Photo by Jason Boudreau-Landis
The Willow Story contributors:
–Gary Wyatt, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota Extension
-Dan Gullickson, Snow Fence Coordinator, Minnesota Department of Transportation
-Diomy Zamora, Extension Educator, University of Minnesota Extension
-Dean Current, Director, University of Minnesota Center for Integrated Natural Resources and Agricultural Management
-Eric Ogdahl, Great River Greening
-Steven Van Natta, Horticulture Manager, University of Minnesota Landscape Arboretum
If you’ve marveled at the Arboretum’s YouBetcha stick structure designed and built by internationally-acclaimed artist Patrick Dougherty in May of 2019, you might have wondered where the willow branches that make up the structure came from.
Before they became an artist’s tool, the willows improved winter driving conditions as a part of a research project. The willows were harvested from University of Minnesota research plots near Waseca, and they came from a University of Minnesota Extension research project on living snow fences.
The willows for the research project, which was funded by a grant from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, were planted in 2013 on the Minnesota Department of Transportation right of way bordering the north side of U.S. Hwy. 14 south of Waseca.
Researchers hand planted willows of 5 different willow cultivars. They also planted a shrub variety plot to study the rate of growth between commonly planted shrubs and willows. Willows grew much faster than traditional shrubs. Both studies were successful in documenting growth and snow catch potential as a living snow fence.
“Before we planted the willows, every time the wind would blow out of the north-northwest our west bound passing lane would fill in with snow. This was due to the way the road lays, and we would always have to come out and patrol this area for hours,” says Bryan Lillie, Minnesota Department of Transportation supervisor of the Waseca area. “Since the very first year, we were amazed [by] the job the willows did. The willows basically stopped the drifting. We have other places on this stretch of road we would like to try some more willow plantings.”
From stick to sculpture, here’s the story (in pictures) of how YouBetcha came to be: