Thursday, February 7, 2019

Prairie Improvement Day At Jennings Environmental Center A Success In Butler County

The 19th annual Prairie Improvement Day was held on Saturday, January 19th at Jennings Environmental Education Center in Butler County.
The Jennings staff was looking for individuals willing to spend a Saturday morning outdoors to help manage the unique prairie ecosystem, and were not disappointed by a full registration of eager participants ready to lend a hand!
Volunteers pitched in from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. working under a clear blue sky and fresh crisp winter air — and were rewarded with plenty of warm, hearty lunchtime soup and a special commemorative soup mug as a special thank you.
The unique prairie ecosystem at Jennings was discovered in the 1900s but did not start to be protected until five decades later.
Public involvement in its care through education/outreach efforts like the annual Prairie Improvement Day and Celebrate the Bloom [this year on July 27] provides a great hands-on opportunity to learn and appreciate many of the special qualities of this rare habitat.
225 native plant species were identified at the prairie habitat of Jennings in 1964. One of the most well-known of these is the Blazing Star, which can grow up to four feet high and features spectacular purple flower blooms on its stalk from top to bottom.
In addition to the Blazing Star, the prairie is also home to the endangered massasauga rattlesnake, a small shy reptile. Only 4 of 19 historic populations of this snake still exist in PA, making it a critically imperiled endangered species.
Most prairie maintenance is done during the winter months, when the ground in frozen, as this is when the massasauga hibernates.
Clearing brush (which volunteers did a lot of on January 19th!), carefully timed mowing, prescribed burning, and establishing prairie grasses, wildflowers, and native prairie plants are all done to help ensure the survival of the massasauga and its unique home.
Fire enhances seed viability and helps reduce insect predators which could harm the Blazing Star.
Controlling the propagation of tree seedlings is also always a key focus in prairie maintenance, as this is one of the greatest challenges to the prairie preservation.
Be sure to visit the Jennings prairie (any season of the year!) and check out one of the lovely hiking trails winding through its beauty.
Visit the Jennings Environmental Education Center and Celebrate the Bloom websites for more information.  Stop in to see the new prairie and rattlesnake exhibits at the Center!

(Reprinted from the Slippery Rock Watershed Coalition  February The Catalyst newsletter.  Click Here to sign up for your own copy.)
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