Employees of USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) in South Dakota have a knack for seeing opportunities in the landscape. And recently, two of them initiated a highway beautification and pollinator habitat project.
In 2010, Assistant State Conservationist for Field Operations Curt Elke and District Conservationist Kent Duerre coordinated a wildflower planting project along a stretch of Interstate 29 near the border with North Dakota. They started out by requesting that the South Dakota Department of Transportation allow them to establish an area of Interstate 29 median with native wildflowers and grasses, and offered their expertise as a resource for ensuring the result mimicked the native prairie.
Working with the NRCS Bismarck Plant Materials Center, Elke and Duerre chose a variety of low-growing perennial and annual wildflowers for the best combination of showy season-long color and highway safety. The mix included nine wildflowers and three prairie grasses.
Because of the proximity of the project to Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate tribal lands, tribal members saw value in the project and provided equipment and labor along the way.
The soil was prepared before planting with the application of herbicide to remove the existing vegetation. In the fall of 2010, the seed mix was seeded into the I-29 median for two miles starting at the state border and extending south.
By the following summer, annual wildflowers were blooming. In 2012, an NRCS evaluation noted that the perennial wildflowers were becoming more dominant and that flowers were blooming all season long.
The selected species were sideoats grama, prairie junegrass, little bluestem, shell leaf penstemon, blackeyed Susan, prairie coneflower, Lewis flax, plains coreopsis, purple coneflower, Illinois bundleflower, blanket flower, thickspike gayfeather and greyhead coneflower.
Maintenance of the area—primarily annual mowing and weed control—will be provided by the South Dakota Department of Transportation.
The planting has beautified the landscape and welcomes travelers entering South Dakota with beautiful native wildflowers. It also provides a source of food for pollinators and nesting habitat for ground-dwelling birds.
This project was the result of the cooperative effort of the Roberts Conservation District, NRCS Sisseton Field Office, U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Sisseton-Wahpeton Oyate, South Dakota Department of Transportation and several local businesses.
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