Drake Library Plants Seeds of Change

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Drake Community Library (shown above) will undergo a landscape transformation that incorporates a more diverse depiction of prairie wildlife.

Just a stone’s throw from the Grinnell Campus, Drake Community Library is looking to change its grounds with a renovation of its prairie landscaping. All of the library grounds are currently planted with native prairie plants, but after much discussion, the library staff found it necessary to diversify the grounds.

The new Drake Library, located on 930 Park St., was built in 2009, after having moved from a much smaller location on Broad Street. The current prairie-themed landscape outside Drake requires minimal watering and maintenance, and additionally provides educational opportunities for local schools. Across Iowa, other libraries have grown their own prairies to educate their communities about Iowa’s native species.

“[We] put in what was hoped to be a sustainable prairie environment across the entire grounds … We are finding that we will need to deviate from that some,” said Library Director Marilyn Kennett.

Drake Community Library (shown above) will undergo a landscape transformation that incorporates a more diverse depiction of prairie wildlife.
Drake Community Library (shown above) will undergo a landscape transformation that incorporates a more diverse depiction of prairie wildlife.

To the north of the library, along Fifth Avenue, shade from the building has hindered the growth of the sun-loving prairie plants. In some areas, the soil simply has not supported the native species. According to Kennett, the “good” dirt was stripped from the ground during the construction of the library, which makes it difficult for natural prairie plants to burgeon.

“I think the building construction also created quite a bit of clay and built up mass,” Kennett said.

For their landscape renovation, the library staff received expert advice from the National Resource Conservation Service and the Horticulture Department at Iowa State University, which led them to Forever Green, a Coralville-based landscaping company with experience in environmentally conscious planning.

Forever Green proposed an update that incorporates a butterfly garden to attract migrating monarch butterflies, as well as paths and a patio to make the area more inviting for the community and more accessible for educational programs.

Karen Neal, Youth Services Director for Drake Community Library, said the library has been improvising with its prairie programming.

“We didn’t know how we could use the space until we saw what it was doing,” Neal said.

Once the grounds began truly looking like a prairie, Neal worked with community members, specifically the Grinnell Area Garden Club, to brainstorm potential ideas. Among other programs, the library has invited local children to plant native forbs on the grounds. An after-school program last fall also dealt with various prairie topics, including seeds and the work of prairie burns, which attracted a strong audience of middle school aged boys.

The library has held two prairie burns so far, both coordinated by Conard Environmental Research Area manager Elizabeth Hill, who has also contributed to maintenance and advising for the library’s prairie landscape. The second prairie burn was held last Friday, April 18. An unexpected intake of smoke, however, forced a brief evacuation of the library, and according to Neal, “It smelled like we were at a campfire all day.”

As for future programs, Neal has plenty of ideas, but says she will have to wait until after the new plants have come in before finalizing anything.

At the most recent public meeting on Wednesday evening, April 23, the library’s board of trustees voted to accept the landscape plan proposed by Forever Green and to implement the plan as soon as funding becomes available. In the past, funding for the library’s grounds has come from private sources; therefore, the board members plan to initiate another fundraising campaign for the landscape changes. Once funding plans become clearer, construction will begin on the new planned landscape outside of Drake Library.