By Ivan Raconteur
LESTER PRAIRIE, MN Lester Prairie made such a good impression on Minneapolis resident Gay Noble when she was passing through a decade ago, she chose the city as the site for a master naturalist project this year.
Her first visit was part of a remarkable journey, and in order to understand why she picked Lester Prairie for the garden project, it is important to understand how her connection to the city began.
In the spring of 2000, Noble walked into Lester Prairie for the first time literally. She was on a walk from Minneapolis to the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming.
Noble explained that the trip was something she had wanted to do since she was in her 20s.
“On my 50th birthday, I decided I better do it,” Noble said.
The walk took two months. She had to take the time off from her job selling newspaper advertising. Her customers bought two or even three months worth of ads in advance so she could afford to make the trip.
The walk increased Noble’s appreciation of the prairie environment.
“There is something appealing about the emptiness of the prairie,” she said.
The trip also increased her connection with the natural environment.
“I had to make friends with that wind in a hurry,” she commented, describing her experience in the wide-open spaces.
On the third day of her journey, she walked from Waconia, through Mayer and New Germany, and stopped for the night in Lester Prairie.
She stayed at the former Prairie Home Bed and Breakfast, just south of Lester Prairie on McLeod County Road 9.
“We had a wonderful time in Lester Prairie, and met some great people,” Noble said.
She had dinner at the former Jonio’s, and said the time she spent in the city was such a positive experience, she has continued to visit any time she is in the area.
Noble and her teammate, Cheryl Hagen, also of Minneapolis, is currently working on a Minnesota Master Naturalist program co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Extension Service and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.
The year-long program includes work in three biomes; prairies and potholes, big woods and big rivers, and coniferous forests and big lakes.
Noble said that she recently visited Lester Prairie and spent some time at Sunrise Nature Park.
While she was in town, she noticed the new gazebo at Central Square Park. She also noticed the historic Lester Prairie sign in the southeast corner of the park, and thought it might be a good site for the capstone project for her prairie biome.
The project involves development of a garden using native plants.
She called Lester Prairie Mayor Andy Heimerl, and talked to him about the project.
Heimerl referred Noble to City Council Member Bob Messer, who is the park board liaison.
“He was very supportive,” Noble said.
They talked about possible sites for the new garden, and agreed on the site by the old sign.
Noble and Hagen then made a presentation to the park board.
“It was a great meeting,” Noble said. “They are nice guys and they were very excited about the project.”
The park board recommended approval, and the city council agreed.
Messer prepared the site for planting by tilling the soil in the garden plot.
The oval shape will make it easy to mow around, Noble said, and the plantings will accent the old sign.
Noble, Hagen, and about 20 other volunteers including friends, neighbors, and other participants in the master naturalist program, braved chilly temperatures May 8 to plant the garden.
They began by installing edging around the border.
Then, to simplify the process and eliminate the need to measure the separation between plants, they constructed a grid of duct tape and newspaper that covered the whole garden. This became the template for the planting.
Lester Prairie is located along the border where the tallgrass prairie met the big woods. The prairie grassland biome in Minnesota, which is the subject of this portion of the naturalist program, covered the entire western border of the state, and stretched as far east as the middle of the state along the Iowa border.
The volunteers planted about 200 plants in the new garden.
The plants selected are all native tallgrass prairie plants.
The plants include big bluestem, indian grass, little bluestem, grey headed coneflower, meadow blazingstar, sky blue aster, golden alexander, hysopp, purple prairie clover, blue bergamot, butterfly weed, coreopsis, pasque flower, prairie smoke, and pussy toes.
Once established, the plants will be very low-maintenance, Noble said. She will continue to visit the city to weed and maintain the garden for the first couple of years.
Messer has also volunteered to water the garden, and to help maintain it in the future.
While in town, the volunteers visited some local businesses.
They purchased mulch for the garden from Angvall Hardware and Mercantile, and they purchased a cake at Prairie Market for Noble’s birthday. She celebrated her 60th birthday in Lester Prairie while planting the garden.
Although two of the businesses that originally attracted Noble to the city are no longer in business, she said she has eaten at both Cents Pizza and Central Cafe on recent visits while working on the garden project, and she had high praise for both establishments.
She said she has enjoyed exploring the area and discovering new places.
After the volunteers finished the planting, they enjoyed a picnic in the new gazebo in the park.
Noble said the volunteers who helped with the garden project feel a sense of ownership for the garden, and are looking forward to seeing it when it is established.
During their picnic, they were already discussing a return trip to Lester Prairie to see the garden, possibly during the Prairie Days celebration in July.
Noble said she has enjoyed meeting Lester Prairie residents who have stopped by to talk about the garden during her visits to maintain it, and she will continue to visit her adopted city until the garden is fully established.
The final step for Noble and Hagen for the garden project is a presentation to the instructors explaining how the garden was developed, and including photos of the process.