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Federally Endangered Plant Makes A Comeback At Valley Water Mill Park

An endangered plant at Valley Water Mill Park has returned after not being seen for a few years. 

But it took hard work for the endangered Missouri bladderpod to come back, and it was because the Watershed Center of the Ozarks, which calls the park home, applied for and was granted Community Conservation Grant or CCG funds from the Missouri Department of Conservation. 

CCG money is given to municipalities, school districts, park boards or any nonprofit that wants to promote or restore wildlife habitat in an urban area, according to Ashley Schnake, urban wildlife biologist with MDC.  The money is meant to be used to purchase things like seeds or plants, but it can also be used to pay for labor for planting and for management afterwards.

So far, the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks has received about $20,000 in grant money.

"We have used that at the Watershed Center to improve our native Missouri habitat for watershed health and ecosystem health but also for education, said Mike Kromrey, executive director of WCO.

Valley Water Mill Park is the perfect location to use grant money, according to Kromrey.  Visitors can interact with native Missouri ecosystems there and learn how to protect them since education is a key mission of the Watershed Committee.

And the nonprofit brings in college students each summer to work as part of the Watershed Conservation Corps.  They’ve removed invasive species in areas of the park, including cutting down eastern red cedar on the glade and burning the brush piles. 

And in 2017, the Missouri bladderpod, a winter annual which is federally endangered and a species of concern in Missouri, came up on the park’s glade.  It hadn’t been seen there in several years.  Schnake believes it came back because the brush piles were burned.

"Even the smoke can stimulate bladderpod, so even just burning of the brush piles stimulated the bladderpod growth, Schnake said.

Mike Kromrey remembers when they first spotted the plants blooming on the glade.

"After we had done the restoration work in the glade, that following spring we were greeted by this blanket of beautiful little yellow flowers, the Missouri bladderpod." said Kromrey.  "And that is one of the most powerful experiences I've had in my career.  It was really like getting a high five from Mother Nature.  You know, we did all this work, and it was really hard, but we got this signal that restoration is happening, and the bladderpod is back."

Bladderpod shows its flowers in April, and it’s not up for long. 

The spring of 2017 when it came up in large numbers was a moment when Schnake realized their efforts really do make a difference.

"It gives us hope for others species of conservation concern that we can find in urban environments as well," she said.  "Other plant species in St. Louis, they have all different types of  of bee species that are only being found in the urban environment because they're doing these wildflower plantings and stuff, so it's almost creating little conservation islands."

Schnake said they hope that if they continue working to manage invasive species and integrating fire at Valley Water Mill Park, native plants will take over. 

Those who receive Community Conservation Grant money from MDC receive advice along the way, and biologists check in afterwards to see how the projects are doing.

Other projects being done with CCG money in Springfield include work at Lake Springfield Park and in the Southern Hills neighborhood in Springfield.  At Lake Springfield, approximately 10 acres of the invasive, bush honeysuckle, and Eastern red cedar have been removed by the Watershed Conservation Corps.  In Southern Hills, the WCC grew from seed and planted nearly 800 native species, and it's also providing maintenance.  The plantings are aimed at mitigating erosion, improving aesthetic quality and educating homeowners about the value of green infrastructure in urban areas, according to the Watershed Committee of the Ozarks.

Michele Skalicky has worked at KSMU since the station occupied the old white house at National and Grand. She enjoys working on both the announcing side and in news and has been the recipient of statewide and national awards for news reporting. She likes to tell stories that make a difference. Michele enjoys outdoor activities, including hiking, camping and leisurely kayaking.