Acres of native prairie will return to Austin

September 17, 2018

AUSTIN — Nearly 100 acres of land near Austin are returning to native prairie grasses, plants and flowers, thanks to Ken and Gloria Trom.

Ken, 83, and his wife, Gloria, 78, planted native flora around their land near the Cedar River in June, and they are already starting to see some gold- and maroon-colored bloom.

The two non-farmers are excited to see what the fields will look like in the coming years.

“You don’t get this mix of stuff and wildlife anymore,” Ken said, “but it’s part of the natural order.”

The planted mix contained more than two dozen species, including butterfly milkweed, prairie blazingstar, stiff goldenrod, sneezeweed, black-eyed susan and partridge pea.

But the prairie grass project isn’t the only conservationist work the Troms have done. In 57 years of living in their country home, the couple have put in hillsides, tree windbreaks, a fish pond, gardens and more.

The addition of the 100 acres of grasses seems to them to be the next step.

“We already have the woods, the river and everything to support wildlife,” Ken said. “Now we just put this in, (the wildlife) will like that, and it will tie right in.”

That conservation mindset and decades of work are the reasons Ken was recently awarded the 2018 Outstanding Wildlife Conservationist for Mower County. Ken said being on the receiving end of the award is a juxtaposition of sorts.

“I used to be on the board, and I wanted to start up this awards program,” he said. “I used to help give out awards, and this time I get one.”

Justin Hanson, manager of the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District, said the recognition is a way for them to give a pat on the back.

“It’s fun once a year to say this guy did really great things for habitat development,” Hanson said. “Most of the time, these guys are just doing it on their own, so it’s fun to hit pause and say, ‘Hey, thanks a lot for all you do.’”

The SWCD worked with more than 50 projects and completed 1,400 acres of conservation work in the last year.

Hanson said the Troms’ project had the most acreage in the county, and Ken’s diverse mix of plants will work to attract pollinators, which maximizes the habitat value.

Ken, a former banker, said he and Gloria already see families of deer, monarch butterflies, bluebirds and more on their land, and they are excited to see what the new prairie grasses, plants and flowers bring.

No matter what happens with the prairie, Ken said he simply enjoys the conservation work they do.

“In the banking business, you just think of the money, you know,” Ken said. “This is something you can really get your hooks into, and I always had a hankering for it.”

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