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15 Stories for 15 Years! Story #9...

We’re featuring 15 stories for our 15th anniversary! 2021 is the Great River Road Visitor & Learning Center's 15th year at Freedom Park. To celebrate, we will share 15 stories that highlight important moments in our history, remarkable people we've met along the way, lessons learned, milestones reached, and how Friends of Freedom Park and the surrounding communities have supported each other over the years.

Story #9: Since the beginning of our organization, restoring the globally-rare bluff prairie has been a top priority. This is from a 2008 document: "We are planning to make the park a destination for the restoration of prairie and savanna ecological systems within the Upper Mississippi region. This will distinguish us from other parks in the area and allow us to set up continuing education programs and projects in landscape restoration along the Mississippi bluffs."

Dorothy Ahlgren gave one of the first donations to kickstart fundraising for the project back then. Unfortunately, the restoration effort lagged due to leadership transitions within the Friends of Freedom Park. The bluff had been cleared by volunteers, city crews, and contractors at least three times over the last 15 years. They cut down large trees and woody invasives and opportunists such as buckthorn, black locust, honeysuckle, prickly ash, sumac, and grapevine.

In 2019 the bluff had become so overgrown again that it was difficult to even see the river. A thick, tall, leafy canopy inhibited the growth of native prairie grasses and flowers.

Then the goats arrived. In the fall of 2020, 47 goats munched the bluff into shape, even stripping the bark of fierce invaders like buckthorn and black locust. The same herd returned in the spring of 2021, now 60 strong due to the addition of kids born over the winter and a couple of big goats thrown in to handle the taller saplings. Over 12 days the goats turned the jungle into a desert and entertained hundreds who flocked to the park to watch them work. A careful observer even noticed that one kid was born at the park. We called that baby goat "Freedom".

Next steps in the restoration include ongoing removal of invasives and opportunists, reseeding, and burning. Goats will be a regular part of the management plan in the years to come. We're only in year 2 of the 9-year restoration effort and have a long way to GOAT ... I mean, go. Donate today to keep this project moving!

Drone photos (before and after the goats!) courtesy of Dallas Eggers

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