AUSABLE WATER WISE: Native plant nursery coming to Lake Placid

Shown here are the existing greenhouse at Uihlein Farm in Lake Placid and, next to it, the foundations for high tunnel expansion planned for 2024 as part of the new Ausable Conservation Nursery at Uihlein Farm. (Provided photo — Ausable River Association)

The Ausable River Association is establishing a local native plant nursery in Lake Placid. The Ausable Conservation Nursery at Uihlein Farm will take shape in 2024 and 2025, thanks to a major grant from the Lake Champlain Basin Program.

If you’ve ever watched one of our stream restoration projects on the East or West Branch Ausable Rivers, perhaps you’ve wondered where we get all the small willows, dogwoods, maples, and other native species that are carefully planted to rebuild the riparian buffer? We’ve used suppliers in Vermont and as far away as Michigan, but over the past few years, for a variety of reasons, native plants supplies have dwindled. We’ve dreamed for years of starting our own nursery, and this supply shortage has made us even more determined.

For 13 years, we’ve successfully restored damaged streams with the goal of rebuilding stream health, in and near stream habitat — effectively reducing flood impacts and making communities flood and climate resilient. When our team rebuilds a stream channel or replaces an undersized culvert with a climate-ready culvert, replanting native vegetation — grasses, shrubs, and trees — is an essential step in the restoration of a site. As our stream restoration work expanded, we quickly realized, through trial and error, the importance of using hardy, hyperlocal riparian species that could survive Adirondack winters. Even prior to the pandemic, native plant stocks were limited. In some cases, though plants were native regionally, they were not necessarily hardy in our area. As a response, we chose to pursue two complementary goals. First, identify core riparian species native to the Ausable and our neighboring watersheds. Second, identify sources of these species and, if need be, propagate them.

Thanks to funds from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and other public and private donors, over the past three years we’ve identified the native species essential to restoration efforts, stream health, and biodiversity in our region. Thanks to the Uihlein Foundation and a network of landowner relationships that give us access to existing, hardy hyperlocal plants, we’ve established a small plot of core woody shrub species at the Uihlein Farm.

The infusion of grant funds from 2024 to 2025 from the Lake Champlain Basin Program and the supporting partnership of the Uihlein Foundation allows us to move our nursery plans forward. Over the next two years, we’ll put infrastructure in place that, in time, will measurably enhance the native plant supply available for habitat conservation projects in our area. We’ll be expanding our footprint at the high-elevation Uihlein Farm, the former home of the Cornell University seed potato program, creating office space, building a high tunnel, rebuilding the capacity of the existing greenhouse, preparing and amending soils, and establishing an 8-acre field nursery — all in cooperation with Uihlein Farm staff. And we’ll be hiring at least one full-time permanent position this winter: an experienced native plant nursery curator to lead the Ausable Conservation Nursery.

It will take three to five years to establish a reliable crop of 25,000 to 50,000 stems or more per year. After that, the nursery will supply plant stock and seed for priority stream restoration projects and residents eager to use local native plants in their backyard efforts. This grant also adds the tantalizing potential of growing enough eventually to supply hyperlocal plants to our restoration colleagues throughout the eastern Adirondack Park. In the longer term, we’ll be exploring seed collection efforts and expansion to include hyperlocal pollinator species.

It’s an exciting step forward. We’ll need to rely on friends and colleagues in the farming community, at the Cornell University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, local scientific experts with a wealth of native plant knowledge, and landowners with the native plant stock that will provide material to propagate new populations of an Adirondack ecotype. And we’ll need more donors to get us through our initial three to four years as we wait patiently for our first substantial harvest. Join us. Contactus@ausableriver.org for more information.

(Kelley Tucker is the executive director of the Ausable River Association.)

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