My graduate course in Advanced Interpretive Media Design ended yesterday. It was a three credit course in six weeks, NRES769, via the College of Natural Resources at one of the UW system schools. It was a very challenging, and yet, enlightening course. I learned how to make interpretive media using such software programs as Photoshop and InDesign. For our final project, due not yesterday but on the holiday weekend – July 2nd – I chose to make a Wayside Exhibit Panel for a local piece of preserved land called the Holland Sand Prairie. It is a remnant of land located only a few miles from my house formed over 12,000 years ago when the glaciers in Wisconsin pushed down over the state, moving soil and smoothing landforms. The glaciers did not reach our part of the state, commonly known at the “Driftless Area of Wisconsin.” In any case, the Holland Sand Prairie, one of the only undisturbed, wind-formed pieces of land left, is worthy of new signage. A couple of different brochures exist, one issued by the Mississippi Valley Conservancy, and another – a plant identification guide, compiled and made by a few local girl scouts almost ten years ago. This guide was supported by the Freinds of the Holland Sand Prairie and The Prairie Enthusiasts group. Both are available at the kioske in the entrance to the prairie where a current wayside sign offers a great deal of information. In addition to these three overseeing bodies, The Town of Holland and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources also help to manage and conserve the property. The reason the sand prairie is important is that it provides the right soil (mostly sandy) for some rare plant species. There is great biodiversity in this acreage, that boasts over 150 different kinds of plants. Some of the plants growing on the sand prairie are the sole supporters of species that depend on them for sustaining their life cycles. These plants are milkweed and wild blue lupine. The lupine is a spring blooming plant that the Karner Blue Butterfly uses as the larval host. Without the wild blue lupine, we would not have Karner Blue Butterflies. This lupine only grows in the sandy soils that happen to be in places like the Holland Sand Prairie. Like the Karner Blue, but more commonly known, the Monarch Butterfly also depends soley on one plant to sustain its species. As you might already know, that plant is milkweed. Common milkweed is easy to spot when you visit the Holland Sand Prairie.
This past Saturday, my oldest son and I walked the Sand Prairie. I wanted to see if we could spot the variety of Prickley Pear Cactus that lives natively here in these sandy soils. I was also in search of several of the plants I had read about when I was gathering information to make my wayside exhibit sign. Specifically, I was in search of Silky Prairie Clover and Clustered Poppy Mallow. Instead, I found Lead Plant and Hoary Vervain, along with Butterfly Weed and Coneflowers. We were treated to at least a few monarchs flitting around us on our walk, a joyful sight to be sure. Unfortunately, none of the milkweed we saw had evidence of being chewed….a sign there is monarch larva present.
I have gained a newfound respect for quality Wayside Exhibit signs and other interpretive media. There is a lot that goes into making a quality sign! As my wayside sign asks, we did stay on the trail. If we had gone farther afield, we might have stumbled upon the Prickly Pear or seen some Monarch caterpillars. In any case, it was a lovely – albeit, hot, walk in the sunshine, on the trail, at the Holland Sand Prairie in Wisconsin