WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio — For the past 30 Septembers, Dave Nolin has collected wildflower seeds at Huffman Prairie.
“That’s when most of the seeds are ripe and they either fall to the ground or get eaten by birds,” he said. “So you only have a limited time to get them if you want to plant them.”
Nolin, retired director of Five Rivers MetroParks, now volunteers his time to preserve his favorite nature park in the Dayton area.
Huffman Prairie is the largest in Ohio, and its 109 acres are home to more than 300 species of vibrant wildflowers. On a crisp, cool morning Sept. 15, Nolin and two employees from the 88th Civil Engineer Group’s Environmental Branch walked through the prairie with large bags to handpick wildflower seeds.
“We’ll find the seeds that we need more of in the prairie,” Nolin said as he stood in waist-high grasslands. “There are some wildflowers doing fine and don’t need any help. But there are patches in Huffman Prairie that only have one or two kinds of plants because the prairie was damaged 100 years ago.”
During the 1800s, the prairie was drained and farmed. Later, it was used for pasture or seasonally mowed. When mowing and farming ceased in 1984, the presence of native prairie grasses was recognized.
The Ohio Natural Areas Council declared Huffman Prairie a state natural landmark in 1986. Since then, the base has taken significant actions to restore it — such as collecting seeds.
“We’ll let the seeds dry out over the winter, and then next year, we’ll disperse them in some of the areas that have been cleared out from species we don’t want,” said Danielle Trevino, a biological scientist with the 88 CEG Environmental Branch.
In 1990, the dominant grass on Huffman Prairie was 75% nonnative. Twenty-four years later, the dominant grass was 74% native, providing refuge for pollinators, birds and endangered animals.
Today, Huffman Prairie is home to 55 species of butterflies, more than 105 species of moths, 42 species of bees and over 100 species of birds.
“It demonstrates that we’re stewards of the environment, and that’s important to the Air Force,” Trevino said. “The prairie is important to the region, especially for migrating birds and pollinators.”
Trevino is going back out to Huffman Prairie to collect seeds Oct. 4 and looking for volunteers to help. To sign up, visit www.facebook.com/WrightPattersonNaturalResources.