Grant supports garden improvements

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The Dickinson County Conservation Board received a $6,200 grant from the Dickinson County Endowment Fund to expand the native gardens outside the nature center’s Butterfly House within Kenue Park in Okoboji.

This grant funding will be used toward three specific additions in and around the existing gardens.

“The goal of this project is to create a ‘pollinator’s paradise’ that will be used by pollinators and enjoyed by visitors,” said naturalist Karess Knudtson. “This will be accomplished by planting native prairie plants, constructing a shade structure and finally, adding self-interpretive identification signs to the garden.”

The changes the Dickinson County Endowment Fund grant will support are to give area residents and tourists a place to learn and enjoy the outdoors.

“Besides increasing habitat and forage for native bees and our resident honey bees, a very important part of the native garden area is to educate residents and visitors of all ages,” Knudtson said.

The project started with more than 900 native prairie plants — about 50 different species — being purchased, and Dickinson County Conservation staff and volunteers worked to plant them late this summer. Large boulders and areas for stepping stones were added to the garden, and it was also edged in field rock and mulched.

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Each of the plants chosen were pollinator-friendly, offering either food or habitat for bees, butterflies and hummingbirds. Some species selected are not at first obviously helpful to pollinators, such as rattlesnake master, but the dried autumn stems of this plant are hollow and offer a spring nesting spot for native bees.

These natives will also be beneficial to other wildlife.  As the garden matures, it will continue to benefit other species such as a variety of birds that will feed on the available seeds.

The garden will show people what native plants look like and how they can easily be planted in your own backyard.

“A pollinator garden in your own backyard will benefit a large variety of species,” Knudtson said.

To help people identify plants as they walk through the gardens, metal plaques will be placed in groupings of each species with the common and scientific name of the plant, its bloom time and bloom color, what types of pollinators it benefits and an interesting fact about it. These will be out throughout each season.

“We really want to encourage people to add native wildflowers to their landscaping.  By creating a space where they can observe them, we hope they will be able to see size, shape and how that plant reacts throughout the seasons,” Knudtson said. “This garden is just one of many areas we hope to enhance.  We want to continue to add self-interpretive areas to Kenue Park. These additions allow for learning by anyone at any time.”

Finally, the grant will fund the purchase of a shade structure in the garden area to make the area more comfortable during the summer.

“Native prairie plants by their very nature need full sun,” Knudtson said, “but during the middle of July and August it gets hot in that area. The shade structure will enhance the area and allow for learning opportunities for groups, as well as, a picnic area for visitors.”

The hope is to make that an area to visit even if there’s not a program going on at the nature center.

“Kenue Park is a public park, and that area down there is the public’s garden,” Knudtson said.

The Dickinson County Nature Center is located at 2279 170th St. in Okoboji and is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Monday-Friday, but people may utilize outdoor areas and Kenue Park until 10 p.m. daily. For more information, contact the nature center at 712-336-6352 or e-mail naturecenter@co.dickinson.ia.us.

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