By Kristina Michel
Before the University of Houston existed, the ground it sits on was covered with acres of thick, green tallgrass prairie and vibrant purple and yellow wildflowers. A new project led by the Office of Sustainability hopes to have a small portion of campus looking like that again.
On Feb. 2, the Katy Prairie Conservancy launched a fundraiser to build a pocket prairie on campus. The fundraiser, “Grassroots for Change,” will benefit Houston-area universities, including the University of Houston, Rice University and the University of St. Thomas.
The money raised will collectively go toward the Katy Prairie Conservancy’s Prairie Builders Schools and Parks Program. Katy Prairie Conservancy will allocate donations to each participating institution based on which school the donors selected.
“Prairie Builders Schools and Parks is a program designed to empower public schools, colleges and public parks to install, maintain and use a native plant garden on their campus for the benefit of their students/visitors and for native wildlife,” said Jaime González, conservation education director at the Katy Prairie Conservancy. “There is a growing recognition that even small patches of habitat are critical to the survival of monarch butterflies, native bees and migratory birds. Individuals, schools and parks can play a big role in taking care of their part of Planet Earth by nurturing a pocket prairie, pond or woodlot.”
The UH pocket prairie, to be named Shasta’s Prairie, will be located at the green space in between the Science & Engineering Classroom building, Science and Research 2 and the UH Science Center (Building 593), adjacent to the urban forest landscape. Other UH partners in the Shasta’s Prairie project include the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, the Gerald D. Hines College of Architecture’s DesignLab Houston, Facilities Services and Facilities Planning and Construction. The UH organizers hope to raise about $12,000 for the project.
Shasta’s Prairie will give students, faculty, staff and visitors to campus a glimpse of the coastal tallgrass prairie that thrives at the UH Coastal Center. Set up about 14 miles northwest of the Gulf Coast, the UH Coastal Center consists of about 300 acres of coastal tallgrass prairie and about 700 acres of forest. The center supports environmental research on the Texas coast and works to raise public awareness about science and the environment.
“Some major motivations to establish a pocket prairie on campus are to educate the campus community about the UH Coastal Center and to use the pocket prairie as a living lab in biology and ecology courses on campus,” said Sarah Kelly, sustainability manager at the UH Office of Sustainability. “Shasta’s Prairie will help beautify the campus, require less maintenance than turf grass, provide critical habitat, and support student learning and faculty research.”
Students, faculty, staff, alumni and University supporters can make donations until April 23 at crowdrise.com/grassrootsforchange.
The UH organizers will be working with volunteers to establish Shasta’s Prairie on April 23, which will be the final event for the Earth Week festivities in April.
For more information about pocket prairies and their benefits, visit the Katy Prairie Conservancy website at www.katyprairie.org.
For more information about the UH Coastal Center, visit www.eih.uh.edu.