- Associated Press - Saturday, September 6, 2014

LEXINGTON, Ill. (AP) - On gently rolling land where wheat once grew, yellow coneflowers and purple bergamot blossoms explode amid a sea of other native plants that include the state’s official prairie grass, big bluestem.

It’s no accident, but rather part of a Parklands Foundation project helped by a grant from Trees Forever’s Illinois Buffer Partnership program near Lexington.

The program is designed to reduce erosion, improve water quality and provide wildlife and pollinator habitat, said Debbie Fluegel, Buffer Partnership program manager.

On a recent visit, bees buzzed and butterflies fluttered by as Jason Shoemaker, ParkLands Foundation land steward, pointed out the three phases of the project developed thus far - an area that was just planted, another in its first year of growth and a third that’s truly blooming in its second year.

Shoemaker said there are 10 to 15 species of flowering plants and four or five prairie grasses. They include pale purple coneflowers, milkweed, blue vervain, compass plants, wild rye and prairie dock.



Interested people can see the project for themselves at a free Buffer Field Day and Prairie Walk from 1 to 4 p.m. Friday at ParkLands’ Merwin Preserve on P.J. Keller Highway and McLean County Road 29, west of Lexington and northeast of Lake Bloomington. Advance registration is required. Call 319-373-0650, Ext. 112.

“Having field days shows people what can be done,” Shoemaker said.

Added Fluegel, “The best advertisement we get is neighbors seeing what neighbors are doing and asking them about it.”

At one time, about 60 percent of Illinois was covered by prairie - about 22 million acres, Shoemaker said. Today, only 2,500 acres of prairie are left in the Prairie State, he said.

The contrast between today and the past is even more stark in McLean County that once was 89 percent prairie, according to Shoemaker.

Part of ParkLands’ mission is to serve an educational purpose by showing “what Illinois was like in the past,” he said.

That is what the Buffer Partnership is all about. Currently, there are more than 200 Partnership projects statewide, said Fluegel.

“We provide grants to land owners, farmers and communities,” she said.

Although the Friday field trip will display a large-scale project, it also shows homeowners what they can do on a smaller scale to provide pollinator habitat, Fluegel said.

She explained that one key is to plant a variety of wildflowers that bloom at different times so that something is blooming from April through August.

In addition to helping wildlife, the deep roots of the prairie plants help hold soil and limit erosion while also preventing floods, or limiting their severity, Fluegel said.

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Source: The (Bloomington) Pantagraph, https://bit.ly/1lYZZFa

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Information from: The Pantagraph, https://www.pantagraph.com

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