by Greg Lecker
At first glance, when viewed from Highway 41 in late summer, Spring Peeper Meadow is awash in waves of yellow, tan (russet/rust), and sea foam green. Upon closer inspection, the fifteen-year-old sedge meadow restoration reveals its delicate textures.
I park at the small lot on West 82nd Street just west of Highway 41. As I walk past the first of many signposts and enter the grassland, signs of civilization slowly fade – the traffic whine of Highway 41 and the rumble of a semi-trailer truck idling at Northstar Wholesale Foods. Listening intently, I discern the chirps and squeaky screams of a Bald Eagle atop the pine trees that border the south end of Spring Peeper Trail.
Interpretive signage describes meadow restoration steps and wetland ecology. For me, the most revealing demonstration is the pattern of colored posts anchored into the soil of the wetland. Differently colored posts signify varying bands of elevation, and as a result, the water depth or amount of moisture present. In turn, the availability of water determines the type of vegetation, ordered from the center of the wetland outward: floating plants, emergent plants firmly rooted but rising above the water surface, sedges preferring moist conditions, and finally the prairie grasses and forbs.
I traverse the broad boardwalk over the open water. As is fitting for a watery world, the gurgling song of a Marsh Wren (or Sedge Wren) serenades as the bird jitterbugs around the foliage bordering the walkway’s rim. The wren’s pert tail flickers.
Tiny floating leaves of duckweed form a monolithic plane of sunlit blue-green on the surface of the dumbbell-shaped water body. The wetland holds the greatest diversity –Soft-stemmed Bulrush, Arrowhead, Water Plantain, and several sedges that I cannot identify. Surrounding the outermost wetland plants are goldenrods and sunflowers.
Exiting the boardwalk and walking westward, I’m startled by a bit of red color on Smooth Sumac. Flitting among the antler-like branches, a Ruby-Crowned Kinglet buzzes with disapproval that I would linger so near. What insects is it seeking among the wild grapevines and sumacs?
West of and uphill from the wetland rises a prairie of Big Bluestem, Indian Grass, and Switch Grass, all bronzed by the late summer heat. Curling around the sumac stand, I enter a tunnel formed by encroaching, arching, cascading grasses. Searching carefully at the edge of the eighteen-inch-wide footpath, one finds the occasional aster, Yellow Gentian, or Giant Puffball – the latter has appeared near the transition between the grassland and woodland. Compared with the Bennett Johnson example on Three Mile Drive, the grassland of Spring Peeper Meadow is more a “true” prairie – with no trees to break the expanse of grass blades waving in the light morning breeze. Here, the narrow footpaths allow the visitor to lose himself between the land below and the sky above. Entering the Maple Basswood forest remnant of the region’s Big Woods, I find that White Snakeroot and Zigzag Goldenrod have started exploding the fall fireworks of their blooms.
Considered as a whole, Spring Peeper Meadow offers much variety in a relatively compact area. The easy visitor access and the broad sensory offerings justify frequent return visits to survey transformation throughout the seasons.
Greg Lecker is a Minnesota Master Naturalist Volunteer