February 24, 2021

Stopping Erosion and Restoring Prairies

by Andy Davey

People often ask about the impact of our grantmaking on the community. To help answer those questions, we’re embarking on a new series of blog posts and reports providing more information and analysis about the scope and impact of our grants in each of our five community impact focus areas: the environment, the arts, learning, community development and capacity building. We begin today, focusing on the environment.

Blog 55 environment at a glance
Cllick on image to enlarge.

Dane County is home to abundant natural gems: Rural prairie hiking trails, urban parks, fertile agricultural lands, our beloved lakes and much more. Our community, however, also faces tough environmental challenges, including persistent lake pollution, dwindling time outdoors for many children, and inequitable access to farmland and other natural resources. And we are affected by environmental challenges, such as climate change, that go well beyond our borders.

Environment areas of impact
Cllick on image to enlarge.

Many nonprofits in our community are rising to meet these challenges, and MCF and its generous donors are supporting that work. MCF makes grants to fund conservation and restoration work throughout Dane County, along with environmental education programs and initiatives to increase access to our natural places for everyone in our community. Since 1990, MCF has made more than 170 grants totaling $6.9 million to more than 88 different organizations, funding projects that have an impact on land, water, and the lives and livelihoods of people.

Below is the story of one of these projects. Stay tuned next month for two additional environmental stories about the work of the Aldo Leopold Nature Center and Groundswell Conservancy.

Blog 55 Holy Wisdom

Prairie Wisdom: Ecological Restoration and the Reduction of Lake Pollution

The Benedictine sisters at Holy Wisdom Monastery knew they could further reduce erosion and lake pollution; they just needed some help. After many years of careful environmental conservation on their land just north of Lake Mendota an opportunity arose to purchase an additional plot to restore and steward.

The 53-acre field had been in monocrop farm production for decades and was prone to erosion. During big storms, torrents of water cut gullies in the land and carried sediment and excess phosphorus across the adjacent highway into Lake Mendota. In 2014, with the help of a grant from Madison Community Foundation and support from other local philanthropists, the sisters purchased the land and began restoring it into a native prairie and oak savannah.

Nearly 100 volunteers helped remove invasive species and replace them with more than 120 native plant species. This allowed the landscape to blossom into a biodiverse habitat for a variety of birds and insects and a web of microorganisms that restored soil health. The robust root system and stable ground has eliminated erosion and allowed the groundwater aquifer to recharge.

The land has also been opened to the public. Thousands of people every year enjoy invigorating walks through the prairie or find a quiet path for spiritual retreat and reflection.

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