An effort that began five years ago to bring natural prairie back to Joplin to replenish lost wildlife habitat is being expanded from funds obtained as part of a mined land reclamation plan.
The Joplin Prairie, located in the Murphy Boulevard Park between 15th and 20th streets east of Murphy Boulevard, is to be enlarged. In addition, new sections of prairie grass and wild flowers will be planted in several Joplin parks and Schifferdecker Golf Course over the next few years to provide additional habitat to pollinators and migratory birds.
It is a joint project between the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, the Missouri Prairie Foundation and the Joplin Parks and Recreation Department to replenish natural habitat diminished by the heavy metal concentrations left behind by the area's mining past.
The U.S. Department of the Interior program called the Natural Resource Damage Assessment and Restoration Program is providing the funds for the project, Scott Hamilton, of the Fish & Wildlife Service, told the City Council at a July 1 meeting. The purpose of the NRDA is to restore natural resources harmed by environmental damage caused by such things as oil spills and mining that cause fish kills or natural habitat damage.
Damage assessments are made, and the NRDA and the U.S. Department of Justice seek settlements from those who caused the damage in order to fund work to repair the damage and restore natural areas.
The trustees of the NRDA for Missouri are the Missouri Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Hamilton said. They implement the NRDA cleanup plans. He said the trustees have worked with Webb City in the cleanup of mine waste sites there. Tall grass prairie land and natural habitat have been restarted in those repaired areas around Webb City.
He said the Joplin project entails work on a total of about 50 acres of land at the Joplin Prairie, parks and the golf course.
"We have a restoration plan that is out for public comment," Hamilton told the council. The plan can be found online at https://www.fws.gov/midwest/es/ec/nrda/motristate/. Comments on it can be made until July 18 by emailing Scott_Hamilton@fws.gov.
The plan states that past mineral processing operations by EaglePicher and others resulted in the release of hazardous substances and high concentrations of heavy metals in soils around Joplin, which is triggering the cleanup actions. The plan states that work is planned in the Turkey Creek and Shoal Creek watersheds, tributaries to the Spring River.
As a result of the release of heavy metals, migratory bird habitat in those watersheds has declined. The funds for the Joplin project are from a 2012 settlement agreement reached with EaglePicher Holdings Inc.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service will provide funding of about $10,300 a year for the costs to install and maintain the prairie sites. Joplin's City Council approved a 10-year agreement for the arrangement at its July 1 meeting.
"This actually helps the city because it keeps us from having to mow these areas and lets us focus on other areas," Bloomberg told the Globe.
"Also, it will help with migratory birds," he said.
The effort is an offshoot of a 2014 agreement with U.S. Fish & Wildlife and the Missouri Prairie Foundation that started the 7-acre Joplin Prairie. The new plan calls for a 24-acre expansion of that prairie as well as plowing up some grass in sections of McClelland, Mercy, Landreth and Schifferdecker parks and Schifferdecker Golf Course for the planting of prairie grasses and wild flowers.
"This year was the first year the city of Joplin was responsible for maintenance of the Joplin Prairie, but Joplin has no experience in maintenance of the prairie," Bloomberg said. "We asked if they (the other agencies) would be willing to manage the prairie with our help with the mowing and seeding. And that led to a conversation about having more prairie sites" in the city.
"The management program will start in the fall," Bloomberg said. Some of the sites will be burned off and then replanted with a mixture of prairie flowers and grass. More sites will be done in the spring. "So hopefully the whole year there will be wild flowers in bloom, which also will serve pollinators" such as butterflies and bees.
Planting prairie grasses and wildflowers on the Joplin golf course is not unique, the parks director said. "A lot of golf courses of doing that, mowing some areas and letting some areas grow."
Councilman Phil Stinnett said at the July 1 council meeting that some residents have complained that the existing prairie sites are unsightly because of the tall grasses versus the mowed areas of city properties. Bloomberg said the parks department mows an edge around the prairie sites so that people understand the tall grass is left for a purpose.
Stinnett expressed concern that the tall grasses collect blowing trash and would be an obstacle at the golf course, making it difficult for golfers to retrieve errant golf balls.
Homer Wilson, president of the Joplin Golf Association, said "If Paul (Bloomberg) and the grounds crew are on board with doing something there, they know more about it than me. If I lose a ball, I take my medicine and hit another one."