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Controlled Burn At Blaine's TPC Golf Course

Check out this interesting article which describes fire’s role in maintaining the health of this environmentally sensitive landscape.

Publication: Minneapolis Star-Tribune - Minneapolis, MN
Author: Maria Elena Baca
Date: April 15, 2009

An acrid cloud hung over the Tournament Players Club a couple of days last week. At the ninth hole, orange flames devoured dried-out grasses and licked at the edges of the sandy native area. TPC general manager Alan Cull sat in a golf cart and watched as workers applied flames into the brush. It was just another day of spring cleaning at the Blaine golf course, which opened late last week. "It's done to promote growth," he said. "It will help eradicate a lot of the unfriendly species you don't want to have in there."

Later in the season, the burned areas will be flush with 2- to 3-foot native grasses and wildflowers, tall fescue, switchgrass, red fescue, little bluegrass. And the natural areas, about 10 acres of the 250-acre course, will offer haven to wild turkey, deer, bald eagle, red-tailed hawk, osprey, raccoon, fox and deer ... oh, and probably lost golf balls, too. The use of native plants and the storm drainage ponds to reduce water and chemical use are part of a larger philosophy at TPC to minimize its environmental! impact and encourage ecological diversity.

Let's be clear. The golf course was burning off undesirable plants with help from professionals from Prairie Restoration, a Princeton MN native landscaping firm, and with the blessing of both the Department of Natural Resources and the Blaine fire marshal. "This is not something just anybody can do," said Prairie Restoration land management coordinator Justin Sykora. His company has worked two years on the spaces at TPC; this burn was planned last fall. Blaine Fire Marshal Bob Fiske said he approved this spring's burn based on last year's plan. There's more to it than it appears, he said, from wind speed and direction to recent rainfall, and any factor out of place can mean a postponed burn.

Back at the course, Sykora and his crew were scorching out the reed canary grass and thinning horsetail. These aggressive exotic plants tend to have shallower roots, and are more easily killed by the flames, while native plants have deep roots that survive the winter -- and the fire -- dormant underground. "You get wildlife, birds, butterflies, fox," Sykora said. "They need to do this. If we don't, it becomes a monoculture. ... What they're trying to achieve here is a polyculture." The course is in its eighth year as Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary, a designation it earned by merit of its environmental planning, management and outreach.

Tim Kelly, district administrator for the Coon Creek Watershed District, said the course had engaged the Watershed District, as well as several other government agencies, from the very beginning, a couple of years before construction began. "I've been involved since it was a sod farm," he said. "I was involved with the original site evaluation and the evaluation for flood plain and wetlands and then the design." The result, he said, is a course that has minimal impact on the area around it, and which, in fact, uses stormwater drainage ponds to solve an existing flooding probl! em. "The impact is kind of benign," Kelly said. "The objective was for (golf course) to be benign. ... They have had no identifiable negative impact on water quality, and they have done a very good job at responding to and caring for their resource. They've been good citizens."
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