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Park could be returned to prairie

The Hastings Parks and Recreation Commission is considering turning the long narrow stretches of mowed parkland along County Road 46/47 into natural prairie to help protect water quality in the Vermillion River.

With a spectacular view of the waterfall and access to trails that wind around the city, Vermillion Falls Park is one of the most popular parks Hastings has to offer. The Parks and Recreation Commission is considering giving one part of the park a makeover.

The best known part of the park is east of Vermillion Street. The part being discussed is on the west side of Vermillion, stretching along County Road 46/47 nearly to 31st Street, with the exception of one piece of property at Maple Street. It's easily visible from the highway as a long narrow strip of mowed grass along the riverbank, dotted with a couple concrete picnic tables.

The commission is exploring what it would take to redesign that part of the park and turn it back into natural prairie, said parks and recreation director Barry Bernstein.

The idea is still just a matter for discussion, and no decisions are being made.

When the matter was brought to the city council's park and recreation committee, committee members encouraged the commission to continue discussing the option, but weren't ready to let the commission take any action just yet.

The idea was raised when the Friends of the Mississippi River, the Vermillion River Watershed and Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area program asked Bernstein to look into adding a natural buffer along the Vermillion River rather than mowing it down.

Best practices, Bernstein explained, have shown that a buffer around a river improves water quality. In this case, natural prairie would stop the runoff from County Road 46/47 from draining directly into the river.

How would such a transition occur?

"We really haven't structured any formal plan," Bernstein said, since it's so early yet.

But they do know that the whole corridor park would have to be replanted with a variety of natural grasses. One idea is to build natural trails through the area in order to provide access to the picnic tables and river. Dakota County Farmland and Natural Area and Friends of the Mississippi River would assist with costs, design plan and maintenance.

Returning the bulk of the land to natural prairie would also eliminate the need to mow, which is currently being done once a week. It takes an hour and a half to two hours to mow the park, and more than two hours if they mow and trim the whole park, Bernstein said.

One concern is that prairie grasses would block the view of the Vermillion River and discourage access to it. Council and committee member Mike Slavik said that while he supports the idea of a buffer for the river, he's concerned that there are enough people who don't know about the falls already, and this project could hide it even more.

For more information or to contribute to the discussion, contact Bernstein at 651-480-6176 or