When hints of fall approach in northwestern Minnesota, the prairie lands of Glendalough State Park are nearly bursting with a bountiful supply of native grass and wildflower seeds. Some seeds are rare, and all are an integral part of the state's ever-shrinking remnants of native tallgrass prairie. From late summer to early fall, Cindy Lueth and her Department of Natural Resources crew stay busy harvesting—handpicking or combining—sorting, and drying the precious seed. The seed will eventually be planted in state parks to help restore prairie landscapes.
This restoration work fits into the Minnesota Prairie Conservation Plan. The state's original prairies stretched across some 18 million acres, about one-third of Minnesota. During the last 150 years, this habitat has been largely converted to row crop agriculture. Today only 235,076 acres of native prairie persist, scattered among 71 counties. That amounts to less than 2 percent of the original native prairie ecosystem.
At Glendalough, DNR resource specialists work "behind the scenery" to transform once plowed lands into high-quality, species-rich restored prairie. Their vision for reviving this pre–European settlement landscape began in 1993, the year after the park was established. Starting with 15 acres of fallow fields, Lueth and regional strategic program manager Chris Weir-Koetter began to devise a plan. They scoured historical maps and public land survey notes from the late 1880s and early 1900s to discover clues to the makeup of native prairie plant communities.
With ingenuity and a handful of management tools—including controlled burns, mowing, and herbicide treatments—the park's crews have been encouraging native prairie species to grow for the past 20 years. As a result, visitors to Glendalough State Park can now experience a sweeping view of more than 700 acres of contiguous restored tallgrass prairie.