Fundraiser launched to realize first phase of KU’s Prairie Acre restoration

Kansas University students Ryan Chilcoat and Cody Barger record vegetation measurements in the Prairie Acre in June 2015. Pictured in back are students Will Hartenstein, left, and Drew Cleary. An effort to restore the acre is underway.

The Historic Mount Oread Friends have donated $2,500 to kick off a crowdfunding effort for Kansas University’s Prairie Acre restoration project.

The effort has a goal of raising a total of $10,000 by Jan. 13, to help bring to fruition the first phase of the Prairie Acre project, said Jeff Severin, director of the KU Center for Sustainability.

“Although we have collected seeds and will be engaging volunteers from campus and the community throughout the process, donor support is essential to the success of the project,” Severin said. “Contributions will go towards supplies, additional plant materials, overall coordination and enhancements.”

The Historic Mount Oread Friends is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving historic architecture and open spaces of the KU campus.

Kansas University's Prairie Acre, which lies beyond the foreground stone fence, is a small piece of prairie, approximately a half acre, established in 1932 and located on the south side of Blake Hall and the chancellor's residence, the Outlook.

The total project cost for phase one of the Prairie Acre restoration is about $22,500, and the first $12,500 already has been raised, Severin said. Cost for the second phase of the restoration is expected to be about $15,000, he said.

The Prairie Acre, a swath of grass at the corner of Sunnyside Avenue and Sunflower Road, was designated in 1932 to remain undeveloped and protected by the university.

Over time, the acre has gradually dwindled to more like one-third of an acre, many native plant species have died out, and non-native plants have invaded, Severin said. He said encroaching trees and fescue, as well as hesitation to adequately burn the acre, have basically caused it to get out of balance, ecologically speaking.

Restoration plans include replanting native species, repairing the rock wall around the area and installing elements to make the acre educational and accessible for students and members of the public alike. Long term, Severin said, a management plan will help ensure the acre is maintained.

“The idea is to do more management of the property so that we’ll actually be doing regular burning at the right time of year,” he said. “Part of it is just managing it more like the prairie.”

This fall, volunteers collected, sorted and cleaned seeds for more than 100 species of plants that will be cultivated in a greenhouse and planted outside in the spring, according to a news release from KU.

Douglas May and Catherine Schwoerer, both School of Business faculty, previously made the lead gift that will enable installation of a learning garden and educational kiosk.

“We are excited to contribute to a learning garden and interpretive signage that will help educate the public on the benefits of native prairie ecosystems and encourage the use of native wildflowers and grasses in home gardens,” May said in KU’s news release.