Cenaiko Lake is part of the Coon Rapids Dam Regional Park. It is a man-made lake that is adjacent to the Mississippi River. The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area has worked with the Anoka County Parks and Recreation Department to restore prairie habitat to the banks of the lake. Cenaiko Lake is able to support three types of prairie; tallgrass prairie is established closer to the shore, while mixed and shortgrass prairies are growing in the middle and upper sections of the bank, where it is drier.
The Prairie Restoration Process:
- In the spring of 1996, existing vegetation in the project area was removed. First, a low-toxicity herbicide approved for use in and around water bodies was sprayed on the project area. Then, the area was burned to completely remove vegetation.
- Native grass and wildflower (forb) seeds were planted in late spring. A cover crop of oats was included to lessen the potential for erosion along the banks. The Cover crop has helped to keep weeds at bay while shading emerging prairie species and preventing erosion from wind and rain.
- The summer of 1996 was very dry, so in the spring of 1997 the area was overseeded to ensure that the plants would grow. The seed was manually raked in and the entire area was mulched with straw to conserve moisture and reduce erosion. At the north end by the gazebo, wildflower "plugs" (seedlings) were planted.
- During the first three years, the prairie looked rather sparse, because the plants were focusing their energy on developing root systems. After about three years, more energy was directed to above-the-ground growth, and the beauty and diversity of the prairie became apparent for everyone to see.
Now, the restored prairie at Cenaiko Lake is well on its way to being reestablished. Efforts now are focused on maintaining the restoration through periodic fires and mowing. Man-made fires mimic the natural conditions, prior to fire suppression, and are important because they keep the woody species from invading the prairie. Native prairie species have extensive root systems, grow from their bases at ground level, and rebound quickly. Without fire, woody species would take over and the prairie would eventually become forest. Mowing the prairie mimics the periodic grazing by bison and elk maintaining the diversity of the prairie and variety plant height and density.
Help from volunteers who regularly visit the site and pull exotic species such as Canada Thistle (Cirsium arvense) has also been key to the project's success. As the prairie matures and becomes more established, the Thistle will become less of a problem. The result of this project is a self-sustaining, diverse prairie that is a beauty to behold.