Jul 27, 2021 - Politics

Des Moines' budget hurt turns into prairie perk

Purple and yellow wildflowers grow in a Des Moines park.

DSM's prairies are in low-use areas of parks, like this location at Pioneer Park. Photo courtesy of DSM parks

It's time to get out and smell the wildflowers.

Driving the news: Des Moines has added about 200 acres of prairie grasses and flowers throughout its park system over the last 13 years. Much of it is in full bloom right now.

Why it matters: It's pretty, and it helps the environment. Roots from some of the plants can go more than 15 feet deep, reducing erosion and the severity of floods.

  • Plus: It saves big bucks.

The intrigue: The initial prairie projects were launched to save money during a city budget crunch in 2008, DSM parks director Ben Page told us.

  • They weren't popular at first because the plantings weren't aesthetically pleasing. (Hey, if you've gardened, you know the first tries can flop.)
  • Research and planning improved to include seeding that has color.

Of note: The parks department doesn't track the financial savings attributed to prairies.

  • Yes, but: It costs about $30 an acre to mow and there are generally more than 20 mows in a year, DSM Parks director Ben Page told Jason. ($30 X 200 X 20 = $120K)

The bottom line: The real savings come in flood reduction.

A woman looks at a prairie grass exhibit at UNI's Tallgrass Prairie Center.
UNI's Tallgrass Prairie Center uses this banner to educate about prairie grasses. Photo courtesy of the center

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