Saturday, September 22, 2012

Conservation Corps Update: YO1 September 18-22

Post contributed by Sammie of Youth Outdoors, Crew 1:

On Tuesday, all four Youth Outdoors crews took a field trip to the Minnesota History Center to facilitate thinking about the history of Minnesota’s people and their relationship to the land.  This was a great opportunity for the youth to reflect on their own histories and the connection they have to Minnesota’s past, present, and future.

Wednesday morning began with distributing mulch to the areas where we removed foxtail  grass (Setaria sp.)  along the Como lake shore.  We work very hard at encouraging the establishment of a diverse mix of native plant species in order to stabilize the environment. Foxtail was removed because it is has a tendency to take over areas, decreasing biodiversity.

Near the fishing pier, a large willow tree had recently fallen. This opened the area up to sunlight, but the plants that were living under the willow were adapted to living under its shade. We cleared the area of these shade-tolerant plants that were no longer suited to their environment. We then mulched to keep opportunistic weeds at bay, and planted sun-loving native grasses like little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), sideoats grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis), and prairie brome (Bromus kalmii). 

Unlike the grass you see in lawns, the grasses we have been planting are adapted to our dry open prairies; they don’t require fertilization  (which can cause harmful algae blooms when surface water runoff carries the fertilizers into the lake). Native grasses are adapted to live in this climate and offer many ecosystem services such as shoreline stabilization, water filtration, as well as being an important food and shelter source to a number of native insect and bird species.  Unfortunately, habitat for these beneficial grasses has become extremely scarce. It is hard for many of these once abundant species to spread on their own. With our efforts, the lake shore will soon be host to large bunches of these beautiful and valuable grasses and the abundance of wildlife species that are associated with them.

Wednesday afternoon took us to Lake Phalen, where we identified and repaired areas of fencing that were structurally compromised.

On such a beautiful day you cannot help but notice the people in the community as well as the wildlife utilizing our beautiful urban lakes. We spotted a large bald eagle swooping right overhead at Lake Como as we were planting. At Lake Phalen, we saw a large fish jump near shore as well as a young osprey swooping out of the air and into the lake to catch a fish. 
Youth Outdoors crewmember planting at Eastside Heritage park
On Thursday, the Phalen Youth Outdoors crew got their hands dirty and planted many more native prairie plants at Eastside Heritage Park. It is going to be amazing to see the park grow over the next couple of years! The Hazel crew learned about water quality issues and put their lesson into action by removing over 30 lbs of trash from the Phalen lake shore.  Both youth crews also spent time planning their youth led service projects that they will be completing on the last day of their term.

Autumn has definitely arrived, and we all felt the chill in the air on Friday. In the morning, we removed asphalt and debris from an area that was mulched in preparation for Saturday’s volunteer planting event at Como Woodland Outdoor Classroom. We then headed over to Como lake shore and continued our planting in the areas where we removed the foxtail grass earlier.  We’re in the midst of a planting spree, rushing to get these little plugs into their new homes giving them a chance to establish!

After lunch, we began replacing rotten posts and securing loose ones in the ground with concrete to hold back any further decomposition at Lake Phalen.

Saturday was another day of fence post repair. We replaced rotten posts, sealed decaying posts with quickrete, and repacked soil along unstable posts. 

While were at Lake Phalen this week, we were greeted by someone that just didn’t belong; a bright yellow and green parakeet flew onto the fence next to us and would curiously watch us every day. Likely an escaped pet, parakeets are originally from the Australian outback and cannot survive our cold winters here in St. Paul. The rain garden is a bounty of robust seeding plants though, so the seed-loving parakeet has, in all likelihood, been subsisting on autumn’s feast along with our native bird species in order to make it through the cold nights we’ve had so far!