Dane County

Pollinator project takes flight at Prairie Learning Center

Obscured by tall grass and milkweed, a noisy wren made its presence known while Clare Carlson, a naturalist with the Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area, explained the significance of a prairie restoration project adjacent to the Lussier Family Heritage Center (LFHC).

Just then, a Monarch butterfly flew overhead, landing on brown-eyed Susan flowers that had also caught the attention of several bees. It’s working.

“We want to show people that planting natives is not only good for pollinators, but it’s also really beautiful and colorful,” she told the Star.

The Friends of Capital Springs Recreation Area, created in 2004, will be better equipped to share the benefits of prairies and pollinators using a Friends of Dane County Parks Endowment grant through the Foundation for Dane County Parks. The group received a grant of $1,706 for the development of educational materials and restoration of the Prairie Learning Center (PLC) at William G. Lunney Lake Farm County Park on the northeast side of Fitchburg.

Eleven conservation nonprofits, many Dane County Parks Friends groups, were the first recipients of the endowment grants; awarded a total of $17,284 to support their efforts, according to a county news release. The funds will be used to help provide educational programming, interpretation and enhance volunteerism in local parks.

The grant will be used to make the prairie resources in the Capital Springs State Recreation Area “more cohesive,” Carlson said. Funding will be used to purchase tools to construct nursery beds, create interpretive materials and signs for the PLC and add about 40 plant species labels in the nearby Lewis Nine Springs E-Way prairie.

A board member with the Madison Area Master Gardeners Association (MAMGA) got the idea to restore the prairie three years ago having seen an increase in invasive plants.

“Because it’s so close to the (Lussier Family) Heritage Center, they (MAMGA) took it up as their multi-year capital project,” Carlson said.

Volunteers have planted hundreds of prairie plants here in the last few years. To help speed up the process, part of the grant will go toward construction of two nursery seed boxes and hand tools, such as spades, shovels and hoses, to help get the roots strong since it “takes longer to establish by just seeds” and the plants are “quite delicate,” she said. The boxes will be located next to the LFHC parking lot, and Carlson said local students plan to help work on them this fall.

The Friends group is focused on adding interpretive signage at the edge of the prairie by spring 2020.

“When people are already stopping to use the restroom or get water at the Lussier Family Heritage Center, they can walk right over to the Prairie Learning Center and learn on their own and explore, or we could do walks and educational programs with student groups,” Carlson said. “The 50th anniversary of Earth Day is next year, so we’d also like to include information about stewardship work and why it matters.”

A smaller pollinator garden a few steps between the PLC field and the LFHC parking lot has been so successful in attracting pollinators that MonarchWatch.org designated it as a Monarch Way Station.

The area is also a “bumble bee magnet,” Carson said. The UW-Arboretum-trained citizen science project group, the Capital Springs Bumble Bee Brigade, identifies different types and numbers of bees.

This prairie garden is only in its second year, having been created through the Environmental Council of Dane County grant funding, and she hopes people will consider planting their own.

To learn more, visit friendsofcapitalsprings.org or danecountyparks.com.

Because of an internal miscommunication, the Star used the wrong story under this headline in last month’s print issue. Therefore, we are re-running the story in its entirety.