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Fairmont school: It’s restoring Kehrberg Prairie

FAIRMONT — Driving along Cardinal Street on the south side of Fairmont High School, one might notice a stark difference.

A prominent line of trees has been removed from the Kehrberg Prairie, raising concerns among some local residents. Alex Schmidt, co-principal of the high school, discussed what is happening.

“The whole idea is prairie restoration,” Schmidt said. “The grove was filled with trees that were dead, dying or falling over. There was also an invasion of buckthorn, which is a kind of tree that takes over and kind of destroyed that grove.

“We wanted to keep that from getting to our prairie because that can cause major problems. So that was cleared and then we’re going to use the space that’s there to plant new prairie and plant some native Minnesota trees there as well. The big part of public perception is that we got rid of this nice big grove, but we’re replacing it with good quality native trees.”

The Kehrberg Prairie was started in 2003 and dedicated in 2005. The site is named for Dan Kehrberg, a former biology instructor who taught in Fairmont for 33 years.

“So, eventually, on the south side there, we’re going to be planting white cedar and Colorado blue spruce trees for a total of around 60 trees planted,” Schmidt said.

As part of the restoration efforts, there will be a controlled burn in the fall to help restore the current prairie. A burn will aid in the overall health and longevity of prairie lands, allowing them to regenerate by suppressing non-native, invasive plants and woody shrubs that would otherwise take over.

“It will grow back stronger, and then the plan is to use it for our agriculture program,” Schmidt said. “There are native flowers and grasses in that prairie right now and we’re hoping to replicate that in the new part. That way, our agriculture kids and students can go in and learn how to identify them, and also learn about prairie restoration, water conservation, landscaping and taking care of our land.”

Schmidt said there are hopes of eventually placing identifying markers that elementary students can utilize as they are taught about the prairie by high school students.

“It’s quite a process,” Schmidt said. “Steven Lebert, a science teacher here at the high school, has volunteered countless hours to help take the grove out and maintain the prairie. He has such a passion for this.

“Another person who we’ve been working with is Jesse Walters, who works for Martin County Soil and Water Conservation District. He’s been a tremendous resource for us, from telling us what trees to plant, to what prairie seed to lay down, and how to coordinate the timing of it all.”

The Soil and Water Conservation District, along with US Bank, the Schmeekle Foundation, Martin County Pheasants Forever, Lawn Solutions and Jim Anderson are all sponsors of the project.

“Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to get the funds,” Schmidt noted. “The district has also put in some dollars for the project.

“We’re thrilled about it, especially with our new agricultural teacher coming in. She is really excited to get started on making that prairie bigger and better and utilizing it for our students. That’s the ultimate goal, to make sure our students and community are benefiting from it.”

Those interested in learning more about the project may visit https://sites.google.com/apps.fairmont.k12.mn.us/kerhberg-prairie/home. The site also can be accessed through the Fairmont High School website.

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