Kelly McCann – Mississippi National River and Recreation Area

One of my biggest CVA projects is the native prairie plant nursery. It will be a new program this year with local schools to create partnership nurseries. At MISS, we have a habitat restoration program that draws in many of our volunteers. Volunteers absolutely love planting trees and wildflowers, but we don’t have the money to fund these attempts so our habitat restoration events (HREs) are mostly about invasive species removal. When we do buy plants, it’s a big chunk of the budget to buy local and viable seed and even then, you can’t be sure that they will germinate.

A few of my coworkers had dreamed of a nursery that would give the park access to a steady population of young, hardy prairie plants as well as giving kids the opportunity to learn up close about plants, prairies, and possible careers in conservation. I had a wide open plate back in June, so I ran with their dream and soon it became a vague reality.

I now have 2, possibly 3, schools on the project. We even have a school that wants to be included in the 2016-2017 school year. The partnership relies on a school’s access to a greenhouse or other indoor growing space, and the manpower (kid-power?) to care for the plants for a semester. MISS doesn’t have a greenhouse or an employee that could spend a significant chunk caring for the nursery, so schools were the perfect solution. We are hoping to give them forbs like black-eyed susan and milkweed, but will also give the students native grass seed so we ensure they’ll have plants that grow fast and well.

Brown-eyed susans, we will collect these seeds at NPLD (Photo credit: NPS)

The students will be able to learn as they go on the best way to get these seeds growing. They’ll use a few in biology lessons and science experiments. Rangers and I will visit the schools to give the students a connection to the river and the park that they are volunteering for. Can you imagine the potential numbers of new volunteers with this program?? So many kids who will have a connection to nature now that they have it in their classroom for half a year!

These schools will also be able to participate in field trips at the beginning and end of the year. They’ll go out with park rangers (and me!) to collect seed, right from the park! I’m the point person for the October seed collecting field trip, and I’m also working at National Public Lands Day to lead a short seed collection of targeted species. We’ll also do a field trip at the end of the spring semester that will give the students an opportunity to plant the fruits of their labor. I’m working on finding a spot for their “Centennial Garden” at Coldwater Spring (below).

Historic Spring House – Coldwater Spring (Photo credit: NPS)