For decades, Lincoln city parks were turf and trees. They were quiet, pretty, often-mowed places that gave us green and shade in the urban environment.
Any new park got seeded to fescue grass. That was the formula, said Mark Canney, park planner for the city.
But ideas about what a park should look like and its role are changing as park staff learn more about the importance of pollinators — the birds, bees, butterflies and insects — to the landscape and to the environment.
Now new parkland will be immediately seeded with a prairie mix of grass and wildflowers. And older parks, such as Taylor and Trendwood, are being converted from the '60s fescue to a modern blend. Some areas will be converted to the prairie mix that includes pollinator-friendly plants, and some areas will be defined no-mow, Canney said.
Part of the transition is related to budget cuts in the department's mowing program. But it is also based on new information about what is healthy for the environment, Canney said.
People were used to the golf course aesthetics. But the city has learned that is not necessarily the best for the environment, kids or for stormwater management, he said.
This week the city has been showcasing the need for pollinators with a series of planting events. Thursday, Mayor Chris Beutler had a news conference as part of National Pollinator Week, thanking the Save the Monarchs organization for the 400 milkweed plants being planted in city parks.
After the news conference, more than a dozen children from the Calvert and Irving summer day camp programs planted orange-blossomed milkweed in the southern portion of Antelope Park.
The milkweeds are striking as ornamental flowers and are a favorite of the monarch butterfly, Canney said.
“It’s also a nice plant that will take the heat and wind, which plants have to be able to endure to survive here,” he said.
The idea for parks today is to have a landscape with a purpose, to incorporate ecology and other principles into park design, he said.
The city has been putting in pollinator beds for several years, at Mahoney Park, Holmes Park and Union Plaza.
The city has also been planting milkweed in parks for about five years and adding milkweed to the park seed mixes for the past two.
This year, the city decided to capitalize on the gift of an additional 400 milkweed plants by celebrating the week with public events that "encourage people to take this whole pollinating thing serious.”
Milkweed plants were planted by volunteers at Woods Park on Saturday. Others were planted at Union Plaza, Lakeview Park (Northwest 20th and Q streets) and the Rotary Strolling Garden (27th and C streets).