BATAVIA, Ill. – Many people can claim success nurturing a backyard garden, but few people can say they helped grow a historic nearly 1,100-acre native prairie. This fall, the Department of Energy’s Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory invites you to help with its prairie restoration project.
On Oct. 6 and Nov. 3, you can take your green-thumb skills to a whole new level and help restore Fermilab’s prairie by collecting native seeds. Some of the seeds replenish land at the laboratory while others help build prairies at area schools.
Because of the restoration project, almost 20 percent of the laboratory’s 6,800 acres house the same native grasses and wildflowers that greeted the first settlers.
In Illinois, fewer than one-tenth of one percent of native prairies remain intact. Fermilab contains one of the largest of these native prairies. The native grasses’ deep roots help prevent erosion, trap rainwater and preserve the area’s groundwater aquifers.
Every year volunteers, users and Fermilab employees of all ages keep the prairie healthy by combing through the Robert Betz Prairie and collecting several species of flowering plants.
The harvest allows the laboratory to re-seed sparse areas of the prairie and ensure a healthy diversification of plant life throughout the site. The plants and grasses keep butterflies and birds thriving onsite for bicyclists and hikers to enjoy. Restoring the original plant life also brought a return of dozens of long-gone animals like badgers, the endangered Blandings turtles, bald eagles and snipes.
During the past three years, volunteers gathered 100 species of seeds annually from inside the Tevatron ring, one of the older parts of the restored native prairie, to plant elsewhere. The Fermilab roads and grounds staff store the seeds in a greenhouse. These seeds will be dried and processed for springtime planting in prairie burned plots. The laboratory has donated some of the seeds to local forest preserves, state parks and more than 40 local schools to start backyard prairies that can teach youth about ecology and their state’s history.
“Harvesting seeds for young plants is crucial,” said Senior Groundskeeper Martin Valenzuela. “Our staff is small, and we would not be able to do this without the help and dedication of volunteers.”
The seed harvesting tradition began at the laboratory in 1975. Some volunteers come back year after year, Valenzuela said. Typically, between 30 and 100 volunteers, including families and young children lend a hand. Valenzuela said that the Prairie Harvest gives kids a chance to experience nature and gives adults an opportunity to make a difference.
Community volunteers can come to Fermilab for Prairie Harvests from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 6, and Saturday, Nov. 3. Volunteers should enter at the Pine Street entrance and follow signs to the harvest sites. They should wear long-sleeved clothing and gloves, and if possible, bring hand clippers and paper grocery bags. A picnic lunch will be provided. In case of bad weather, call the Fermilab Switchboard at (630) 840-3000 to check whether the event has been rescheduled.
For more information, contact the Office of Communication at (630) 840-3351.Additional information about the site’s prairie can be found at www.fnal.gov/pub/about/campus/ecology/prairie/.
Fermilab is a national laboratory funded by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy, operated by the Fermi Research Alliance, LLC.