Last week I went on another Blue Mounds Area Project property tour. It was a nice evening with a small group of members and friends. Bruce Wachholz our guide regaled us with stories of how he and his wife started on the road to restoration on their several acres of land. At first they rented out much of it to a farmer, that is until the farmer decided it was to inconvenient to keep crossing hwy 18/151 to get to the field. Once they no longer had someone renting their land they thought about whether they wanted to see it in crops forever and, if not, what to do with all the land they owned. They planted some Christmas trees on it to defray some of the cost of owning the land, but what to do with the rest? Bruce then heard about the CRP program, where the government will pay you to take your land out of crops. After signing up for the CRP program they planted their first prairie with the help of Pheasants Unlimited. This seemed like a great deal…. then Bruce realized there was more to a prairie than two types of grass. (Which is what Pheasants Unlimited planted.) Why only two types of prairie grass? Because they were inexpensive and would create bird habitat. What is a real prairie about? It’s about diversity and Bruce learned this as he looked at other prairies. Then he started collecting seed from various prairies. He was careful to not take all of the seed, because one important rule of collecting is to take only 1/3 or less of the seed present. You need to leave some to reseed naturally. By introducing the additional seed to his grassland he was able to build a diverse prairie.
In addition to the prairie they have on the property they have restored the natural water flow, which had been altered by the previous farmers. They took advantage of the new water patterns to install three ponds. One for swimming and fishing and the others for wildlife. They have quite a few frogs in the two additional ponds and of coarse wood ducks use all three ponds.
One thing that I have learned on these tours over the years is that there are always stories and those stories are as individual as the people telling them, but the root of the story is that there is always a learning curve. Many people start out on this journey (me included) with a large amount of ignorance about what they are getting into. During that journey there is a lot to learn both through personal experience and by talking with others. I would have to say that one of the largest benefits from these tours is the information I walk away with. There is always something new to see and learn.