Everyone should follow Maramec Spring’s lead

    We’ve all heard the phrase, “Lead, follow, or get out of the way.” When it comes to restoring our natural habitat, Maramec Spring Park is leading…and we should all be following.

    Wesley Swee, assistant regional manager for The James Foundation, announced last week that Maramec Spring Park is taking on an ambitious project to restore 150 acres of fields into a native prairie, which will serve as a pollinator habitat for butterflies, bees, and birds. It’s a big project, and it serves as an example for something we can all do, whether we have a tiny yard or a massive estate.
    Restoring native wildflowers has been a passion of mine for more than 10 years, ever since my wife and I decided to do all native landscaping when we moved into our new house in 2008. We cleared about five acres of small cedar trees before we began construction. The area had been a pasture on my wife’s family farm, but had gone unused for decades, so we opted to restore it to what it had once been even before it was used for grazing.
    That decision began a beautiful journey for us, as we first restored about one acre of the field, which is now full of wildflowers and native grasses, planted native flowering shrubs and wildflowers around our house and in our yard, and later began seeding another four acres of prairie. The transition has been amazing.
    Rather than mowing all our yard, we opted to create a pollinator garden, about 30-feet in diameter, that is now full of native wildflowers that bloom from May to October. The area has become such a favorite with us that we are now planning two more large wildflower gardens in problem areas where we can’t get grass to grow. More for the butterflies and hummingbirds, and less time on the mower. It’s a win-win.
    And our work around our house has inspired some other projects. Over the past year, our Steelville Star Stream Team completed work on restoring 1.5 acres of prairie in the Steelville Community Park (which is being mowed two years before being allowed to fully grow), something that was part of the original park master plan, but had never been done, and is currently working on two other wildflower restoration projects at the Steelville Cemetery and on some local business property along the Yadkin Creek. Both will not only restore key pollinator habitat but will also reduce the mowing burden.
    Creating a wildflower area is something all landowners should consider. Many people mow large swaths of their property simply because they think it looks good. Most never use that lawn for anything, other than running their mower across it. Wildflowers, however, look much better and create key habitat for a host of wildlife, including songbirds that eat wildflower seeds.
    And not only should private landowners take Maramec Spring Park’s lead on creating more pollinator habitat, but the state of Missouri should also. The Missouri Department of Transportation mows thousands upon thousands of acres of right-of-way throughout the summer, when it could be left for butterflies, bees, and the public to enjoy if flowers were simply allowed to mature.
    It must be frustrating to those working for the Missouri Department of Conservation, which pushes for pollinator development (they hosted a workshop about it in Boone County on June 20), to see MoDOT mow down milkweed—a key plant for monarch butterflies—along our highways, especially in areas where leaving wildflowers in place would not create a danger for drivers.
    MoDOT has proven it can have beautiful pollinator areas along our highways. It has created wildflower areas along some of our interstates (although many have not been maintained) and has developed a fantastic wildflower corridor along Highway 54 south of Jefferson City, which should be their standard for the rest of the state.
    Far too often, however, natural wildflower areas are being mowed down by the state and landowners alike. We have already destroyed 99 percent of pollinator habitat, yet we continue to question why butterfly and bee populations are in decline. We can do better, we must do better…we must follow the lead of Maramec Spring Park.
    If you are interested in restoring pollinator habitat on your property, the Missouri Prairie Foundation has two wonderful websites that are full of resources to get started and photos to get you inspired. You can check them out at www.moprairie.com or www.grownative.org.

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