An acre of land in front of Burnsville's City Hall is being transformed from a grassy hillside to a field of prairie grasses and wildflowers.
Driving down Nicollet Avenue past Burnsville's Civic Center campus, one could get the impression that a city maintenance crew got a little overzealous with the lawn fertilizer.
But that long, sloping patch of brown grass is dead for good reason: the city is turning the one-acre site into a field of native prairie grasses and wildflowers.
As Daryl Jacobson, water resources specialist for Burnsville's Parks and Natural Resources Department, pointed out, it is the first step in the city's plan to cut maintenance costs and reduce negative impacts on the environment.
"This site was picked as part of our National Resources Master Plan,'' Jacobson said. "The funding has been available for a couple years through our Capital Improvement Plan, and we've gotten the program up and running.''
Between $8,000 and $10,000 will be devoted to the project, Jacobson said, adding that it will pay for itself in seven to 10 years due to savings in the cost of mowing, watering and weed control.
From an environmental standpoint, the project will eliminate the emissions that would be produced by mowing the area. There also will be a reduction in the amount of chemicals used for fertilizing and for weed control.
The project will serve as a showcase for sustainable landscape practices, Jacobson said, with the aim of expanding the concept to other areas of the city in the near future.
City staff members still shake their heads in disbelief at the memory of Mayor Elizabeth Kautz pulling weeds last year along one of the city's main thoroughfares.
The mayor was acting out of frustration after funding cuts didn't leave any money to tend to the weeds. Those funds likely will be restored to the city's 2011 budget, but Jacobson said there had been talk of replacing grass on some medians with low-maintenance plants.
The Civic Center site isn't much to look at right now, but there are signs of progress. Rows of honeysuckle shrubs have been planted in the shade of the tall oak trees.
Jacobson said that between 50 and 60 species of wildflowers and prairie grasses will be planted. While most of the perennials will grow from seed, some flowering plants were put in near the top of the hillside to speed up the results for those anxious to get a sense of what the area will look like.
"It's going to take two years for the area to reach its full potential,'' Jacobson said. "Most of these plants establish a strong root system before they begin to bloom.''
While no residents have called to complain about the brown landscape, Jacobson said people are wondering what is going on.
Call it progress.
Dean Spiros • 952-882-9203