Gordon Bailey isn’t much for speeches. The chairman of Bailey Nurseries attended the recent groundbreaking of the new Oltman Middle School, which will be built on land once owned by his family. But he stayed in the background and let another family member address the crowd of dignitaries and educators.

And when Bailey, of Newport, was named the 2016 Minnesota Land Trust Landowner of the Year, they had to talk him into attending the awards dinner Oct. 2 at Gale Woods Farm in Minnetrista.

“You know, my reaction is that there’s a lot of people that deserve the award more so than I,” he said.

They probably would argue that at the Minnesota Land Trust. Bailey got the award for restoring over 100 acres of former farmland in Dodge County to its original prairie habitat.

“Quite a bit of it had been farmed at one time,” said Bailey, who owns a cabin in the area. “I gradually converted more and more of it into native prairie and planted a lot of trees and shrubs to diversify the landscape and provide more of a wildlife habitat.”

He set aside the land over 15 years ago when he entered into a conservation easement agreement with the Minnesota Land Trust. The easement ensures that the land, which includes over three miles of shoreline on the Zumbro River and Dodge Center Creek, will be permanently protected from commercial or industrial development.

“It’s kind of a cooperative effort,” Bailey said, adding that friends and family had pitched in to help over the years.

During his numerous trips to the site, he’s planted big bluestem, a coarse, hearty tallgrass that can grow over 6 feet high. It helps to prevent erosion since its roots retain and absorb moisture. It helped to protect the soil during the recent heavy rains.

Bailey has also cleared a lot of invasive buckthorn from the property and planted native oak, hickory, walnut and butternut trees. They provide a good food source for turkeys, deer and other wildlife, he said.

Last year, he was one of 25 members of the Elevate Education team who successfully scaled the 19,341-foot Mt. Kilimanjaro, the tallest mountain in Africa. The team raised over $200,000 for a Boarding and Community Centre for the Kibera Girls Soccer Academy.

With next spring’s planting, Bailey figures he will have about 110 acres of restored prairie.