Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy hired Conservation Corps Minnesota to cut back a grove of aspens that is spreading across a hillside known as the Goat Prairie. In prairie-folk parlance, a goat prairie is a hillside populated with grasses and flowers that is steep enough to be best suited for goats. Standing Cedars seeded the Goat Prairie some years ago with additional native plants, though the prairie maintains a reserve of remnant native plants, including endangered kitten-tails (Besseya bullii).
Last week, Conservation Corps MN sent a crew of five young people for three days of cutting hundreds of trees and treating the stumps with herbicide, necessary to kill the trees and keep them from re-sprouting with renewed vigor. The crew camped at nearby Common Harvest CSA Farm. Conservation Corps MN is a conceptual descendant of the Civilian Conservation Corps of the Great Depression, though is no longer part of either state or federal government, and operates independently as a nonprofit. Their mission is to provide: “hands-on environmental stewardship and service-learning opportunities to youth and young adults while accomplishing conservation, natural resource management and emergency response work.” The Conservation Corps will return to Standing Cedars later this fall for more clearing.
The rarity of the Goat Prairie is what warrants expending great energy to fend off forest succession. Because of its steep slopes, the Goat Prairie was never farmed. It was probably grazed by cattle and was used as a sand quarry for the Engelhardt Brickyard, but held onto a native plant population. Encroaching trees were slowed by both grazing and the dry and sandy soil. A 1938 aerial photo shows the Goat Prairie larger and barer of trees than today. In the photo, the neighboring blufftops of the valley wall are a mix of open ground and forest—a classic savanna landscape that has been replaced by thicker forest—much like the Goat Prairie today. The Goat Prairie is, locally, the last of its kind.
The Goat Prairie is a sensitive area, so I won’t say how to get there, only that it’s nestled in the 1,100 acres of Standing Cedars’ Engelwood property, which the public is encouraged to explore. The restored tallgrass prairie along 280th St. is far easier to access and showier. Planted several years ago on what was agricultural land, from June until about now, the prairie is an ongoing rainbow of changing blooms.
Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy consists of four locations near Osceola, totaling more than 1,500 acres. It became Wisconsin’s 600th State Natural Area in 2009.
The mission of Standing Cedars is to protect and restore field, forest and natural habitat along the lower St. Croix River. Standing Cedars is run by volunteers, with no paid staff. Costs of operation and contractors (e.g. Conservation Corps MN) are paid with an endowment from the St. Croix Valley Foundation, grants, and individual donations, which are tax-deductible. Visit us online at: http://www.standingcedars.org, or, http://www.facebook.com/standingcedarsconservancy.
Ryan Rodgers is on the Standing Cedars Community Land Conservancy Board.