Take a walk on the wild side
Natural prairie areas are at their peak in late July and early August. Multi-colored flowers are in full bloom, bees are hopping among the plants in search of nectar, Monarch butterflies are flying about and birds are flitting here and there in search of a meal.
In New Richmond, there are more than a few prairie areas that local residents can enjoy during the late summer months.
And prairie enthusiasts say there's nothing quite like spending time in real nature to boost one's soul and improve one's overall health.
Ruth Hilfiker of New Richmond said natural prairies like those found along Paperjack Creek and Doar Prairie Savana in the community are brimming with the smells and sounds of summer. Local walkers have a brief window of opportunity to take full advantage of the show.
Hilfiker said the peak season for native prairies lasts two or three weeks.
"You can smell the native plants better because they give off more oil," Hilfiker explained. "And I love the sounds. It's just so peaceful, and you can put yourself in another place and time."
In a tour of the prairie patches in New Richmond on Friday, Hilfker said most residents don't realize the effort that's gone into restoring the natural areas in the community.
Next to Paperjack Elementary, a prairie was seeded at the school's nature center about 12 years ago. Now it's a mature patch that includes a variety of plant species and subsequent butterflies, bees and more.
"These perennial plants can live as long as trees," she said. "That's why prairies are called permanent green space."
The native prairie along Paperjack Creek is about 10 years old, having been planted by a group of first-graders, volunteer Irv Sather and Harvey Halvorsen of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources. Hilfker's daughter was one of the first-graders who helped plant the seed, and her daughter is now 16.
She points out that many monarch butterflies frequent the flowers along the trail.
"If we didn't have these native plants, there wouldn't be as many monarchs," she said. "It's so exciting to see this. It's really a mature prairie."
At the Doar Prairie Savana, just south of Business Highway 64 and next to the New Richmond sewage treatment plant, is a newer addition to the local prairie restoration efforts. The park offers paved trails that wind through the grasses and native flowers that are getting closer to maturity.
The paved trail also gives bicyclists, skateboarders, inline skaters and others a great place to recreate and connect with nature.
"And it's really neat to come here in the evening, with the sun setting," she said.
The newest prairie plot can be found in the rain garden established at the newly constructed New Richmond High School, located near the tennis courts.
"This is an amazing success after just one year," Hilfiker said. "There's no weeds, and this is such a tapestry picture."
The wonderful thing about native prairies is that they require little maintenance. Once every five years or so, the prairies need to be burned, weeded or mowed to encourage the continued health of the plot, Hilfker noted.
Hilfker noted that passive recreation areas are generally an undeveloped space or environmentally sensitive area that requires minimal development. Entities such as a parks department may maintain passive recreation areas for the health and well-being of the public and for the preservation of wildlife and the environment. The quality of the environment and "naturalness" of an area is the focus of the recreational experience in a passive recreation area. Such areas often encourage silent sports such as walking, running, biking, cross-country skiing, canoeing and bird watching.
The primary flowers in bloom now include:
Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm: Light purple, flower looks like fireworks explosion
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia
Yellow coneflower: Like a tall black-eyed Susan with downward facing petals
Ox-eye sunflower - yellow flowered tall plant with flowers arising from leaf axils
Paperjack Elementary Environmental Learning Center
Primary flowers in bloom now:
Cup Plant: 6 -7 feet tall with cupped leaves for drinking fountains for birds and beneficial insects.
Compass plant: Tall daisy plant with many flowers up stem.
Rattle Snake Master: Balls of green white flowers.
Pale purple cone flower: Like cone flower but bigger and petals downward, more native genotype.
Culver's Root: Columnar with small white flowers, prized by small beneficial insect
Unique structures not in bloom:
Wild White Indigo: Tree like plant with two inch green seed pods.
Prairie dock: Huge leaves at base of plant
High School raingarden
Has held and used water from all the storms this summer instead of the hard surface runoff going into the pond south of the tennis courts. Has a good wide flat bottom with a mixture of species like a quality raingarden. Saw five species of butterflies within 15 minutes.
Primary species in bloom:
Swamp milkweed: Deep pink flower, loved by Monarchs.
Sedges in wet area
New England Aster
Joe Pye Weed: Tall maroon flowered plant
Primary species in bloom:
Cardinal-Flower: Red 12 inch tall flower.
Purple Prairie Clover: One-inch columnar purple-pink flowers with native sweat bee pollinators.
Wild Bergamot, Bee Balm: Light purple, flower looks like fireworks explosion.
Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia .
Yellow coneflower: Like tall black-eyed Susan with downward facing petals.