The Nokomis Naturescape (NN) is beautiful, but I never knew its importance until today.
Vicki Bonk, a self-described “per sistent volunteer," began working with a habitat concept for Lake Nokomis in 1995. She began by proposing a butterfly garden. The Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board grew the idea to a 4-acre native plant habitat, planted in 1998. These indigenous plants create several natural ecological services. They are essential in feeding and sheltering beneficial wildlife, and their deep roots filter storm water running into the lake.
Today there are three major connected components: Nokomis Naturescape, the Monarch Mile, and the Gateway Garden. The three gardens have been largely maintained by volunteer gardeners. The Nokomis Naturescape is the lakeside plantings, where people can enjoy its liveliness through the seasons. Butterflies, bees, birds, and more, busily move from flower-to-flower to enjoy. The Monarch Mile began in 2017, and has a number of boulevard gardens inviting monarchs and more. The Gateway Garden is a flourishing sunlit prairie garden nourished by neighborhood volunteers. These gardens connect community and habitat and are the beginning of a habitat corridor along 50th Street.
The annual Minneapolis Monarch Festival began in 2009 to raise awareness of the monarch butterflies’ plight and how we can help by growing habitat, as seen at the Nokomis Naturescape, in our own yards. Also, celebrated is the Minnesota-to-Mexico monarch connection and of us all coming together to make a difference.
The goal was to inspire residents to plant habitat. The beloved Monarch Butterfly was chosen as an ambassador. Monarch populations are declining, largely due to habitat loss and the loss of their host plant, milkweed. Vicki reminded me that monarchs are a ‘flagship species.' She knew what she was talking about when she told me, “If you do something for the monarch, you do something for a lot of creatures.” She listed several insects and birds who need local plants to survive Minnesota’s harsh winter.
She explained to me that one reason why we need to take such care of the area is because Lake Nokomis is not a natural lake. Lake Nokomis was a marsh that was dredged in 1917 to become the beautiful lake we have today. Currently, the lake has a lot of algae growth. This is due to an overload of nutrients going into the lake, feeding the algae. The algae growth could "kill the lake," meaning that it could kill the fish and beneficial plants, thus ruining the ecosystem. Much of this nutrient overload is due to what people do in their yards. Native plantings surrounding the lake, residential, and commercial areas will help protect the lake best. “If you help the environment, you can help everybody," Vicki says as she explains how the lake is one of the geographic features of Nokomis that gives us a "sense of place."
Nokomis Naturescape is an example of how beautiful a native garden can be. She and NN volunteers hold annual events to show residents the importance of these gardens. “Yard by yard, we can make a world of difference” is her motto. She explained to me that many native plant seeds need to overwinter to germinate in the spring. I was intrigued, but didn’t know where to start. Fortunately, she – alongside NN gardeners and Wild One’s Twin Cities – are teaching at a Winter Sowing Workshop (visit WildOnesTwinCities.org). This is a good way to get a head start on your spring habitat garden planting plus a fun project for kids – big and little! “Life on earth can’t happen without this base of plant communities worldwide and we’re losing it so let’s plant native now,” said Vicki.
If you would like to volunteer at the Nokomis Naturescape, please email Vicki at: firstname.lastname@example.org