All posts by Ben VanderWeide

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.

This Week in Stewardship: Native Plant Gardens are Sprouting at Gallagher Creek Park

This post was written by our Land Stewardship crew. Look for weekly posts from them throughout the summer, in addition to the posts from Cam Mannino!

On Thursday the stewardship crew helped host the grand opening of the new playground and safety paths at Gallagher Creek Park, which is on Silverbell Road just east of Adams.

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Alex and Alyssa share information about native wildflowers at the Gallagher Creek Park Grand Opening.
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On Thursday, May 23, 2019, township officials, staff, residents, consultants, and friends gathered to celebrate the opening of new playground and path facilities that help us create a sense of place.

In July 2018 parks staff, our contractor, and volunteers from the community gathered for a workday to install the playground. This year, the stewardship crew will be planting an interactive children’s garden around the newly constructed playground, using plants native to this area.

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Alex and Marisa with our trailer filled with a bounty of native grasses, sedges, and wildflowers.
Before they start planting next week, the crew has been prepping the site by placing logs to border of the garden and adding stepping stones to encourage children to explore the planting. Stay tuned for updates on this project!

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The back side of the playground will planted with wildflowers, grasses, and sedges that are native to southeast Michigan.
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Black locust logs we harvested for a different project a few years ago will be used as the border for our native plant landscaping. Black locust is rot resistant, and provides a rugged, natural look.

This Week in Stewardship: Great Progress Controlling Garlic Mustard!

This post was written by our Land Stewardship crew. Look for weekly posts from them throughout the summer, in addition to the posts from Cam Mannino!
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Volunteers brought a burst of energy to help us control garlic mustard along the Paint Creek Trail. A special thanks to all the volunteers from Fiat-Chrysler Automotive (FCA)!

The crew has been working on removing garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), an invasive plant, in Blue Heron Environmental Area, Cranberry Lake Park, and O’Connor Nature Park. Today they collaborated with Six Rivers Land Conservancy, Oakland County Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (OC CISMA), and Paint Creek Trailways Commission to host a volunteer work day pulling garlic mustard along the Paint Creek Trail. Thirty volunteers joined us, mostly from Fiat-Chrysler Automotive. We collected a total of 36 garbage bags full of Garlic Mustard! Great work!

Garlic mustard is originally from Europe and was brought to North America in the 1800s for cultivation as a garden herb. It escaped cultivation and spread through natural areas across the US. It is detrimental to natural areas due to its lack of natural predators, early growing season, and ability to produce up to 3,000 seeds per plant. It also releases a chemical that inhibits the growth of nearby native plants that provide food and habitat for native wildlife. Together, these traits allow this aggressive plant to quickly take over many areas, including intact woodlands. Check out the before and after pictures below!

You can control garlic mustard effectively by hand pulling the second year flowering plants before they set seed, taking care to remove as much of the root as possible. So if you see it in your yard, help out your native Michigan plants and wildlife by pulling it out!

Check out the Midwest Invasive Species Information Network website for identification tips and more information on Garlic Mustard: https://www.misin.msu.edu/facts/detail/?project=misin&id=22&cname=Garlic+mustard

Welcome to the new Land Stewardship Crew!

This post was written by our Land Stewardship crew. We’re lucky to have a great team again this year that is excited about natural areas management in our parks. Look for weekly posts from them through the summer, in addition to the posts from Cam Mannino!

Meet the Oakland Township Parks and Recreation Stewardship Crew! Now that the field season has begun, we’d like to introduce two of the new Land Stewardship Technicians who will be working hard all summer to restore the natural areas of the township park system (the third technician will be starting soon!). The Stewardship Crew will be working on prescribed burns, invasive species removal, and native seed collecting and planting. They also spend time monitoring vernal pools, bird nest boxes, changes in vegetation, and lake water quality.

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New to our crew this year are seasonal Land Stewardship Technicians Marisa (left) and Alex (center). Alyssa (right) is our Stewardship Specialist who has been with us since April 2018. Grant (not pictured) will be joining the crew soon.

New to our crew this year are Marisa (left) and Alex (center). Marisa is a sophomore at Grand Valley State University studying Natural Resources Management. Alex is a graduate from Michigan State University, and is currently focusing on gaining experience in land and wildlife management. Alyssa (right) is our Stewardship Specialist who has been with us since April 2018. Grant will be joining our crew soon, so check back soon to learn about him.

Stay tuned for weekly posts on what the crew is up to. If you see us in the parks, make sure to stop and say hi!

Find New Zealand Mud Snails with eDNA Sampling: Training Workshop on April 17

If you enjoy fly fishing, kayaking, or weekends on the water Up North, you won’t want to miss this opportunity to get hands-on training about New Zealand mud snails (NZMS). This new aquatic invasive species has been spreading rapidly through high-quality trout streams in northern Michigan, and we want to prevent it from getting into the beautiful streams in southeast Michigan, like our Paint Creek.

The workshop will be at the Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Road, Rochester, MI 48306 this Wednesday, April 17 from 6 to 8 pm. Learn about New Zealand mud snail biology, fishing gear decontamination, and detecting them using a rapid assessment and eDNA sampling. Hope to see you there!

Oakland Township Training Flyer

Natural Areas Stewardship 2018 Annual Report

Wow! 2018 was another big year for the Natural Areas Stewardship program. We completed botanical inventories of several small parcels. The Land Preservation Millage was renewed for another 10-year term. Major invasive shrub control projects began at Bear Creek Nature Park, Blue Heron Environmental Area, Charles Ilsley Park, Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. Volunteers monitored vernal pools, lakes, and nest boxes. Our fire crew gained experience and was able to complete several burns in the spring. Our planted prairies from 2015 really started to look like prairies in 2018. And the word continued to spread about our natural areas stewardship program and the wonderful, consistent support from our township residents. What fun! Check out the highlights of the year below, or read the full 2018 Annual Stewardship Report. (Click link to view). The table of contents in the PDF is hyperlinked to help you navigate the report.

Volunteer Program

Volunteers contributed 1212 hours in 2018! Weekly bird walks continued, gathering useful data about avian life in the park and engaging residents. Volunteer workdays focused on garlic mustard (May), invasive shrub control (July to November), and seed collecting (October). Volunteers also monitored nest boxes at Draper Twin Lake Park, Charles Ilsley Park, and the Paint Creek Trail; monitored vernal pools at Bear Creek Nature Park; and monitored water quality at Lost Lake and Twin Lake. We had fun at summer and winter potlucks and the December birder coffee hour!

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Volunteers in various stages of seed cleaning in December 2018.

The nest box monitoring program was made possible by volunteer Tom Korb, who built, helped install, and  Charles Ilsley Park, Draper Twin Lake Park, and the Paint Creek Trail. We enjoyed watching bluebirds and tree swallows nesting in these new boxes!

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Prairie Restoration with USFWS Partners for Fish and Wildlife Grants

After planting 55 acres of prairie reconstructions in 2015 and 2016, we completed our third round of plantings in 2018. Using our second Partners grant, we planted an additional 15 acres at Charles Ilsley Park and 3 acres at Gallagher Creek Park in May 2018. We continued maintenance of areas planted in 2015 and 2016, working to give native plants the upper hand during the critical establishment phase.

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Eastern Prairie at Charles Isley Park on July 12, 2018.

Prescribed Burns

We contracted with Plantwise LLC for spring burns at Cranberry Lake Park(40.4 ac), Lost Lake Nature Park (24.6 ac), and Paint Creek Heritage Area—Wet Prairie (9 ac). We also worked with private landowners to burn 13.1 acres of habitat adjacent to the Paint Creek Trail right-of-way, including high quality oak savanna, prairie remnants, and fen wetland. We held volunteer prescribed burn crew training again in February. The volunteer crew completed burns at Bear Creek Nature Park (23 ac), Charles Ilsley Park (1 ac), Draper Twin Lake Park (9.4 ac), Watershed Ridge Park (2.4 ac), and Paint Creek Trail at Gunn Road (0.4 ac).

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Volunteers assist with a prescribed burn at Bear Creek Nature Park in April 2018.

Stewardship Blog

The stewardship blog continued to thrive, with regular posts from Cam Mannino. She regularly highlighted cool features across all of our parks, all with excellent writing and photographs. The blog also continued to serve as an up-to-date source of information about stewardship volunteer opportunities and events. We published 45 posts and had 6233 visitors, with 11,744 page views.

 

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Education Events

Stewardship talks included presentations on native bees, rain gardens, prescribed fire, emerging invasive species, bird nest box monitoring, and oak wilt. We enjoyed a pleasant April evening at our annual Woodcock Watch at Cranberry Lake Park.

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Sarah (right) and Cam exploring nature at Charles Ilsley Park, August 15, 2018.

Phragmites Outreach Program

We continued the Phragmites Outreach Program to help township residents get Phragmites treated on their property. We received about 32 requests for no-obligation cost estimates, and treated about 25 properties with a contractor, PLM Lake and Land Management.

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Phragmites does not recognize property boundaries! Catch your Phragmites while it is small and easy to control for the best results.

Seasonal Technicians

Billy Gibala returned to our crew through June. He graduated from University of Michigan-Flint in 2017 with a degree in wildlife biology and minors in regional and urban planning, We welcomed Alyssa Radzwion to the crew. She graduated from Oakland University in December 2016 with a Bachelor’s degree in biology, and had previous experience working for the Michigan DNR stewardship crew. Katlyn Hilmer recently graduated from State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry, where she focused on forestry work. Sarah Rosche joined the crew in July after completing her Master’s, studying the effects of fire on Northern Bobwhite nesting ecology and habitat selection. We had a great crew with diverse experiences!

2018 Stewardship Crew
2018 Stewardship Crew (L-R): Ben VanderWeide, Alex Kriebel, Katlyn Hilmer, Billy Gibala, and Alyssa Radzwion. Sarah Rosche is not pictured. Photo by Carol Kasprzak.

All of our annual reports can be found on the About page.