This summer, Grinnell’s Drake Library will start its Prairie Pals and Conservation Corps programs to allow children to engage with their local prairie environment through an interactive learning experience.

The Prairie Pals program is for children up to the fifth or sixth grade and the Conservation Corps is for older children. A prairie space that both groups will be working on is currently being established on the south side of the Drake Library.

“We want to use the space to do programming and to educate and to invite the kids out in the space,” said Drake Library Youth Services Director Karen Neal.

Vic Verrette, a community member and local gardener, came up with the idea for Prairie Pals and Conservation Corps through his past experience with similar programs and approached the library’s youth services committee about his plan. Verrette serves as the designer for the program, planning and managing a schedule for what and when to plant during the summer.

The south side of the library already has tables, made from reclaimed timber, set up in circles in the area planned to be the staging area.

“The spirit [of the program] would be kids working, reading and playing together and listening to other people tell them about natural things,” Verrette said.

The library hosts a summer program every year, so they plan to make Prairie Pals and Conservation Corps a part of the existing program.

“The prairie is really a unique and wonderful feature to our building, so we want to have something that continues yearlong that connects to that,” Neal said.

The program will include planting flowers, planting a butterfly garden and building structures for the birds. Verrette also plans to have a garden with native vegetables, like corn and potatoes, where children would have an opportunity to grow foods. The purpose of the space is to provide an outdoor setting for library programming and educating children in the community.

“The prairie needs a little bit of work, so we thought we’d invite the community to help us. Since it’s going to be a children’s space, we want the kids and the teens to help us make it into their space,” Neal said.

During the first event, scheduled for May 18, children will get started on the prairie by planting flowers outside along the sidewalk of the space. Events on June 8, 15 and 22 will feature both the Prairie Pals and Conservation Corps. An invitation has also been extended for other community members to join in the planting.

“Our goal is to connect the community with the prairie and let them understand that it is an extension of the library and that it is a usable space,” Neal said.

A variety of community members have worked together in the planning and organization of the program, and the library personnel is looking forward to seeing the product of their ideas and plans.

“[We want] to get kids to work together and enjoy what they’re doing,” Verrette said. “[To] discuss things at their own level and feel encouraged to do it—to learn something about nature.”