Students plant native grass

Published 12:46 pm Saturday, October 16, 2010

By Jason Schoonover

staff writer

Hopefully after Friday, the land around Mill Pond will be more hospitable to wildlife.

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The Izaak Walton League, five environmental science classes from Austin High School and a number of area volunteers planted a number of native prairie plants around the Mill Pond.

About 1,000 native plants — including 15 different species like common ironweed, northern blue flag, early meadow rue and sky blue aster — were planted along the walking trail Friday.

“We want to restore native prairie around Mill Pond,” said Merlene Stile, who helped organize the planting with her husband Jim. “It will help encourage wildlife: butterflies, birds, bees.”

Austin seniors and juniors plant native plants and grasses alongside the north shore of Mill Pond Friday morning. -- Eric Johnson/Albert Lea Tribune

Jim urged a number of AHS environmental science students to view their work next summer, so they can see the many benefits of natural prairie.

“If you come by here next summer, look at this area you planted,” he said. “Look at the butterflies, look at the insects. It’s so important to have that diversity.”

Merlene said the plants will be hearty perennials that can survive Minnesota winters, and high water along Mill Pond.

“It’s what naturally grows, so during high water it’s OK,” she said.

Science teacher Kate Schoonover said it’s important to take the students out for things like this when the weather is still nice.

While she said students won’t remember everything they’re taught in class, it’s nice to have something they can look back on.

“It’ll be cool to come back and say, ‘I planted that,’” Schoonover said.

“It stays in their memory a lot longer if they’ve been able to manually do something,” she added. Science teacher Josh Dumas also took two classes out to Mill Pond.

Planting the prairie grasses fits in well with the class focus, as Schoonover said the class recently had a speaker talk about prairie grasses.

The planting was made possible by a number of grants, including a $5,000 Minnesota Waters Grant. Along with the Izaak Walton League, Spruce Up Austin and Austin Parks, Recreation and Forestry also participated.