Brian Roebke photo
The Brown County Parks Department is working on a plan to turn some lightly used grassy areas in
Way-Morr Park in Morrison to natural state or prairie grasses. They’ve decided to not mow the grass on the southernmost baseball field, shown above, this year.
By Brian Roebke
If you like to see vast areas of mowed grass, you’ll be disappointed with the future of Way-Morr Park in Morrison.
If you like a little more nature, you’ll be happy.
As a combination of changing times, reallocating resources and saving money, Brown County Parks Director Matt Kriese is implementing some changes in the 32-acre park at the corner of Highway Z and Highway G, addressed as 3832 Park Road, Greenleaf.
People have fewer picnics than they did years ago but now spend more time exploring nature, thus the changes that are already underway, with more to come.
The corner of the park nearest the intersection is well used and no changes will be made there.
The Branch River runs through the park, with a pair of pedestrian bridges allowing people to use the park on both sides of the river. A good portion of the northwestern part of the park is operated by the Wayside Morrison Lions Club, which has a building and pavilion in that corner. The northeastern part of the park includes a large parking lot and a playground. There are grills and picnic tables throughout the park along with some dilapidated tennis courts, two baseball fields, and a rental shelter in addition to some scenic wooded picnic areas that are evolving into more nature-based areas.
The ball fields had been maintained through youth groups that no longer use the fields, so the south field is no longer being cut and and Kriese said they may plant that with native prairie seeds or tree.
“Right now we would plan to retain the north ball field just for general open space, whether it’s baseball or kickball or whatever that someone wants an open space for,” he said.
Kriese said out of all the county parks, Way-Morr has a lot of mowing for its size, something that was common in the 1970s and 1980s, but over time the trend is more natural space.
“We’re going to look at various areas on the south side of the park and potentially revert them back to natural habitat or potentially prairie, and through that we would continue to mow various walking trails and potentially put in interpretive panels,” he said.
The public would continue to have access to those areas. “In the end of the day it’s best for the environment and it saves a bunch of fuel and labor on mowing unneeded spaces,” he said.
Kriese knows it’s a well-loved park, but doesn’t see the benefits of mowing so much of it.
“We will always continue to mow the north park near the shelters and the playground,” he said.
There’s even a small mowed area of the park on Dickenson Road that’s rarely used by visitors that could return to a natural state.
Should they decide to plant a prairie there, they would kill the existing turf, till the field, and then plant prairie seeds.
“Prairies are great but they also require maintenance,” Kriese said. “That’s something internally that we’re going to be talking about, making sure that whatever we do is sustainable for the long haul.”
Prairies do need to be burned occasionally and invasive species need to be managed.
The park department understands something needs to be done with the tennis court area and the answer may be pickelball courts.
“I don’t have the exact answer yet on what that might look like but I know that right now it’s not a usable space and we’d like to see something done with it that the town can really appreciate and utilize,” Kriese said, noting they’re willing to partner with town government or charity groups to do work in the park, including staining the wooden pedestrian bridge over the river that runs through the park.
He’s discussed the plan with the Lions Club and town government and hasn’t heard from anyone it’s a bad idea, so he’s moving ahead with it.
“At the end of the day we’re looking at what makes the most sense long-term,” he said.
Kriese plans to put a gate at the road by the tennis courts because there’s no drive-through in that area and they tend to see more unwanted behavior there than good.
The gate could be opened for emergency and maintenance needs but it would make it easier for park rangers and sheriff’s deputies to monitor that park after hours.
The plan is driven by a desire to decrease costs, but it’s also bringing nature closer to the people.
“We look at how to meet the community needs but also make efficiencies to our department and really at the end of the day it’s a betterment for the entire community,” Kriese said.