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Master Gardeners embark on riverbank rehabilitation

Master Gardeners Art Yliniemi and Evelyn Lindstrom consult a landscaping map to place the native greens in the right spot. Native vegetation is being planted at the base of the Fish Hook River dam in Park Rapids. (Sarah Smith / Enterprise)

An environmental makeover is taking place below the Fish Hook River dam in Park Rapids.

Hubbard County Master Gardeners have embarked on an ambitious project to remove noxious weeds and invasive plants at the river's edge and replace them with native growth.

Armed with a $5,000 grant from Con Agra, the gardeners and volunteers fanned out below the DNR Fisheries building, pulling grasses and planting new.

"We want native plants with deep fibrous roots to hold the soil and contain the water," said Master Gardener Evelyn Lindstrom, looking over two dozen potted plants while consulting her landscaping map. Prairie Smoke, columbine and native grasses will adorn the site near the dam abutments.

The area was cleared, enhanced with nitrogen and a layer of newspaper. Then a layer of wood chips was applied to secure the vegetation once planted.

Three local nurseries were involved in supplying the stock - Deep Woods and Flying W supplied the plants while Forest & Floral planted an American linden tree that will grow on the riverbank.

Once the dam area is finished, gardeners will embark on clearing the riverbank, making it more accessible to anglers.

Maurice Spangler pointed out the buckthorn trees that need removal.

"These choke out everything underneath," Spangler told the gardeners and wanna-be gardeners.

"I'm Mary Adams, I'm from Spider Lake and I'm here to help," Adams said by way of introduction.

The group learned that spotted knapweed can be pulled. But seeds from that plant and the buckthorn tree can remain viable on the ground from five to seven years.

Once the vegetation is removed, the area will be sprayed with Romeo, a herbicide that is safe to apply near water.

Some grasses will be removed simply because they compete with native grasses, Spangler said. Brought here two centuries ago and used for cattle forage, the grasses have grown aggressively on the riverbanks and will crowd out native grasses.

Some grasses will be pulled; others sprayed. That's because the gardeners want the matted roots to help hold the shoreline until the new vegetation takes over.

"We're thrilled" with the grant money, said Master Gardener Kirky Otto.

And getting the underbrush under control will make the spot more attractive for anglers and sightseers, the gardeners said of the riverbank rehab project that could take years to complete.

But gardeners are well known for their patience. And, as if Mother Nature was listening in, a gentle rain fell while the gardeners planted.