Josh Pommier read a newspaper story several years ago about a Litchfield Middle School teacher’s classroom work with a butterfly garden.
It gave him the idea that brought about 130 fifth-graders to the Forest City Waterfowl Production Area northeast of Litchfield one morning last week.
“Today’s about getting the kids outside, in nature and learning about pollinators, pollinator habitat and then also wildlife habitat,” said Pommier, Minnesota private lands manager for Pheasants Forever.
Last week’s field day saw students meander through the grassy field to visit six stations where they learned about wildlife habitat and the work done by Minnesota Department of Natural Resources and U.S. Fish and Wildlife officers. Students also helped spread seed for native prairie grasses and planted wildflowers in one section of the plot.
The field day, Pommier said, came about six years ago when he saw a story about a teacher who was teaching a unit on pollinators, which included the students releasing monarch butterflies. He saw an opportunity.
“I called the teacher and said, ‘Hey, do you want to partner on these pollinator habitat days?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ So then that started it,” Pommier said. “And then she moved to a different position, and there was a new teacher last year, and we had a different teacher this year, and they’ve all agreed to keep going with it. So we have a willing teacher, a willing school. A good partnership is already established, so let’s keep it going.”
Last week’s field day was the fifth, the second at the Forest City Waterfowl Production Area. The first three years were conducted at the Greenleaf WPA near Strout.
And every year has been about collaboration, not just between the school and Pheasants Forever, but including several other organizations and corporate sponsors. Pommier acknowledged Litchfield Lions, Kiwanis and Rotary clubs for financial assistance, as well as volunteering during the field day. Additionally, he said, larger sponsors, including the Painters Union, Bayer, DuPont, Cabela’s and Corteva.
Through the experience, students learned about good and bad soil qualities, the positive role prescribed burns play in the prairie ecosystem, and the efforts to control invasive species.
The students were divided into six groups with each group visiting one of the six stations set up by volunteers and staffed by representatives from various agencies and organizations. The groups spent 20-25 minutes at each station, learning about a specific topic.
At two of the stations, the students were put to work. At one, after learning a bit about prairie restoration, students received a bucket filled with seed and wood shavings, then lined up and made their way across a field spreading the seed – the wood shavings helping them see where the miniscule seeds were going. At another station, students received packages of plants and small garden trowel so they could repopulate a barren area with native plant species.
“There’s 30 to 40 different native flower and grass species that they’re seeding back,” Pommier said, explaining that a nearby plot was seeded by last year’s fifth-graders, though drought has so far kept the planting efforts from flourishing. “It’s a little more diverse than what it was before, which is the net goal, essentially. The more flowers we have germinating, the more insects can be there. The more food for pheasant chicks.
“You can really see it after a few years,” Pommier added. “When you go into the Greenleaf Waterfowl Production Area, you can see all the different years (of fifth-grader planting). And they all have different composition, the characteristics.”
Litchfield voters have spoken. They are willing to pay a small sales tax to fund a city recreation center, but they don’t want the facility to include a swimming pool funded by property taxes.
The state of Minnesota approved the council’s request for a half-cent local sales tax, and will start being collected on July 1. Retail business owners have already been contacted by the state about this sales tax increase, City Administrator Dave Cziok told the council.
The Litchfield City Council got the message and will be moving forward with its plans to build a field house, new tennis courts and other recreational facilities on school property next year.
At a short meeting Monday, the council acknowledged that, since the facilities will be on school property, it will be forming a joint powers entity with the Litchfield School District to construct and manage the facility.
“Voters sent a message last Tuesday and we have to respect it,” said Mayor Ron Dingmann, leading his fellow council members in reiterating their pledge not to use new property tax dollars to build the Litchfield Area Recreation Center. (It had been previously determined that the city will use reserve funds, grants, donations and sales tax proceeds to construct its share of the facility.)
The council also took its first look at a proposed storm water management ordinance that would set up a storm sewer fund. Initial drainage work is being funded using existing city reserves, but would be funded in the future through monthly fees on city property. It is estimated that the fund would require about $250,000 a year to properly manage the city’s snow and rainwater runoff. The proposed ordinance would collect $3.96/month per house, $40/month per gas station, and $5.76/month for a typical downtown business building. Other commercial properties and churches would be charged fees based upon their square feet of impervious surface, such as roofs and paved parking lots. It has been noted in previous discussions on this matter that commercial and church properties that install rain gardens, settling ponds and other runoff management structures could earn reductions in their monthly fees.
Cziok said most of the runoff in the city (more than 50 percent) is caused by commercial properties, with about 45 percent coming from residential property. (Residential ground typically has more lawn and garden space, where rainwater soaks into the ground instead of running off into storm sewers.)
The council set a public hearing on this proposed ordinance for July 17.
Among other business: