Elk River campus pollinator habitat

Great River Energy,  the Minnesota Department of Transportation and the city of Elk River began a project to re-establish 9 acres of native, pollinator-friendly habitat on Great River Energy’s Elk River campus in 2016.

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Q. Why did Great River Energy plant 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, was a unique opportunity to contribute to the nationwide effort to restore pollinator populations while also supporting MnDOT and the city of Elk River Energy City in their goals to do the same.

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 to those plants and flowers that pollinators need to eat, live and do their work. There have been many reports of a steady decline in the population of pollinators due in large part to the loss of the habitat they need to survive. The habitat on the Elk River campus provides a home for pollinators in the area. It is also a great stop for migrating monarch butterflies on their way to Mexico where they winter.

Q. Why was the planting developed?

A. Great River Energy has been a leader in re-establishing native habitat for years. 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. At Great River Energy, we wanted to do our part to re-establish pollinator habitat.

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

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

Q. How will Great River Energy’s member-owner cooperatives 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. The pollinator habitat saves its member-owner cooperatives approximately$15,000 in annual lawn care costs.

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

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

Q. What are the species in the pollinator-friendly habitat?

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.

A stormwater retention area was planted with blue-joint grass, slender wheat grass, Virginia wild rye, switchgrass, fowl bluegrass, Indiangrass, 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 and blue vervain.

Elk River prairie and power plant

Q. Were trees removed?

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.

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 kind of herbicide was used?

A. Roundup® was used to sterilize the lawn and any weeds prior to planting the prairie. This eliminated much competition for the new prairie grasses and forbs (flowers), 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 had a fast half life and did not negatively impact wildlife or the river.

Q: Why is the prairie being mowed?

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

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, the Laurentian Environmental Learning Center and Three Rivers Park District on other pollinator habitat projects.

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 specialist
Twitter: @jennymmattson

Craig Poorker, manager, land rights