Elk River campus pollinator habitat


Great River Energy,  the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the city of Elk River have begun a project to re-establish nine acres of native, pollinator-friendly habitat on Great River Energy’s Elk River campus.

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Q. Why is Great River Energy planting pollinator friendly habitat at its Elk River campus?

A. Re-establishing native, pollinator-friendly habitat at our Elk River campus, located along our namesake Mississippi River, is a unique opportunity to contribute to the nationwide effort to restore pollinator populations while also supporting the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) and the city of Elk River Energy City in their goals to do the same. Its location along U.S. Highway 10, one of Minnesota’s most heavily traveled roads, will also create a visible educational tool.

Great River Energy's Elk River Campus and established prairie

This rendering shows what the prairie might look like in three to five years once it has matured.

Q. What is a pollinator?

A. Pollinators, such as honey bees, butterflies, hummingbirds and bats, assist plants in reproduction by transferring pollen, allowing those plants to produce berries, nuts and other foods important to the survival of many wildlife species and the human food supply. The ecological service pollinators provide is necessary for the reproduction of more than 85 percent of the world’s flowering plants, including more than two-thirds of the world’s crop species.

Q. What do you mean by native, pollinator-friendly habitat? Why is it important?

A. Native habitat refers to the plants, grasses and trees which originated in an area before they were replaced with roadways, manicured lawns, crops and non-native gardens, or degraded for other reasons. “Pollinator friendly habitat” more specifically refers those plants and flowers that pollinators need to eat, live and do their work. Recently there have been many reports of a steady decline in the population of pollinators. This decline is due in large part to the loss of the habitat they need to survive. The habitat that will be re-established on the Elk River campus will provide a home for pollinators in the area, and a great stop for migrating monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico where they winter.

 Q. Why is this planting being developed now?

A. Great River Energy has been a leader in reestablishing native habitat for years. Now that the decline in pollinator populations is widely recognized and public awareness of the importance of native habitat has significantly increased, support for pollinator habitat projects is strong. Over the last several years, federal and state governments, environmental organizations, agencies, the public and the media have been actively taking measures to solve the problem. This is an opportunity for Great River Energy to continue leading by example.

 Q. Where will the pollinator habitat be located on the Elk River campus?

A. Most of the front lawn that is visible from U.S. Highway 10, which includes approximately five acres of Great River Energy property and four acres of MnDOT property, will be prairie.

Great River Energy's Elk River Campus

This diagram shows the project area in light green prior to tree removals. Everything south of the dashed line is in the Minnesota
Department of Transportation’s right of way. Some new native trees will be planted.

Q. How will Great River Energy’s members benefit?

A. Native plants and grasses are hardy and easy to maintain. Once established they require no fertilizing, no irrigation and only periodic mowing, which greatly reduces maintenance costs. Great River Energy expects to save approximately $15,000 in annual lawn care costs.

Q. Will trees be removed? Who gets the wood?

A. Trees that were dead, dying or non-native to the project area were removed in August of 2016. Many of the trees that were removed were in the MnDOT right of way. This included the silver maple trees near Elk River Station and the ash trees on the southerly edge of the campus, adjacent to U.S. Highway 10. The evergreen trees behind the monument sign, many of which were dying, were also removed. For safety and liability reasons, the wood was taken to the MnDOT repository.

Q. Will any of the trees removed be replaced?

A. Yes. Some burr oak trees, which are common in a native “oak savanna” prairie, will be planted. These trees will help maintain the essence of the oak savanna prairie native to the area and also provide shade and beauty to the campus.

Q. What is the project schedule?

A. Tree removals took place in August of 2016. Then, the lawn was sprayed with herbicide to stop the growth of the grass, at which point the lawn turned brown. That fall, the lawn was treated again. In spring of 2017, the lawn was sprayed a final time. In June 017, the lawn was seeded with prairie seeds. The seeding included a cover crop (oats and rye) which will sprout soon after. The prairie plants will germinate within a few days of planting.

Great River Energy's Elk River Campus one year after prairie planting

This rendering shows what the prairie might look like one year after the planting.

Q. What kind of herbicide was used?

A. Roundup® was used used to sterilize the lawn and any weeds prior to planting the prairie. This will eliminate much competition for the new prairie grasses and forbs (flowers) as they germinate and grow, allowing time for the prairie to become established. The herbicide application was conducted by a qualified professional in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. This herbicide has a fast half-life and will not negatively impact wildlife or the river.

Q. Will this impact the peregrine falcons at the power plant?

A. There will be no impact to the falcons. Many other birds will be attracted to the insects that are part of a prairie ecosystem, and those birds may be pursued by the falcons.

Q. What will the prairie look like?

A. Within a few days of the seeding, the oats and rye will begin to sprout, which will help green the lawn quickly to some degree. Prairie habitat typically takes three to five years to fully establish. However, the existing irrigation system in the lawn will help establish the prairie more quickly than usual. The planting will include a mix of grasses and flowering plants. Black-eyed Susans and purple coneflowers are common in this type of planting.

Q. Has storm water runoff been considered?

A. A rain garden that receives storm water runoff will be included on the site. This will reduce the runoff of pollutants in storm water from the site and increase the diversity of pollinator habitat. The rain garden will consist of a mix of native species selected for wetter soils in that location.

Q. Where else has Great River Energy re-established native habitat?

A. Over the years, Great River Energy has re-established approximately 200 acres of native habitat. This includes habitat at Lakefield Junction Station, Pleasant Valley Peaking Station, Cambridge Peaking Plant, our New Prague service center and Maple Grove headquarters site. In addition, Great River Energy has partnered with Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, the city of Ramsey and Three Rivers Park District on other pollinator habitat projects.

Q. What are the species that will be planted?

A. In the dry prairie, Minnesota Native Landscapes will plant side-oats grama, blue grama, prairie brome, junegrass, little bluestem, prairie dropseed, prairie onion, leadplant, common milkweed, butterfly milkweed, sky-blue aster, partridge pea, prairie coreopsis, white prairie clover, purple prairie clover, stiff sunflower, wild lupine, showy penstemon, long-headed coneflower, prairie cinquefoil, black eyed susan, oil field goldenrod, prairie spiderwort, and hoary vervain.

There will also be stormwater retention areas, which will be planted with: blue-joint grass, slender wheat grass,virginia wild rye, switchgrass,fowl bluegrass, indian grass, prairie cord grass, common fox sedge, green bulrush, woolgrass, marsh milkweed, new england aster, beggar’s tick, joe-pye weed, sneezeweed,common ox-eye, obedient plant, wild golden glow, blue vervain.

Q: Why is the prairie being mowed?

A. The prairie is being mowed to keep any invasive plants from going to seed. This is a common practice when a prairie is getting established. Mowing will stop persistent, invasive plants from taking root and inhibiting the growth of the natural prairie.

Our partners

Great River Energy is developing this project together with MnDOT and the city of Elk River, both of which have a strong commitment to native habitat. MnDOT recently joined five other state departments of transportation and the Federal Highway Administration in an agreement to improve pollinator habitat along Interstate 35, a key migratory corridor for monarch butterflies. Elk River’s Energy City plan includes a goal of seeing 100 acres of new native plantings in the city by 2024.



Jennifer Mattson, communications coordinator
Twitter: @jennymmattson

Craig Poorker, manager, land rights