Prairie Hike with Five Adventurers and a Request for Action

Left to right: Megan Ulrich, Pat Kubly and Matt Kubly enjoy a meander through PSSNA.

Left to right: Megan Ulrich, Pat Kubly and Matt Kubly enjoy a meander through PSSNA.

Minnesota Master Naturalist, Matt Kubly, led a hike through the Prairie Smoke School Nature Area (PSSNA) this past Saturday, July 20th. There were 5 attendees, including Matt. We spent 2 hours marveling at the sheer diversity and abundance of species in this small habitat. The PSSNA is located at the north end of 11th Street (north off of HWY 212, 3 blocks past Winter Park) in Granite Falls.

There is a mind-blowing variety of native plant species (many I could not identify) in the PSSNA including; prairie cinquefoil, spiderwort, vervain, wild onion, anemone, wild bergamot, silvery scurf-pea, leadplant, meadowsweet, prairie dogbane,  white sage, yarrow, coneflowers, prairie clovers, multiple varieties of milkweeds, goldenrods, sedges and grasses, etc.
We saw many varieties of dragonflies and damselflies, including; Widow Skimmer, 12-spotted Skimmers, Dot-tailed Whiteface, many meadow-hawks, darners, forktails and bluets.
We saw one whitetail deer running and the remnants of a kill from much earlier in the year along with further evidence (scat) of coyotes. There were plenty of birds, butterflies and other insects about. Visit the DNR’s website for more information about native and non-native plant species.
There is no doubt that this is an important ecosystem oasis, but it is in dire need of protection from the encroaching invasive plant species, including; common buckthorn, honeysuckles, spotted knapweed (eastern red cedars should also be cut and eventually a prescribed fire carried out). The trail is being maintained and some herbicide has been sprayed along the edges (including some dense areas of poison ivy), but there is an ATV trail going through from the dike road.  The signs are in an illegible state of disrepair.
Common Mullein, the tall plant to the left of the tree stump, is one of the many non-native invasive species that threatens native prairies. A Eurasian, biennial weed, Common Mullein can grow from 1 to 8 feet in height and is also known as the Flannel Leaf plant.

Common Mullein, the tall plant to the left of the tree stump, is one of the many non-native invasive species that threatens native prairies. A Eurasian, biennial weed, Common Mullein can grow from 1 to 8 feet in height and is also known as the Flannel Leaf plant.

  • Perhaps a group of concerned citizen-naturalists can meet up with the school and other responsible entities to devise a plan for restoration and maintenance. It would be nice to have some expertise from local DNR folks as well as cooperation from local parks departments, Clean Up the River Environment (CURE) and Pezuta Zizi Cultural and Environmental Learning and Resource Center (such as it is, now with very few volunteers and Terri Dinesen now working at Lac qui Parle State Park).
  • It would be great to get a survey done of plant species-we could start with local knowledge and then look for professional expertise. I think there may be some more rare species, that have been lost to the plow in the surrounding area.
  • Matt had mentioned a possible invasive plants removal work day for Sept. 28th, which is “Public Lands Day”. It may be too early in the season to effectively stump treat the woody species; buckthorn and honeysuckle, but there is plenty of alternative work to be done. My greatest concern is getting the spotted knapweed positively identified and controlled, before it becomes a more serious concern, It is currently in flower, so a bit of prevention now, even if it is just removing the flower heads to prevent seeding, would be ideal.

If anyone has advice on who to approach for the current maintenance and responsibility of PSSNA, and any other thoughts or comments, please get back email Megan at meganmulrich@gmail.com and Cc Matt: mwkubly@gmail.com or leave a comment below.

By Megan Ulrich, CURE Board Member
Pat and I are discussing the Dot-tailed Whiteface dragonfly.

Pat and I are discussing the Dot-tailed Whiteface dragonfly.

PSSNA hike guide and MN Master Naturalist, Matt Kubly, eats a delicious black raspberry.

PSSNA hike guide and MN Master Naturalist, Matt Kubly, eats a delicious black raspberry.

Spiderwort, a native flower.

Spiderwort, a native flower.