Today I visited Eyota, Minnesota, where citizens have established a prairie at the source of the Whitewater River’s South Branch and built rain gardens in neighborhoods. Former Eyota Park Board member Iris Neumann and City Clerk Marlis Knowlton took time to explain the projects and show me around.
On Eyota’s north side, Summerfield Park is at the blunt end of Summerfield Drive NE in a relatively new neighborhood development. The well-kept “pocket park” is a popular place for neighborhood kids, but in 2010 was hot and open.
Eyeing clay-based soils and standing water, the Park Board installed a rain garden to collect and filter excess water and beautify the park. Ms. Neumann developed a plan, then with contractors, Park Board members and the park’s next-door neighbor the garden was graded, planted, and mulched.A few blocks away Eyota Mayor Tyrel Clark has built a stunning rain garden at the end of a shallow draw in neighborhood back yards. Masses of lilies and other perennials thrive where rain water collects and soaks into the ground, reducing runoff to the Whitewater River and replenishing ground water.
In Eyota’s West Side Park, Park Board members saw opportunity in a wet, low place in the park’s sprawling lawns. The seasonally soggy spot is the source of the South Branch of the Whitewater River—a collecting place for runoff from roads and nearby farm fields that begins flowing just across the road. The Board called on Tom Eckdahl, manager of nearby Chester Woods Park, to help them develop a prairie plan in 2006, then City staff spent two years ridding the site of existing vegetation. In 2008 the prairie was planted with hand-collected seed from Chester Woods’ extensive prairie restorations and Winona County’s Prairie Moon Nursery. Now, five years and several burns later, the prairie is a thick, natural area that filters water and attracts both birds and people.
Knowlton says Eyota has significant storm water issues because there’s a surprising amount of clay in the soil. Gesturing to where ditch overflow enters the park and then to the site of a future walking path, she says the site was originally wetland and may be once again, depending on how collaborative water management plans evolve.
It’s slow, she says. But standing at the edge of the prairie I feel the significance of what’s already been done. This small but increasingly diverse prairie is a vision of what will bring balance to our landscape—the work of volunteers, elected officials and City staff who dig in to do what they can, one step at a time.