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Blazing a trail

About a hundred people gathered Sunday morning to take a guided tour of Touch the Sky Prairie north of Luverne. The tour offered information on the native vegetation and wildlife in the habitat and the need for maintaining the prairie ecosystem. Robin Baumgarn/Daily Globe2 / 4
The 1,000-acre Touch the Sky Prairie offered a look into a prairie ecosystem for the approximately 100 observers who toured the parcel Sunday morning. Robin Baumgarn/Daily Globe3 / 4
Windom Wetland Management District manager Todd Luke explained a few of the techniques used to maintain the Touch the Sky Prairie. He also identified many forms of vegetation and wildlife native to the area. Robin Baumgarn/Daily Globe4 / 4

HARDWICK — Sunday morning marked “A Day For the Prairie,” an entire day of events dedicated to Touch the Sky Prairie north of Luverne.

About a hundred people gathered to tour the site with a guided hike along the trail to learn about the types of vegetation and wildlife the region has to offer.

Touch the Sky Prairie is part of the Northern Tallgrass Prairie National Wildlife Refuge Project, which seeks to preserve America’s grasslands. The project area currently spans from the northwest corner of Minnesota to central Iowa.

The Touch the Sky parcel is just under 1,000 acres; the Northern Tallgrass Project aims to encompass 77,000 acres. Although that may seem large on the surface, it is a mere drop in the bucket compared to the prairie that existed years ago. Just .1 percent of Minnesota’s prairie land, and .001 percent of Iowa’s, has been preserved.

In an effort to maintain and restore the remaining fraction of prairie land to as close to its natural state as possible, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service uses a number of methods to reconstruct the habitat, including grassland restoration, invasive weed control and prescribed fire.

Weed control is an ongoing battle maintainers of the prairie face. At Touch the Sky, two of the main offenders are brome and thistles.

“It’s a big challenge,” said Todd Luke, Windom Wetland Management District manager. “They (thistles and brome) are deeply rooted in the landscape here. We’re making headway — it’s just taking time.”

Luke added how his agency faces its foes each year.

“Introducing fire frequency back into the landscape is one (method), because all of the native plants out here are adapted to that natural ecological process traditionally with wildfires,” he continued. “We’re trying to replicate that through prescribed fires or controlled fires.”

He added the agency uses mowing and very limited amounts of herbicides to combat the problem as well.

Sunday afternoon, Jim Brandenburg and Michael Monroe shared their love for the prairie with attendees at the Palace.

Brandenburg was instrumental in the acquisition of Touch the Sky Prairie through the Brandenburg Prairie Foundation. The Foundation’s mission is “to promote, preserve and expand the native prairie in southwest Minnesota.”

Robin Baumgarn

Robin Baumgarn is a new reporter for the Daily Globe covering the Education and Northwest Iowa beats. Prior to coming to the Globe, she worked for the Ocheyedan Press-Melvin News, a weekly Iowa paper for three years. She is a 2012 graduate of Iowa Lakes Community College and lives in Northwest Iowa with her husband Ryan and three pets, Fidget, Missy and Samwise.

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