The prairie in Whetstone Park has been transformed from a nuisance back into a unique landscape that offers escape from the hustle and bustle of the city.
While initial work has been successful in restoring the area -- near the Olentangy Trail, directly south of Adena Brook and Whetstone's parking lot -- ongoing management will keep it from declining into the neglected state that precipitated this current effort, said Tina Mohn, natural resources and property manager with Columbus' recreation and parks department.
"We feel very good about where we are right now. We've accomplished what we set out to do initially, and there's a management plan in place to direct future efforts" at the prairie, Mohn said.
The prairie restoration was initiated last fall when Clintonville Area Commission member Judy Minister -- who represents District 4, where the park is located -- requested that Mohn look into the matter following a number of complaints from residents.
In response, Mohn prepared a five-year plan for the 4.5-acre site, which is, according to her, the only urban prairie in the city's park system.
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.
"The prairie was beautiful 10 years ago, but it's kind of been let go," Minister said in November.
The plan included returning 1 acre to forest and mowing and overseeding the remainder.
"This spring, we completed the overseeding and (did) several plug plantings," Mohn said. "We had help from other municipalities and agencies and had plenty of volunteer help, a lot of stakeholder engagement.
"We had many plants we expected and some pleasant surprises," she said, mentioning purple coneflower and common jewelweed, among others. "The prairie is recharging and is stronger than it's been in years."
Mohn said there was some concern that certain remnant plants would prove "super-aggressive" as the prairie regrew, but those have instead died off in most cases. She added the acre returned to forest is proving successful as well.
Urban prairies, Mohn said, provide benefits on many levels.
"They provide a specific habitat for certain plants and animals to reproduce and nest, as well as for migratory animals and pollinators," Mohn said. "Aesthetically, we know that having this sort of space, where people can experience a sense of solitude in a green space, helps keep people mentally and physically healthy."
"For just being in process less than a year, we've made really great progress," Minister said.
"Everything looks fabulous. It's one of the cool sights to see on the Olentangy Trail with the prairie in bloom and all the butterflies and birds."
A volunteer work and education event at the prairie is set Oct. 5. Details will be available as the event approaches, Minister said.
Mohn said the five-year management plan outlines particular efforts that will help keep the prairie from again becoming a nuisance.
"We'll continue to engage the CAC and our community volunteers, as well as parks maintenance," she said.
"This is a big win."