CHAMPAIGN — The oldest educational prairie in town is getting a makeover, starting with a prairie burn Monday morning.
The South Side Elementary PTA burned the school's prairie butterfly garden, as it does every couple of years, with the help of botanist Bill Handel of the Prairie Research Institute at the University of Illinois.
This year, the group is focusing on rejuvenating the prairie plot in honor of its 20th anniversary. Handel burned the prairie carefully, with the help of the Champaign Fire Department, with hopes of working to remove invasive Japanese honeysuckle. Firefighters also sprayed the edge of the prairie patch to make sure the fire stayed where it belonged.
In the past, students have come outside to watch, said Dave Beck, a parent who's a part of the PTA's landscape committee.
"They love it," Beck said.
But this year, Handel said swirling winds made the smoke too unpredictable and may have harmed students with breathing problems, so they stayed inside.
After the burn, the honeysuckle and other exotic, invasive species can be sprayed, so the prairie plants in the plot can thrive, Handel said.
The PTA's landscape committee trampled down the prairie plot to help it burn better, but Handel said it's greener than usual because of an unusually warm spring, which makes it harder to burn.
He said it's important to preserve the plot because it was the first educational prairie in Champaign-Urbana after it was planted by someone from the Illinois Natural History Survey.
Beck said the group wanted to do something for the garden's 20th anniversary, which is listed on a wooden sign firefighters sprayed down during Monday's burn.
It was originally created with a grant from the Champaign-Urbana Schools Foundation.
"It's small, but it's been here a long time," Beck said.
Along with the burn, the PTA is hoping to raise money and gather volunteers to work on removing the invasive plants and shrub roots out and restoring the garden. It's also hoping to restore the sign marking the patch, which used to explain about the parts of a prairie for students.