Prairie restoration at Wild River State Park

Hands-on learning opportunities for school classes at Wild River State Park: help with the Native Prairie Restoration Project.

Activities

Do these activities by themselves, combine several during a single visit, or do a series of visits (for example, fall, late fall, and a follow-up in spring) to provide continuity and reinforce learning.

The Wild River State Park naturalist will preface these activities with a general explanation of why the park is restoring prairie and other natural habitat. This short program also will include background on the task your class will do or observations your students can make during your visit.

Spring

  • Help sow native prairie plant seed in the park to return former farmland to a richer, more attractive habitat. (Subject to availability of seed and prepared sites to sow it.)
  • Observe the effects of a prairie-regenerating prescribed burn. (If your class visit happens to coincide with a burn, you may be able to observe at a distance. If no burn occurs on the day of your visit, you can visit recently-burned sites to see how plants regenerate after fire.)
  • Girdle aspen trees in overgrown prairie and oak savanna restoration sites to allow more sunlight to stimulate growth of prairie plants. (Recommended minimum age: senior high.)

Summer

  • Help collect seed of early-ripening species. (Small groups.)

Fall

  • Help collect seed from prairie remnants in the park. (First grade and up.)

Late fall/winter

  • Clean collected seed; separate chaff; prepare for winter storage.
  • Sow selected species of seed in prepared sites at park.

Winter/early spring

  • Pretreat and start a small quantity of the park's seed in your classroom under grow-lights.

Spring again

  • Transplant seedlings from your classroom to a nursery at the park. (Can combine with observing effects of a prescribed burn and/or with seed-sowing.)

Fall again

  • Move transplants from the park nursery to permanent prairie restoration sites. (Can combine with seed collecting the same trip.)

Any time

  • Observe what flowers are currently blooming in prairie remnants and restorations.
  • Compare an undisturbed prairie remnant with restored prairies in different stages of maturity, and with an old farm field where no restoration has been done.
  • Visit the Landscaping For Wildlife garden to see what plants are in bloom or in fruit or seed, and what animals are making use of the plants.
  • Cut brush out of overgrown prairie or oak savanna restoration sites. (Recommended for 5th grade and up.)

Educational benefits

The Native Prairie Restoration Project at Wild River State Park offers many educational benefits:

Students:

  • Learn by doing, not just seeing and hearing.
  • Learn that individuals CAN do a lot to help the environmental health of the Earth.
  • See the benefits their efforts bring to the landscape and its living things.
  • Get a sense of pride and ownership: "I helped restore this prairie!"
  • Satisfy community service goals.
  • Have potential for continuity and incremental learning through repeat visits to the park and involvement in many aspects of the project.
  • Have potential for learning and enrichment for the indefinite future as students grow up and continue to visit sites they helped restore.
  • Have potential for inter-generational learning as students work alongside adults, or as they bring their own children to the park in the future.
  • Get instruction from the park naturalist when your class is at the park, and reference materials for classroom use.
  • Access an excellent curriculum with pre- and post-trip classroom activities available from reference guide*.
  • Get a list of Internet resources available for more information on native plants and prairie.
  • Gain skills to apply their learning towards restoration projects at their school natural area, prairie restoration, butterfly garden or home landscape.

Planning your day(s) at the park

  • We can accommodate groups of up to 60-70 people, or groups as small as 8-10.
  • We recommend you make reservations early, since available program days are limited. Groups that reserve early have the widest choice of dates. We are not able to accept reservations for alternate dates. If you are unable to visit on the day you have reserved, we will make an effort to reschedule. But if all other dates are taken, we will not be able to accommodate you.
  • Flexibility in planning is important: exact dates for seed sowing, prescribed burns, and collecting of a particular species of seed depend on weather trends which cannot be predicted with certainty. We will ensure that your class has a meaningful educational experience when you visit, but the exact activities we conduct with you may vary from what was planned.

Contact

Please contact the park naturalist for additional questions: (651) 583-2125.

*Reference guide: Prairie Restoration For Wisconsin Schools, University of Wisconsin - Madison Arboretum, 1993. Contains guide on planning a restoration, an extensive set of classroom and field activity guides, a thorough bibliography, and growing and seed-germinating data on plant species native to Wisconsin prairies and savannas. (Most are also native to Minnesota.) Order from UW-Madison Arboretum, 1207 Seminole Hwy., Madison, WI 53711.