USD students, faculty are working to restore grassland in Vermillion Bridgett Jacobs, left, of Vermillion, and Danielle Buttke of Corona, both sophomore biology majors at The University of South Dakota, pause to identify a native plant which has already begun growing on a three-acre plot along the Vermillion River in Vermillion. The site is being returned to its natural state. Biology students and faculty from The University of South Dakota, along with a small group of volunteers and the City of Vermillion Parks and Recreation Department, are working jointly to return 13 acres of land in the city to its natural habitat.
Nestled along the Vermillion River and Cotton Park bike path, an area once recognizable for its lime sludge and excessive scattered litter, is taking on a new look. The three-year project will convert the filled sludge ponds and empty acres into a native grass and wetland.
However, this won't be your typical plot of grass.
"We are attempting to return the land to the state that it was in when Lewis and Clark passed through," said Danielle Buttke, USD sophomore biology student from Corona.
Completing this reformation back nearly two centuries will result in the return of grasses over six feet tall, many uncommon wildflowers, and a hope that local wildlife will take refuge here.
The project was developed by Buttke, along with USD biology professor Karen Olmstead. It is the recipient of an award from a National Science Foundation-funded program to USD titled, "Retracing the Lewis and Clark Expedition: Contemporary Aspects of Culture and Environment along the Missouri River."
The new grassland will be home to seven native grasses and 15 wildflower species.
Olmstead is excited about the educational possibilities of this project.
"It is very promising to have this resource here, not only for the university but also for the K-12 students," she said. "I also think that it is a great mechanism to involve USD students with their local environment and the Vermillion community." Initial planting of the first three acres began in June, but results may not be seen for as long as six years. Olmstead said the site may not look much like grassland now, but several perennial grass and flower species take several years to mature. In fact, some wildflower seeds can remain dormant in the soil for up to 30 years.
"Patience is clearly an issue in a project like this. Several species do not germinate the first year, with many wildflowers not blooming until their sixth year," says USD biology student Bridget Jacobs, Vermillion, who is also dedicating much of her summer to the project.
Barbara Yelverton, Vermillion City Council member, said the community cannot forget about the environment.
"I am excited about this project because it's something that we need," she said. "We tend to develop and develop, but we easily forget about the wildlife; this is educationally and environmentally the right thing to do, and its going to be beautiful."