Whetstone Park's prairie is going on a diet before a much-needed facelift.
The 4.5 acres of prairie land near the Olentangy Trail, directly south of Adena Brook and Whetstone's parking lot, will be slimmed down to a more manageable 3.5 acres, which then will receive some overdue attention, said Tina Mohn, natural resources and property manager with Columbus' recreation and parks department.
"We've been absentee landlords of the prairie, if you will," she said.
"The prairie was beautiful 10 years ago, but it's kind of been let go," said Judy Minister, representative of the Clintonville Area Commission's District 4, in which the prairie is located.
Minister said she got involved in coming to the aid of the prairie in response to complaints from residents she received in August regarding its neglect.
"So I reached out to Tina and she was very responsive and we got a meeting together in three weeks," Minister said.
During that September meeting, Mohn presented a draft of a five-year plan for improving 3.5 acres of the prairie, while permitting 1 acre to return to forest.
"It already pretty much has done that," Mohn said.
Mohn is scheduled to discuss the draft of the plan at the Thursday, Nov. 1, meeting of the Clintonville Area Commission. The meeting will begin at 7 p.m. in the Whetstone branch of the Columbus Metropolitan Library, 3909 N. High St.
"It's time we take more of a management-level approach to the prairie," Mohn said. "It's the only urban prairie we have in our park system. It's important because it has an aesthetic, obviously, component and it has a flood-plain component ... plus it's a passive recreational opportunity for park users."
What is now the Whetstone prairie was an open field in the 1990s, according to the five-year plan. The parks department arranged then for a prescribed burn of the area with the help of Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks, with a second burn in 2010, but the prairie has not been burned or mowed since then, the plan shows. Reseeding and replanting of native prairie species has taken place on several occasions.
In her discussion of the plan at the CAC session, Mohn said she hopes a contractor can be hired to clear invasive species, brush and woody vegetation in the part of the prairie to be preserved.
"We're taking a closer look at the system as a whole," she said. "It will be a whole lot more manageable at 3 1/2 acres.
"Then, come springtime, we will be in a position to come back through with our partners and volunteers to do some overseeding of the area. We're going to re-establish wetland prairie vegetation and the other areas acting as kind of a prairie now."
What are called "relic seeds" from existing prairies in the Sharon Woods and Battelle Darby Creek Metro Park areas will be used in reseeding Whetstone Park's version, Mohn added.
Organizations lending a hand with the project include Friends of the Lower Olentangy Watershed, Wild Ones, Friends of the Ravine and the Nature Conservancy.
"The community groups actually came to us," Mohn said. "We were working on it, but we didn't put fliers out. It was something we were going to tackle, but we started getting calls from community groups and individuals who had vested interests in it. The Clintonville community honors and respects green space, period, and then when you add a gem like this ... People have grown to appreciate that it's a prairie, and when it starts looking like a crazy forest, people are pumping the brakes and wondering if we've forgotten about it."
Mohn was unable to estimate how much the restoration effort may cost.
"I would hesitate putting any numbers on this," she said. "We don't have a management plan in stone yet."
"This isn't a thing where we need to go to council for additional funds," said Brian Hoyt, communications and marketing manager for the parks department. "It's, 'Let's shuffle around what we have.' "
"I think if the plan is executed and continues to be maintained, just like gardening in your yard, it can be beautiful and five years later look terrible," Minister said. "It's going to take a continuing commitment from the city to work on it."