Lawrence Nature Park’s prairie field to get a native grass makeover

photo by: Contributed photo

The Kansas Land Trust plans to plant native prairie grasses in the western field of the Lawrence Nature Park, located in northwest Lawrence off of South Folks Road. Currently the field grows brome.

A Lawrence park will soon get a grassy makeover.

The Kansas Land Trust, a local preservation group, plans to replace a field of brome in the Lawrence Nature Park, a city park on South Folks Road, with grasses native to Kansas. The grass will be planted sometime this spring, said Jerry Jost, director of the organization.

“We’re working to get high quality local seeds,” Jost said. “So it will be (grass) that is grown in the area and more easily adapts to our climate conditions.”

Planting the new prairie grass will provide several benefits to the park. Jost said the most obvious to Lawrence residents would be scenery, but it will also help enable better ecological and biodiversity growth in the area.

Lawrence Nature Park

The new prairie will likely also provide opportunities for grassy trails, which would pair well with the current trails, which can often be muddy when it rains. The grass may be able to grow to a height where maintenance could cut out a maze for a fun experience, Jost said.

“This right now, in my opinion, it’s pretty boring,” Jost said while walking around the field. “This could be a great place to come out and be in the sun.”

To plant the new grass, the Kansas Land Trust will need to terminate all the current vegetation in the 5.4-acre field to make sure it can grow properly. Jost said the organization would either burn the field or remove the brome with herbicides.

The organization recently secured a $3,500 grant from the Elizabeth Schultz Environmental Fund to plant the new grass in the field, Jost said. The grant is named for a retired University of Kansas English professor who created the fund to benefit the local environment.

While most of the Lawrence Nature Park is a wooded area with nature trails, it includes the grassy area on the western part, which currently grows brome, a cold-season grass that suggests the land was previously used for hay.

photo by: Contributed photo

This map shows the outline of the Lawrence Nature Park, highlighting the areas donated by Francis Kelly, Cheri Varvil and the Licthwardt family. The area outlined on the left in yellow is where the Kansas Land Trust will plant native prairie grass in the spring.

The portion of the park that includes the grass field was originally owned by Francis Kelly and Cheri Varvil, who aimed to preserve the natural habitat of the property. In 2001, the city also purchased 14 acres of land from Kelly and Varvil to include as part of the park.

“The interest of Kelly and Varvil is that this land stays this natural green, open space,” Jost said. “They wanted to make sure this stayed as woodlands.”

The city purchased land with the agreement that the Kansas Land Trust still owned the development rights, which allows the area to remain a natural preserve while residential and business development continues around the area.

The idea for the park originally began in the 1990s, when Robert and Betty Lichtwardt approached the Kansas Land Trust with the idea of donating their 40 acres to the city of Lawrence with the plan of making it a conservation area, according to the city’s website. The Lichtwardts gave the trust similar development rights on the land, which restricted the type of development allowed.

The city then purchased 23 acres of land in that area off of South Folks Road in 1999 to preserve the woodland area before development. An entrance to the park was built on that land off Folks Road.

In 2000, the city purchased another 20 acres of the land close by, and in 2001 the Lichtwardt family officially donated its 40 acres between the city’s two plots of land. Later that year 14 acres were obtained from Kelly and Varvil.

In 2009, the city began developing trails through the wooded area and then expanded them again in 2016.

More may need to be done to the park, Jost said. The trust plans to plant native grass near the entrance as well, but funding has not yet been secured for that project. Additionally, the park may need to create a second entrance near the western edge by the prairie, but the road near the land is currently private, Jost said.

The plans for the park so far seem to have succeeded, Jost said.

“You can be in the middle of the city and not know it,” Jost said of the park. “I think that’s a nice part of it.”

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