When Jyneen Thatcher decided to make a mid-life career change, she wasn’t quite sure where her new path would lead her.
She enrolled in the landscape architecture program at the University of Minnesota, with an interest in natural resources restoration.
“Most of the other students in the program were designing artistic features for urban landscapes,” she said, laughing. “Meanwhile, I was off looking at the woods and prairies.”
After finishing her degree, Thatcher experimented with different jobs, searching for the right fit. She worked as a garden designer, first for a small landscaping company and then for a large design firm, and spent time at the regional office of a federal agency as well.
When she began volunteering at the Washington County Soil and Water Conservation District (now Washington Conservation District), she finally found her niche. Two years later, she joined the organization and began to expand existing programs to help local landowners restore habitat on their properties.
In her position, Thatcher sometimes met with landowners who were interested in converting old farm fields back to prairie. She herself owned six acres of land near the border of Hugo and May Twp., just north of Withrow Elementary, and she realized that her property was the ideal location for a demonstration restoration project.
“Back in 1999, there weren’t as many programs to assist landowners as there are today,” she said. She and her husband, Steve, received a small grant through the Wildlife Habitat Incentive Program (WHIP) of the federal Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) that paid for less than 10 percent of the project.
“We received about $120 per acre, when the actual restoration cost is more like $1,800 an acre,” she said.
Thatcher hired a local farmer to plow, spray and disc-seed, but she planned and planted the prairie herself and has done controlled burns to manage the prairie on her own, as well.
“I wanted to do most of the work myself, so that I would have the experience to talk to other landowners about what to expect in their projects,” she said.
Now, 17 years later, the Thatcher prairie is maturing nicely. It is dominated by grasses, with a few bursts of color, such as the compass plant that shoots up with the summer’s heat and blooming flowers over the septic system. Over the years, Thatcher has used a combination of hand-pulling and herbicide to spot-treat spotted knapweed and reed canary grass that have invaded portions of the prairie, especially in the northeast corner where the land is wet. Prescribed burns have mostly kept the other weeds at bay.
Jyneen Thatcher officially retired four years ago, though she remains active in conservation efforts around the East Metro, including serving on the Citizens Advisory Committee for Brown’s Creek Watershed District.
This summer, she and other members of the advisory committee are taking turns hosting a series of informal, outdoor education events in their yards so local community members can see what prairies, woodlands and shoreline plantings look like in real life.\
On Wednesday, Aug. 16, Thatcher is inviting folks to join her for a guided tour of her prairie, during which she will identify native and invasive plants and talk about what to expect during a restoration project. There are mowed trails through the tall grass to walk on, and the Thatchers have “loaner” walking sticks available for people to use if needed.
There will also be information available about watershed district cost-share grants and Conservation District assistance to restore prairies and woodlands, control erosion and reduce runoff pollution.
“It is so gratifying to see how people are appreciating wildflowers nowadays,” Thatcher said. “They are good for pollinators and good for water quality.”
Visit the Thatcher prairie on Wednesday, Aug. 16, at 6:30 p.m. at 12999 Keller Ave. N. in Hugo. RSVP at tinyurl.com/BCWDOpenYards.
Angie Hong is an educator for East Metro Water, mnwcd.org/emwrep. Contact her at 651-330-8220 ext. 35 or [email protected]