, provide conservation lessons

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More pollinators and wildlife could soon buzz and burrow within Prairie Park. Coordinators of a grant-funded prairie habitat restoration project have begun the process of restoring a portion of the park, and they need the public’s help.

A $50,000 grant from the Douglas County Heritage Conservation Council supports the stewardship effort, which is led by Grassland Heritage Foundation (GHF), a nonprofit organization devoted to prairie protection and education in eastern Kansas.

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The two-year restoration project will yield numerous benefits for wildlife, insects and area residents, said Kaitlyn Ammerlaan, GHF program director and preserve manager.

Researchers estimate less than 1% of the original tallgrass prairie in Douglas County remains. Having an accessible site near bathrooms, a covered shelter area and a playground — all within city limits — provides residents an opportunity to visit often, Ammerlaan said. 

“Giving folks a chance to see what prairie looks like and a place where they don’t have to drive to go to it, kind of in their backyard sort of situation. A place for continued education and just connecting folks back to the native landscape,” Ammerlaan said.

Prairie Park is south of Prairie Park Elementary in southeastern Lawrence. Five acres of the 72-acre nature preserve are marked for restoration.

Partnering with GHF are Haskell Indian Nations University, City of Lawrence Parks and Recreation, Kansas Association for Conservation and Environmental Education, and Native Lands LLC.

Ammerlaan said the project builds in opportunities for student-growers at Free State High School, internships for Haskell students, field trips for local students, and online offerings across the state for use in classrooms and nontraditional learning spaces.

How you can help

Tricia Masenthin/Lawrence Times Community members have the opportunity to help restore 5 acres of natural space at the city-owned Prairie Park, south of Prairie Park Elementary in southeastern Lawrence.

The public also plays a key role. Three fall community workday sessions have been planned, the first of which is scheduled from 5 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 30, at Prairie Park, 2811 Kensington Road.

“We’ll be removing a lot of invasive plants, so that will help the general ecosystem,” Ammerlaan said, “as well as flood protection through improving the amount of native plants that will be able to absorb more water and help with water quality and erosion.”

At Tuesday’s session, participants will focus on removal of invasive trees and other woody plants that compete with native prairie species. They’ll target Bradford pear trees and Sericea Lespedeza — a plant native to Asia that’s deemed a noxious weed in Kansas.

No experience is needed, Ammerlaan said. Experts will work alongside participants while providing prairie education. Organizers request those who plan to attend any of the sessions let organizers know via this link

On Oct. 8, a workday will highlight native plants and their importance and usage in Indigenous communities, and at another session on Oct. 29, the removal of honeysuckle bushes. Those interested in planting a diverse ecosystem can also participate in a seed collecting event, still in its planning stages. See the schedule below.

GHF also manages ongoing prairie restoration at the historic Blackjack Battlefield site. Visit the foundation’s project website for more information.

Contributed/Grassland Heritage Foundation Fall workdays at Prairie Park are open to the public and listed here.

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Tricia Masenthin (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at tmasenthin (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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