Buckthorn is the persistent, fast-spreading, nuisance shrub that has sparked an Eden Prairie movement.
Like that neighbor from hell who tinkers with motors and whose lawn just keeps sprouting dilapidated car hulls and rusted lawnmowers – that’s buckthorn. Unless there’s an intervention, it’s just going to get worse, choking out anything of beauty.
But Glenn Olson, a 48-year Eden Prairie resident, is a buckthorn super slayer and so is Bridget Beyer, who moved here just two years ago from Duluth.
Together they are leading a new Friends of Eden Prairie Parks group that sees buckthorn, garlic mustard, and other non-native invasive plants as the archenemies of our esteemed parks and open spaces. A group that sees engaged, knowledgeable, park-loving Eden Prairie residents as our salvation.
Olson’s ongoing buckthorn battles – he rallied local Rotarians and others in a buckthorn-pulling campaign documented by Eden Prairie Local News two years ago – might be the match that lit the fire, but the new-but-growing group is becoming so much more.
It has members who are master gardeners, master naturalists, people whose careers are nature-related, and “longtime residents who are just really invested in the parks,” said Beyer.
Together, they have begun working in collaboration with city officials to monitor, maintain, and improve the city’s 37 parks and 15 conservation areas so that they continue to be the jewels that attract new residents and keep them here.
But, more folks are needed.
“All we need is your name, and your email, and you’re a member,” Olson said. “You’ll be notified of events. And the events will be eradication of invasive species, restoration after eradication, and education opportunities.”
Citizen involvement seen as needed
Eden Prairie taxpayers contribute mightily to parks and recreation. That category is $14.6 million in the city’s 2023 general-fund expenditures totaling $54.4 million, and parks and recreation is the single largest amount after police.
But, Olson maintains that the city can’t preserve and protect parks and open space on its own, and certainly can’t keep up with fast-spreading invasive plant species without citizen help.
He uses the Edenbrook Conservation Area as an example of where buckthorn has gradually taken over. What used to be a half-mile vista of scenic beauty has, in some cases, narrowed to 20 feet, he says, primarily because of buckthorn, which is hard to remove and stop from spreading.
“It’s slow, tedious work that needs constant attention,” said Olson. “And it’s bigger than any organization like ours can accomplish. It has to be a joint project. I think groups like ours, and the city, are educating and motivating people to work together to make it a priority to deal with the issue, and not just throw up your hands and walk away.
“So, yes, the city does need organizations like ours to help educate the public and offer some helpful guidance to the city to make some changes,” he added. “We have to decide, do we want to try to restore this area as a natural area, like it was, or do we want to just sell it off and build houses on it?
“I mean, if it’s going to be all buckthorn and there’s no other species living there, and it’s not home to half the animals it used to be, you can’t call it a conservation area, it’s not a park where you want to go and have a picnic, and you can’t play baseball on it. Might as well sell it, build houses. It’s a defeatist attitude, but it’s kind of where we’re at, a crossroads.”
Further, Olson believes more dedication to preserving Eden Prairie’s natural areas fulfills a mandate that residents gave the city in 1994, when they overwhelmingly approved a $1.95 million bond referendum to acquire and preserve more open space, including 55 acres of remnant prairie that has become the Prairie Bluff Conservation Area. (It’s another area that faces ongoing invasion from non-native plant species, including leafy spurge.)
“There’s still enormous work to be done, but I think we’re off to a good start,” Olson said. “And I think our organization can be instrumental in helping and guiding. We can’t do it ourselves. The city can’t do it themselves. But I think when we get enough of these people that voted for purchasing this property motivated, we can accomplish the goal of restoring these natural areas.”
Seeking members, donations
The group has started a community-impact fund called the Friends of Eden Prairie Parks Fund at the Eden Prairie Community Foundation. The nonprofit foundation is serving as the fledgling organization’s fiscal sponsor, which means donations to the fund are tax-deductible. Olson says the donations will fund the group’s work to eradicate non-native invasives and restore areas with native plants.
Interpretive walks may also be organized to grow residents’ appreciation of nature by pointing out interesting plant or animal life. Olson’s analogy: If you went to a Minnesota Twins baseball game and you didn’t know the names of players or rules, it wouldn’t be as enjoyable. The more you understand, the more fun it is. “So we want to get people to experience this, and help them understand why these plants are growing here and why they’re not growing there,” he said.
Another initiative is to assign Friends members as “park stewards” to watch over a park or conservation area for such things as trail wash-outs or new invasive species and to communicate those to the group, which in turn will relay information to the city.
”We’re not trying to tell the city what to do,” explained Olson. “We’re trying to say, ‘Hey, these are the issues. Which do you think are more important to take care of?’ or ‘What can you do to help this area; what can we do to help you to take care of this problem?’”
Co-presidents Beyer and Olson also see the group branching out to draw those with speciality interests such as bird watching and promoting pollinator plants.
So, there is that “boots on the ground” piece, says Beyer, but also a long-term sustainability approach that indigenous populations are known for – not just thinking about today, but planning for generations into the future. “I was thinking how I would like this group to be around for 30 years or more,” she explained.
City Parks Director Jay Lotthammer estimates that fewer than half of cities are supported by a “friends” group, and in some of those cases, it’s an adversarial relationship with city staff. That’s not the case here.
“We’re lucky. We’ve known individuals from this group for quite a while,” said Lotthammer. “We were excited when it became more formalized.”
The new organization’s willingness to take on pesky buckthorn – a difficult, tiresome task – is a good sign of its dogged perseverance and likelihood of success, Lotthammer added.
Beyer agrees. “We share a passion for natural spaces. We’re not just here for ‘one-and-done,’” she said. “We’re about sustainable changes.”
“It’s a bigger job than any one person can do. We need to do this together. That’s the message,” said Olson. “If you can help us by joining, we welcome you. If you can’t work with us, you certainly can donate. The more money we have for restoration, the more we can do.”
(Persons interested in joining the group can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. To donate, go to www.epcommunityfoundation.org and hit “Donate.” Look for the Friends of Eden Prairie Parks Fund. Or, send a check made out to Eden Prairie Community Foundation, with Friends of Eden Prairie Parks written in the memo line, to: Eden Prairie Community Foundation, 8080 Mitchell Road, Eden Prairie, MN 55344.)
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