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Re-seeding begins on Bethel College prairie restoration project

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NORTH NEWTON, KAN. – A Bethel College biology professor, with the help of students, other faculty and community members, has completed an important first step in a prairie restoration project on the college campus.

Last year, Jon Piper wrote a proposal to the private Kingsbury Family Foundation and in July was notified that he would be receiving a grant of $23,782 to fund restoration of about 10 acres of former prairie on the east side of campus. It was cleared decades ago and for the last number of years has been planted in corn by a local farmer with a lease for that purpose. But Piper, with many years of experience in prairie restoration and maintenance of virgin prairie, has had his eye on the plot for restoration for some time.

On March 10, he coordinated a group of about 23 people – including Bethel students and one environmental studies student from Friends University in Wichita, some Bethel faculty and staff members with several children and some people from Shalom Mennonite Church in Newton where Piper attends – who spread grass and wildflower seeds on the 5.6 acres of cleared area that was formerly in corn.

“There were 300 bags of seed planted, representing a little over 300 total pounds,” Piper said. “We sowed 20 species of native grasses and wildflowers in 25 different plots.

“The plots represented different diversity treatments, comprising either 4, 8, 12, 16 or 20 species per plot,” he continued. “The species used are all characteristic of eastern Kansas tallgrass prairie – notably, the beloved and familiar big bluestem grass, Indiangrass, purple coneflower, blue wild indigo and white prairie clover.”

The main project funder, the Kingsbury Family Foundation, has a particular interest in projects aimed at protecting the natural resources of the Great Plains, especially plant and animal habitat. Piper titled his proposal to the foundation “Studies on the Restoration of Two Indigenous Kansas Ecosystems: Oak Woodland and Tallgrass Prairie.” The 10 acres includes some woodland alongside Sand Creek, which will also be part of the restoration project.

The extension of the Sand Creek bike and walking path in Newton joining with North Newton’s Sand Creek Trail passes directly in front of the project area, so trail users will be able to watch the progress of the re-seeding.

The ultimate goal is to restore the area to what it might have been like around 1850, before the ground was first broken.

Bethel College is a four-year liberal arts college affiliated with Mennonite Church USA. Founded in 1887, it is the oldest Mennonite college in North America. Bethel is known for its academic excellence and has been named a Top Tier college by U.S. News & World Report every year since 1998. For more information, see the Bethel web site at www.bethelks.edu.

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