Grant Will Support Effort to Restore Tall Grass Prairie at Good Earth State Park
A project to enhance Good Earth State Park is gaining momentum thanks to a recent grant from the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.
The grant, awarded to EcoSun Prairie Farms, supports a multi-phased effort to establish a sustainable tall grass prairie on about 106 acres of retired farmland near the southwestern edge of the park. Subsequent phases of the project envision hiking and walking trails, informational signage, educational initiatives and more.
“This prairie will add a beautiful and ecologically significant component to the park, enriching the visitor experience there. Hiking and walking trails will allow the public to experience and appreciate this restored prairie. Few people in Sioux Falls or the region have walked through a sizeable tall grass prairie and witnessed the beauty and the diversity of wildlife and plants found in this heritage landscape,” said Peter Carrels, a member of EcoSun’s Board of Directors.
The South Dakota Game, Fish & Parks selected EcoSun for the project based on the organization’s proven track record for establishing and managing prairie. EcoSun previously restored and managed a 500-acre prairie between Brookings and Sioux Falls, a project that demonstrated the prairie’s biodiversity and wildlife characteristics as well as its economic contributions through the sale of nutritious hay, prairie-raised beef, and native plant seed.
The Foundation’s grant paves the way for the prairie restoration project to officially begin its public fundraising phase, supporting the initial planting, planning and tending necessary to successfully establish the prairie. If fundraising goals are achieved, the project could begin in Spring of 2021.
Supporting a ‘Win-Win’ Idea
The Foundation has a long history of supporting Good Earth State Park, having served as a strategic community partner in the park’s initial development more than a decade ago.
“Core to our mission is helping to enhance the vibrancy of our community, so when the opportunity to help enrich this special park came our way, we knew we wanted to support this project,” said Patrick Gale, vice president for community investment.
“’Community’ is in our name, so we take seriously our responsibility to harness the power and purpose of philanthropy to help preserve and sustain what’s good here, and to champion ideas that have the potential to make our community even better,” he said. “Good Earth is truly a gem within our community, and the opportunity to help enhance it in a way that adds aesthetic, ecological and educational value is a win-win from our standpoint.”
The benefits of the project, organizers said, are many.
“The project will certainly enrich the park visit experience by offering visitors the chance to learn about and enjoy the beauty and the diversity of wildlife and plants found in this heritage landscape,” Carrels said. “Visitors will not only have a chance to learn about prairie and its history; they’ll also learn about its value and its potential — the bounty of a tall grass prairie can yield a significant economic benefit.”
The tall grass prairie addition to Good Earth will also distinguish Sioux Falls as the only city in the Midwest to “have as large a prairie so near its boundary. It will be an extremely attractive location for the people who live here,” Carrels said.
Beyond its economic potential, restoring tall grass prairie also offers a long list of ecological benefits, Carrels said.
“Prairie is a biological, ecological element of the landscape and it was once the predominant ecosystem of North America,” Carrels said. “It’s truly an endangered ecosystem today.”
Restoring prairie is considered a type of regenerative agriculture. That’s because prairie helps to reverse the effects of climate change by building and rebuilding soil continuously. In doing so, it adds to the overall fertility and vitality of the soil by storing carbon.
Sharing the History
The tall grass prairie project also ties to Good Earth’s mission, which is rooted in history and education.
As one of the oldest sites of long-term human habitation in the United States, Good Earth counts educating visitors about the native tribes that once occupied the area as one of its primary goals.
“The one natural facet that’s been missing has been a large and diverse prairie, which was a critical part of the natural resources utilized by the Native Americans who lived in the park’s vicinity,” Carrels said.
Jeff Van Meeteren, Game, Fish & Parks regional park supervisor, agreed.
“GFP is excited and grateful regarding our EcoSun partnership,” he said. “We view establishment of tall grass prairie at the park as a major step forward in enhancing the mission and appeal of the park and we applaud EcoSun’s vision for the importance and value of prairie.”
Those interested in supporting the project can visit ecosunprairiefarms.org or the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation.