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2 years after planting, Elk River prairie shines

Two years after Great River Energy planted a prairie in Elk River, it's paying off - ecologically and economically.

ELK RIVER, Minn. - Tens of thousands of Minnesotans drive by Elk River's Great River Energy each week, many on their way to a cabin up north.

If you're one of them, you've probably noticed the sea of yellow that fills the power company's landscape.

"This was a very well manicured lawn for many decades and it was certainly the pride of Elk River," said land rights manager Craig Poorker. "But I think now that we've transformed this nine acres into native prairie, I think it is a new pride of Elk River, if you will."

Nine acres with black-eyed Susans in full bloom were striking this summer. Planted two years ago as a partner project for Great River Energy along with MnDOT and the City of Elk River, this prairie has both ecological and economical implications.

"We're right here on the banks of our namesake river, the Mississippi River," Poorker said. "And I think it's a terrific opportunity to have a lesser impact on pollution and runoff. When it's a manicured lawn, the fertilizer, and the spray that you put on, the clippings, everything just will end up eventually in the river."

Bugs and the birds are welcome to call this prairie home, in hopes of improving pollinator decline.

Plus, it doesn't hurt that this prairie is actually saving the company and its member-owners money, after only two years.

"It does not take long to save significantly as opposed to mowing, fertilizing, maintaining a lawn," Poorker said. "And it pays for itself really quickly. It's been a significant savings."

Maintenance now is mowing or burning every three to four years.

The prairie is fading now as July turns to August. But imagine orange milkweed and purple bee balm that combine with the brilliant yellow. Next summer will bring an even better show with more plant diversity. Stay tuned to what the new pride of Elk River has in store for us.