Making space for native plants at the Paint Creek Trail Art Project

A few weeks before our November 5 prescribed burns I headed over to the Art Project on the Paint Creek Trail just north of Gallagher Rd to make sure the area was ready for the burn crew. The Art Project is a tribute to the prairie along the trail, and the many prairie restoration projects along the trail were commemorated with this cool video.

The art project is called "On Prairie." The caption on this plaque reads: " In 1999 a White House Council recognized the Paint Creek Trail as Michigan's Millennium Legacy Trail. This sculpture installation celebrates prairie restoration along the trail. The form of the central copper piece is derived from bur oak and grasses, representing plants in prairie remnants, and fire, for restorative burning."
The art project is called “On Prairie.” The caption on this plaque reads: ” In 1999 a White House Council recognized the Paint Creek Trail as Michigan’s Millennium Legacy Trail. This sculpture installation celebrates prairie restoration along the trail. The form of the central copper piece is derived from bur oak and grasses, representing plants in prairie remnants, and fire, for restorative burning.”
"On Prairie," the art installation on the Paint Creek Trail just north of Gallagher Rd.
“On Prairie,” the art installation on the Paint Creek Trail just north of Gallagher Rd.

When I looked out at the prairie patch surrounding the art project, I saw many shrubs shading out the sun-loving prairie plants, including perennial sunflowers, Culver’s root, shrubby St. John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum), and prairie cordgrass (Spartina pectinata).

Seed heads of perennial sunflowers (Helianthus sp.). Sunflowers feed wildlife - birds have already eaten the seeds from these plants.
Seed heads of perennial sunflowers (Helianthus sp.). Sunflowers feed wildlife – birds have already eaten the seeds from these plants.
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Shrubby St. John’s wort is found in the patch of prairie next to the Art Project.

Glossy buckthorn (Frangula alnus), common buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica), privet (Ligustrum vulgare), and autumn olive (Eleagnus umbellata) had reclaimed the edges of the prairie since it was last cleared in 2007-2008.

Shrubs creep into the prairie.
The encroaching shrubs belied the art installation recognizing prairie as part of our natural heritage.

I got to work cutting the invasive shrubs. I also treated the cut stumps with herbicide to prevent resprouting. This method is very selective, only affecting the invasive plants that I target, and saves me from cutting the resprouts in the future.

This buckthorn stump was treated within minutes after being cut  to prevent resprouting. I add a tracker dye to the herbicide mix so that I can tell which stumps have been treated.
This buckthorn stump was treated within minutes after being cut to prevent resprouting. I add a tracker dye to the herbicide mix so that I can tell which stumps have been treated.
The brush piles stacked up quickly. I hauled out five loads of brush in a 5 yard trailer.
The brush piles stacked up quickly. I hauled out five loads of brush in a 5 yard trailer.

Over summer 2014 we had some problems with woodchips accidentally being dumped on the prairie, mowers slowly expanding their mowed area, and having to drive through a corner of this prairie with park trucks to access the trail. I also worked with our maintenance crew to rearrange the access to the trail so that we don’t have to drive through this area.

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The maintenance crew put these posts (bollards) where there used to be a gate at the end of the parking lot. This will keep vehicles from driving over the corner of the prairie when they need to access the trail. Also notice the final cleared prairie in the background. It is much more open than it was a few days ago!

Doug, our maintenance foreman, also suggested that we take out a strip of asphalt that had been placed in the prairie several years ago – apparently left over from re-surfacing the Gallagher Rd bridge across Paint Creek. The asphalt patch wasn’t used often, so it made sense to take it out to make space for native grasses and forbs.

Lou (left), Jeff (on tractor), and Doug (right) tear out the asphalt patch by the Art Project. Thanks for your help!
Lou (left), Jeff (on tractor), and Doug (right) tear out the asphalt patch by the Art Project. Thanks for your help!

Next I’ll be seeding the bare ground with native seeds that I collected from nearby parks. I am looking forward to watching this patch over the next few years as the native plants to fill in the area left bare by invasive plants. We’ll do our best to honor our natural heritage, and the Art Project, by keeping this area as prairie.

About Ben VanderWeide

I am the Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation in southeast Michigan. I have a doctorate in biology (focused on plant ecology) and I am passionate about protecting and managing natural areas.

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