Austin firefighter Terry Peterson sets a line of burning grass during a controlled burn of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center’s prairie in 2011. Nature Center officials had planned another burn this year, but weather thwarted their plans. -- Herald file photo
Austin firefighter Terry Peterson sets a line of burning grass during a controlled burn of the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center’s prairie in 2011. Nature Center officials had planned another burn this year, but weather thwarted their plans. -- Herald file photo

Archived Story

Weather puts damper on Nature Center’s burn plans

Published 10:24am Thursday, December 12, 2013

New trail will be added a few years after planting

There’s always next year.

The weather didn’t cooperate with the Jay C. Hormel Nature Center’s plan to burn off 62 acres of prairie land as a key step in planting more diverse prairie grasses and flowers before a new trail eventually loops around the land.

Executive Director Larry Dolphin first planned a burn in the spring, but conditions were too wet. Snow and rain caused Dolphin to cancel the burn twice in November, and he’d hoped to squeeze it in early this month, but the snow cover foiled that plan.

Though Dolphin hasn’t officially ruled out completing the burn if the snow melts this winter, he now has his sights set on planting by 2014.

“We do have to get it nailed down either spring or fall of next year,” he said, noting that the seeds for the planting are currently in storage at the Nature Center.

The land, on the far northeast edge of the Nature Center, is part of 148 acres purchased from Wayne Diekrager in 2005, and parts have previously been planted through the Conservation Reserve Program.

“This is a piece of land that we bought in 2005 that we’re gradually getting to restore,” Dolphin said.

Now, the Nature Center has special permission to remove three to four species of native prairie and replace it with a more diverse planting of up to 80 prairie species, like flowering forbs, meadow blazing stars, and sedge prairie fires and more.

“We’re upgrading that to a much more diverse planting,” Dolphin said.

Many of these plants will make for a colorful trail, especially during the summer, with pinks, blues and yellows.

“It will be quite dynamic in color, too, if everything survives and does well,” Dolphin said, who added many of the plants should benefit Monarch butterflies.

By having a more diverse set of prairie vegetation, Dolphin said, the land will provide more cover and may become a better habitat for a more diverse set of birds and wildlife.

While Dolphin admitted they can’t replicate what took thousands of years to grow, this planting will at least be a good step.

“We’re just trying to provide a little more diversity,” he said.

Dolphin described the land as a wet portion of old farm land. The land involved in the burn is not currently part of the public portion of the Nature Center and no trails run through the land. The Nature Center owns an additional 40 acres still being farmed that will eventually be restored, too, in a few years.

Once all the pieces are restored, trails will be added to run through the land, but that likely won’t be until around 2017 or 2018 at the soonest. Dolphin said those new trails will be one to two miles long.

“You have to stretch your legs pretty good to get out there,” he said.

The Nature Center also has another 11 acres with an old house that may be left as pasture land, which Dolphin said could have its own benefit for wildlife. A few buildings on the property will eventually be razed.


By using this website’s user-contribution features, including comments, photo galleries, or any other feature, you agree to abide by the terms of use. Please read this agreement in its entirety because it contains useful information that will help you better understand the rules and general "good manners" that are expected when contributing content to this website.

Sign in to Comment | Need help commenting? Click here

Editor's Picks