Picking in the prairie

Published 10:36 am Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Ikes, AHS club partner to seed the environment

Akeem Oman waded through waist-high grasses, searching for gray-headed coneflower. Across a section of prairie, her cousin, Jukrao Oman, hunted for blazing star.

Throughout the section of native grasses and flowers just north of Mill Pond, about a dozen others were on their own little missions. Armed with paper sacks and knowledge they just gathered about each plant, they collected seeds that will someday foster another stretch of prairie habitat and buffer zone along the Cedar River.

The Oman cousins, along with another Austin High School student and AHS science teacher Kate Schoonover, partnered with the Izaak Walton League Monday to tackle the project. The students, part of the Go Green club, took a few pointers from local prairie expert Steve Williams and scoured the small section of native plants. It didn’t take long for them to fill their paper sacks. The goal: Collect enough seed to plant a 3,000-square-foot area near the Austin skate park. The new prairie and buffer will also offer future opportunities for the public to do seed collecting and transplanting.

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“This is the first time we’ve harvested seed [at Mill Pond],” said Ikes member Jim Stiles.

The Ikes planted the prairie buffer strip along Mill Pond in 2009, along with a separate prairie grass section, for about $15,000.

“What we want to do is use the seed to create another prairie or buffer strip along the Cedar River,” Stiles added.

Schoonover said some of her classes have already been learning by spending time in prairie and buffer strip at Mill Pond.

“When you can take them outside, you should,” she said.

And the Go Green club allows students to go beyond that. Members of the club volunteered at RE-Fest this year and raised $3,500 toward a solar panel project they will install at the high school. The Omans were among them. They feel like going green is an obvious decision.

“I feel like going green is a good thing,” Akeem said. “I feel like more people should. And why not?”

“I thought it would be interesting,” Jukrao added, “We’re just really saving the environment.”

Among other projects, the Go Green club is selling energy-efficient lightbulbs. Austin Utilities donated $500 worth of bulbs to the group to sell to help fund the solar panel project.

Those who would like to purchase bulbs or simply donate to the Go Green group may contact Schoonover at kate.schoonover@austin.k12.mn.us.