Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hoof Heaven Lone Elk Park Clears Way for Savanna to Spring Up

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Hoof Heaven Lone Elk Park Clears Way for Savanna to Spring Up

Article excerpt

TODAY, YOU SEE a sun-dappled field of assorted wildflowers and weeds among the scattered trees. Tomorrow - OK, more likely three years from now - the five-acre plot will have developed into an authentic savanna, with prairie grasses standing 6 feet tall.

The 20 elk, the dozen white-tailed deer and the 10 bison at Lone Elk Park stand to benefit the most from the savanna project under way at the heavily wooded 385-acre park in southwest St. Louis County. The animals graze on grasses and wildflowers, which are in short supply. Their diets are supplemented now with specially mixed vitamin-rich foods (and most likely will continue to be), but St. Louis County Park officials are eager for them to forage on the savanna.

"The development of the savanna will allow us to present the wildlife in an even more natural setting," said Ben Knox, environmental officer for the St. Louis County Parks. "Also, it will enhance the mission of the park and increase the productivity of the land." Lone Elk is the only public park in Missouri that displays free-roaming herds of large animals native to the state. Knox described a savanna as "a transition between the forests east of here and the prairies to the west." A savanna, he said, has large, widely scattered trees, which allow a lot of sunlight to reach the ground, which in turn encourages prairie grasses and wildflowers to grow. Last winter, park officials removed about 100 trees from the woods just inside the bison area. In January, they will remove more trees across the road, expanding the savanna. They also planted several different prairie grasses, but much of the growth that took place over the summer is barely visible. Knox said that the grasses spend the first two years developing a root system. Once sign ificant growth begins above ground, he said, the tall native grasses will easily crowd out the weeds now abundant in the area. …

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