We see that you have javascript disabled. Please enable javascript and refresh the page to continue reading local news. If you feel you have received this message in error, please contact the customer support team at 1-833-248-7801.

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Saving our state flower — the Showy Lady's Slippers

Two self-described "thorns" in the sides of decision makers made it their quest to protect a small patch of Showy Lady's Slippers from construction for the Highway 23 "Gap" project. Thanks to their efforts, the plants were transplanted.

Showy Lady's SlippersDSC_0009.JPG
Michelle Day (left) and Becky West hold a photo that Day took of the first Showy Lady's Slipper she saw blooming at the site near Long Lake that will be impacted by construction for the Highway 23 "Gap" project. The two women have been attending meetings, sending letters and doing all they could to call attention to the patch of Showy Lady's Slippers in hopes of saving the path. Last September, 95 of the plants were transplanted to new locations, thanks to their efforts.
Tom Cherveny / West Central Tribune
We are part of The Trust Project.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This story has been updated to use the correct term "prairie flora."

NEW LONDON — Just over two decades ago, Graden West found more than a good fishing spot on Long Lake near New London.

His footpath to the water held a patch of Showy Lady’s Slipper, the state flower. West recognized what others who had trampled carelessly over the native plants had not. He told his spouse, Becky, about the find.

She is passionate about prairie flora and tends her own prairie garden at their home near Nest Lake. Excited about the find, she called her friend Michelle Day. She put the supper she was cooking on hold just for the chance to drive out with her friend to see the flowers.

The invitation to see the flowers came with one caveat: Tell no one of their location. “It’s like a patch of morel mushrooms,” West explained. “You never tell the location.”

ADVERTISEMENT

Neither of the women would ever imagine that in a few years time, they’d more than let the secret out. Day wrote letters to everyone from the Kandiyohi County Board of Commissioners on up to then-Gov. Mark Dayton to tell about the find and especially why it was the location that mattered so much.

Showy Lady's Slipper IMG_0796.JPG
Michelle Day captured this close up view of a Showy Lady's Slipper at the site to be impacted by the Highway 23 "Gap" project.
Contributed

Plans for expanding the segment of Minnesota Highway 23 by Long Lake to four lanes called for tearing up the site. At one point, the designs showed the site as part of a circle to be used by trucks hauling gravel for the road construction.

“That’s what got my goat,” said Day. She and West confessed that they became a “thorn in the side” to everyone when it came to their mission to save the Showy Lady’s Slippers. They attended open house meetings hosted by MnDOT. Day carried a packet of photos of the blooming flowers at the site along with her to show anyone involved with making decisions on the highway project just what was at stake.

“They’re a gift from God,” said Day of the native flowers.

More Cherveny on Outdoors:
It was plain to see last year that the Marsh Lake restoration project had helped bring back large numbers of waterfowl. Hidden under its wind-chopped waters, there was another rebound taking place as natural reproduction led to large numbers of young-of-year crappies, walleyes, northern pike and white bass.
A New London woman and former park naturalist has opened a conversation and launched a petition on changing the name of Sibley State Park due to Henry Hastings Sibley's treatment of the Dakota
Eighteen graduates of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resource Conservation Officer Academy are taking to the field and their first assignments. Two are headed to vacant bureaus in Montevideo and Madison.
Hunters are taking to the field with the start of the mourning dove and early teal and early goose seasons. Prospects in the area are good, but goose numbers are down.

Today, the flowers are survivors, thanks to the two women and Michelle’s late husband, Duane. Until his death in 2015, he was as avid as Michelle and Becky in the quest to save the flowers.

At one point, Duane, as a former architect, approached the engineers for the Highway 23 project with his own designs for how the expanded road could be routed to avoid this once-secret patch.

The location is not being saved, but the Minnesota Department of Transportation worked with Day and West to transplant the Showy Lady’s Slippers to new host sites.

Here’s the good news: Many of the transplanted flowers are surviving at their new sites and at least in one case, doing blooming well.

ADVERTISEMENT

That’s at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center, where roughly one-third of the 95 Showy Lady’s Slippers saved from the highway project were transplanted last September. In most cases, the roots of transplanted Showy Lady’s Slippers go dormant for the first year after being transplanted, and usually do not bloom.

At one of the two Prairie Woods sites holding the new flowers, they are in full bloom. Several of the plants are doing pretty well, said Kory Klebe of Prairie Woods. He was on hand to help with the transplanting last fall.

Nate Johnson with the Minnesota Department of Transportation is responsible for roadside vegetation management and construction impacts on them. He credits Day and West with saving the plants by bringing their existence to the department’s attention. Due to their location, it’s entirely possible that the site would have been flattened by bulldozers without anyone being aware of their presence.

Johnson said that when rare or endangered species are impacted, and it is possible to safely transport them, MnDOT will do so as much as possible.

Day and West were joined at their once-secret location last September by Johnson and others from Prairie Woods ELC, Sibley State Park and the Nature Conservancy. They dug up the plants and divided them up for transplanting.

Johnson visited the plants at Sibley State Park on Wednesday to see how they are faring. Some still survive, but a portion of the transplanted plants could not be seen. He suspects that deer may have browsed on them.

He is waiting for word from the Nature Conservancy on how their transplanted plants are doing on prairie lands they manage.

The two women said they are happy to know that the plants are survivors, although they wish the original site itself could have been protected.

ADVERTISEMENT

West admits to mixed feelings about the highway project itself. She hopes the improved road delivers on the promise for improved safety. Her grandson, Nathaniel Shumaker, 11, of New London, died April 25, 2018 in an accident on the highway.

The political agreement that made funding possible for this project was made on Green Lake when fishing guide Kelly Morrel made an emotional appeal for a safer Highway 23 just days after attending Shumaker’s funeral. Morrel's boat mates were Gov. Dayton and Representative Melissa Hortman, DFL-Brooklyn Park, and Republican leaders in the legislature, Senator Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, and Representative Kurt Daudt, R-Crown.

The women have been back to the site recently before work starts on it. They found another 13 Showy Lady’s Slippers growing around the perimeters of the excavated plants. While the Showy Lady’s Slippers are being saved, this site and others along the new highway path includes a wide variety of native, flowering prairie plants.

Their hope now is that saving the Showy Lady’s Slippers will help promote more awareness and appreciation by all of us for what we are losing, and hopefully, to save what remains. We have a lot of natural gifts like these that we do not always recognize, explained Day.

Ladys-Slippers.jpg
These are among the transplanted Showy Lady's Slippers now in bloom at the Prairie Woods Environmental Learning Center. Jennifer Swenson, PWELC executive director, captured this image of the flowers.
Contributed

Tom Cherveny is a regional and outdoors reporter for the West Central Tribune.
He has been a reporter with the West Central Tribune since 1993.

Cherveny can be reached via email at tcherveny@wctrib.com or by phone at 320-214-4335.
What to read next
The 18th annual Upper Minnesota River Valley arts crawl — known as the Meander — took place Sept. 30 through Oct. 2, 2022.
The public hearings on Monday's Willmar City Council agenda are regarding special assessments for unpaid snow and ice removal and unpaid weed and grass mowing. The tabled action items the council is expected to consider are the rezoning and the creation of a tax increment financing district for the Unique Opportunities apartment complex project on Lakeland Drive Northeast.
Starting Oct. 5, Minnesota Highway 9 will be closed on the west side of Highway 23. Highway 9 travelers will be detoured to Kandiyohi County Road 40 for up to two days. Work is expected to end Oct. 10.
More help for low-income students, more help to connect businesses with graduates and more career counseling were some of the needs mentioned at a budget listening session Thursday at Ridgewater College. The Minnesota State college system will use the ideas to develop a budget proposal for the 2023 legislative session.