Two generous donations - one for a strip of land and another for trail work and paving - provided the community of Wacouta with a scenic bike path used by residents and visitors alike.
At first, the community mowed the areas on both sides of the bike path, but then the Friends of Wacouta group decided to restore the areas with native plants. The result is a feast of colors and smells for anyone walking or biking on the path.
“We have a two-fold goal here,” said Diane Mueller, a retired health care policy consultant for the state of Minnesota and resident of Wacouta. “First, the trail was established. After that, seeding was done 10 years ago. We professionally reseeded in 2014 with grass and forbs. We have done a lot to get things going.”
By seeding with native plants, the Friends of Wacouta created a continuous cycle of blooming.
“Throughout the seasons, this is constantly changing,” said Mueller, a Master Gardener. “It just keeps you interested. What’s going to be out here today?”
Even though many community members volunteer to work on the prairie restoration project, the Friends of Wacouta, with a grant from a private donor, hired Dimitri Luna, a student at the University of Wisconsin - Stout in Menomonie, to work half time throughout the summer.
Mueller said it is not easy to find a college student as interested in flora and fauna as Luna is. She said the soybean field next to their project was oversprayed with herbicide which killed milkweed plants that were full of eggs from monarch butterflies which only host on milkweed plants.
“Dimitri spent a whole afternoon looking for the larvae,” Mueller said, “and he moved them to the other side which wasn’t tainted by herbicide. You have to care.”
Mueller and Luna have spent time recently working on creating a balance of native plants. They watch for invasive plants and try to eliminate them. They also keep an eye out for strong species. One current problem is an overgrowth of Queen Anne’s Lace. Having too many of them takes nutrients and sunlight from other plants, Mueller explained.
“Part of managing a trail like this is that you don’t let something take over,” Mueller said. “The invasives are one thing, and strong species are another. We don’t want it to become a monoculture.”
According to Mueller, it’s not just a matter of cutting down the unwanted plants. There is an issue with timing, as well.
“If we cut the Queen Anne’s Lace when it first comes up, it regrows,” she said, grasping the seed basket of a mature plant. “Every one of these seeds has the potential to be a new plant before the end of the season. The theory is that if you let them set a flower and seed, they’ve used up so much of their energy that you won’t have it back so bad.”
Many Wacouta residents and visitors use the trail for walking and biking every day.
“We welcome people to walk and bike on the trail,” Mueller said. “A lot of people bring their dogs, and we welcome that, too, as long as they pick up after their dogs.”
The years of restoration work by the Friends of Wacouta have created a variety of native plants.
“The whole combination is so beautiful,” Mueller said. “Every season creates a different view.”