Each year since 2012, the Sustainability Office has led dozens of volunteers into the UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve to collect a wide variety of native prairie seeds to continue the reconstruction efforts started in earnest by Dr. Richard James and other dedicated community members in the late-1990s. This original section, established with expertise and seed stock from “Prairie Bob” and countless volunteers, has become the replenishing seed bank we depend on to harvest seeds each year to distribute in other areas of the Nature Preserve that were once used as agricultural land.
Our prairie seed collection times will continue regularly through Friday, November 17, 2017. While our specific times are subject to change and weather, our general schedule is Mon, Wed, and Thu from 1 – 3 PM, Fri from 10 AM – 12 PM, Sat, 11/4 from 10 AM – 12 PM and Sat, 11/11 from 1:30 – 3:30 PM. We plan on planting the next section of the prairie (weather permitting) during our final time on Fri, 11/17 from 10 AM – 12 PM. Volunteers can log community service hours with our staff to meet individual requirements. Collecting prairie seed is a simple and therapeutic process that can greatly benefit the continued restoration efforts of our campus prairie as well as our partner restoration efforts in the region.
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This land is protected under the LAWCON Program (Land and Water Conservation Fund Program), which is a federal program perhaps most notable for this provision of the Act with the greatest impact on long-term protection of recreation resources: Section 6(f)(3) requires all property acquired or developed with LWCF assistance be maintained perpetually in public outdoor recreation use. There are 122 acres of land protected on UW-Whitewater’s campus as part of the LAWCON program, which includes the entirety of the UW-Whitewater Nature Preserve (approximately 100 acres) and another 22 acres of recreation areas (tennis courts near Esker, softball field near Wellers, two picnic shelters near Wellers, and the nearby basketball court).
To fully develop this land as an outdoor living learning laboratory, there have been many efforts to work toward restoration of the original ecosystem likely found on our campus prior to European settlement and conversion of the area to agriculture. We know, based on the topography of this area, that the wetland area was likely always a feature here since the Nature Preserve is straddled by two drumlins, a type of hill formed by the glaciers as they receded. There is also a 40 acre parcel of deciduous (mostly oak) woodland known as Friar’s Woods that is being managed in its current state and another approximately 15 acres of wooded land that needs buckthorn removed to continue its restoration. The remaining 55 acres is being restored to a prairie habitat with the option of planting bur oak trees to convert it to an oak savanna, which is likely to be the predominant pre-settlement ecosystem in Whitewater. An excellent restoration of an oak savanna can be found at Pleasant Valley Conservancy in Black Earth, WI.
We wouldn’t be able to accomplish the progress we have over the last several years without our dedicated volunteers. Please consider joining the team and contribute to our project. Otherwise, keep an eye out for opportunities to take tours to learn more about the plants in this unique prairie landscape.