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.

Stewardship Talk this Thursday: Monarch Butterfly Ecology and Conservation

For our second Stewardship Talk of 2019 we are excited to host Dr. Nate Haan from Michigan State University for his talk, “Monarch Butterfly Ecology and Conservation.” The talk is free and will be this Thursday, February 7, 2019 at 6:30 pm at the Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Road, Rochester, MI 48306. Dr. Haan will share about monarch butterfly natural history and ecology, as well as some of the current research on their decline and what we can do to save them.

Monarch butterfly resting on a black-eyed susan.

Monarch butterflies are one of the most interesting and recognizable insects in the world. Every year they migrate thousands of miles, from our backyards in Michigan to mountains in central Mexico. They also have fascinating interactions with their toxic milkweed host plants. Unfortunately, monarchs have declined in recent decades and the overwintering population in Mexico is only around 20% of its former size.

The head of this monarch caterpillar is at the bottom as it nibbles buds of butterfly milkweed.

Hope to see you there!

We’re Hiring! Join Our 2019 Natural Areas Stewardship Crew

Despite the wintry conditions outside, we are already gearing up for our 2019 field season! We’re excited to be outside in warmer weather again, taking care of the natural areas in our park. If this sounds fun to you, or someone you know, let them know that we’re accepting applications for our 2019 seasonal Land Stewardship Technician crew! We are accepting applications until February 15, and we have up to 3 positions available. See the full job description here.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This position is a great way to get some hands-on experience with natural areas management. Technicians will get experience with a variety of techniques for monitoring, invasive species treatment, installing native plantings, data management, and species ID. The position will be up to 20 weeks this year. After working for Oakland Township Parks our stewardship technicians have gone on to other natural resources positions, many of them full-time.

Anticipated start date is mid-April to early May, but somewhat flexible. Position would end on or before September 28, 2019. Typically work 40 hours/week Monday to Friday, with occasional weekends or evenings for special events.

To Apply:  Submit cover letter, resume, and three professional references to Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager:

  • Email: bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org, with “Seasonal Land Stewardship Technician Application” in the subject line.
  • Mail: Seasonal Land Stewardship Technician Application
Oakland Township Parks and Recreation
4393 Collins Road
Rochester, MI  48306

Cover letter, resume, and professional references must be received no later than February 15, 2019. For more information visit the Parks and Recreation page of the Oakland Township website, www.oaklandtownship.org, or contact Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager, Oakland Township Parks and Recreation, at bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org, 248-651-7810 ext 401.

Happy Holidays from All of Us!

During the holiday season, I’m reminded of traditions and the wonderful cycle of changing seasons. Every year we share meals, laughter, tears, and gifts with our families, showing them that they are important to us through the time we spend together. Creating these family moments year after year, memories are passed on and traditions are born.

This holiday season I hope some of the memories you make and the traditions you continue (or start!) include the gift of nature. A simple walk in the woods, skating on a pond, or moments admiring the frosty crystals on the edge of a leaf take on special meaning when we do them with the people we love. Here at Oakland Township Parks, we are thankful for the moments in nature we’ve been able to spend with you. Thanks for reading Natural Areas Notebook and being part of our community!

Ben VanderWeide

Natural Areas Stewardship Manager

I’m happy to share this blog post from Dr. Dan Carter, an ecologist and botanist who currently lives in southeast Wisconsin. Click the link below to read the full blog post, complete with beautiful pictures of his native lawn! Dan has been gardening with native plants in his home landscape for twenty years, where he actively experiments with alternative native lawns. His alternative lawn incorporates native plant species that can handle foot traffic and can be mowed occasionally, making them functionally the same as a conventional lawn.

Unfortunately, our high maintenance, low diversity, non-native, chemical-soaked lawns are the largest irrigated crop in the United States, to the detriment of butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects that support our food web. There is a lot of social pressure to keep a non-native lawn, but I hope this article will help you think twice about why you maintain your lawn and inspire you to try an attractive, native lawnscape. The butterflies will thank you, and I bet you’ll enjoy the buzz of life that returns to your little corner of the world. You can read more of Dan’s thoughtful blog posts on his website at prairiebotanist.com.

– Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager

 

Typical lawn with a border and a bed of perennials and shrubs arranged as ornaments in a decorative mulch of gravel. How lame!

 

For most of us, home ownership carries with it the management of at least a small parcel of land, and usually this means maintaining a lawn. For the ambitious, this might also include perennial borders, shrubs, and trees. We all need outdoor space to recreate in. Our neighbors all have lawns. People seem to like them. Right?

I killed our bluegrass and fescue lawn. I have methodically replaced it over the last five springs, summers, and falls with species native to North America. Why? I’m an ecologist, and I see irreplaceable natural communities and ecosystems being degraded and destroyed every day and almost everywhere I go. Oftentimes, these types of environmental problems are large and intractable, and working against them is like screaming into the wind. One thing I can do is live my values at home. I also just like to be around plants and all of the organisms they attract. More than 500 North American plants are established on our half-acre lot […]

via Alternatives to Boring Midwestern Bluegrass and Fescue Lawns — Prairie Botanist

Land Preservation Millage Renewal on November 6 Ballot in Oakland Township

The Land Preservation Millage will be on the November 6, 2018 ballot for renewal at a rate of 0.6310 of one mill. The purpose of the millage is to continue to finance the acquisition and preservation of open green spaces within Oakland Township. The green spaces acquired with millage monies are representative of the natural and rural history of our Township and are permanently protected from residential or commercial development.

kayak-group-photo.jpg

A ‘yes’ vote will NOT increase the tax rate of Township property owners beyond its current level. A ‘yes’ vote will extend the time period of the authorized millage. The annual roll-back required by the Headlee Amendment would continue after the approval of this millage renewal.  For example, this millage was initially approved in 2001 at .75 of one mill, renewed in 2006 at .6916 of one mill and the current proposal is for .6310 of one mill.

Read on to learn more about what your Land Preservation Millage has accomplished since 2001. You can also select these links to check out the Land Preservation Millage timeline and some Frequently Asked Questions to learn more. The owner of a home with $125,000 taxable value will pay less than $7 per month for this millage. The millage will be used by Oakland Township during the 10-year millage period (2021-2030) for:

  • Acquisition of land or interests in land
  • Management of Oakland Township parks’ natural areas
  • Improvements to provide public access to park natural areas
  • Long-term care of park natural areas

Protecting our Natural Heritage and Rural Character since 2001

Oakland Township residents have always been proud of the rustic character of their township and abundant open space. Development pressure has reduced the amount of open space dramatically in recent decades, but voters have consistently supported land preservation efforts to maintain the rural character that makes our place special.

Hickory Lane autumn CL

In 1940, Oakland Township was a rural community with open, agricultural fields abundant throughout the area. Woodlots and wetlands dotted the landscape in areas that weren’t suitable for farming. Today houses and other development have replaced nearly all of the farm fields. With less demand for local wood products, forested areas are actually more common. Few large tracts of land are available for preservation.

1940vCurrent_Static
Bear Creek Nature Park and the surrounding areas in 1940 (left) and 2017 (right). Much of Oakland Township was an open agricultural landscape until the 1960s, when residential development pressure began to accelerate.

In 2000, Oakland Township voters overwhelmingly approved a 10 year, 0.75 mill land preservation millage, managed by the Parks & Recreation Commission. 170 additional acres were purchased using the first land preservation millage and grant funds. Those new properties included a 22 acre wooded addition to Cranberry Lake Park; the 10.5 acre Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie, with many rare plants; 60 acre Lost Lake Nature Park, with its special oak-pine barrens, and 90 acre Draper Twin Lake Park.

Sunset Draper Lake
A fall sunset illuminates the splendor of changing leaves at Draper Twin Lake Park.

Several additional large parcels became available around 2006, including the 60 acre parcel we now call Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. The existing millage had already been allocated to previous acquisition projects, so the Parks Commission asked the voters for an early renewal of the Land Preservation Millage in 2006 at a rate of 0.6916 of one mill. Again voters overwhelmingly approved the early renewal. Over 250 acres have been protected by the land preservation millage since it was renewed in 2006.

One of the parks protected through the millage renewal is Watershed Ridge Park, shown below. At 170 acres, this park protects a variety of forests, wetlands, and open fields. Watershed Ridge Park also has several active farm fields which help preserve the agricultural heritage of Oakland Township.

Watershed Ridge pano WR (1)
Beautiful natural areas at Watershed Ridge Park.

We also added 6 acres to Lost Lake Nature Park with access to beautiful, spring-fed Green Lake. We protected 10.5 acres at O’Connor Nature Park, where the property was donated, and the millage paid for boundary survey, environmental assessment, and appraisal. We even protected a half acre fen along the Paint Creek Trail. While small, over 140 plant species have been documented from the Fen parcel, many specialists to the mineral-rich groundwater flow that define fen wetlands.

Shrubby cinquefoil
Shrubby cinquefoil (Dasiphora fruticosa) is a low shrub that is found in open, wet ground in high quality natural areas, like the Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen.

As the second millage cycle ends, the parks commission is working to close on a 208 acre addition to Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park. This beautiful parcel includes streams, hills, wetlands, and beautiful old trees.

SCRNP_Addition_Screenshot
Aerial view of the 200+ acre expansion of Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park that we hope to add in late 2018 or 2019.

Active Restoration Brings Back Birds, Blooms, and Butterflies!

The land preservation millage also helps us care for and restore the properties that we’ve protected. This allows us to preserve the natural heritage of Oakland Township for future generations. This work includes installing native prairie habitat plantings, including over 70 acres at Charles Ilsley Park, Draper Twin Lake Park, and Gallagher Creek Park.

Eastern Prairie Ilsley July
Prairie planting in the east field at Charles Ilsley Park. This area was restored using Land Preservation Millage funds and a $15,000 grant from the US Fish and Wildlife Service.

We are also restoring fire-dependent ecosystems such as prairie, oak savanna, and some wetlands by re-introducing prescribed fire. We do regular monitoring and research, like our vernal pool surveys and photo monitoring. This helps us track how the natural areas are changing over time, and if our land management work is successful.

IMG_2223
Spring prescribed burn at Bear Creek Nature Park, 2018.

We want you to enjoy nature in our parks! Our education and outreach includes Wednesday morning bird walks, guest speakers, volunteer opportunities, workdays, and much more. Check out the Stewardship Events page on this website to learn more!

Tom's photo of birding group warblerfest
Birders admire warblers in tree in early May, 2018. Photo by Tom Korb.

The Land Preservation Millage Renewal  is on the ballot for the November 6, 2018 general election with this wording: 


“Shall the Charter Township of Oakland be authorized to renew a levy of up to 0.6310 of one mill for a period of ten (10) years starting with the December 2021 levy for the purpose of continuing to provide funds and financing for the timely acquisition of land, the protection of natural habitat, and the preservation of green spaces within the Township? Approval of this proposal would renew the previously authorized tax limitation increase of approximately 63 cents per $1,000.00 of taxable value on all taxable property in the Township. Revenue from the levy renewal shall be disbursed to the Charter Township of Oakland. Based upon the projected 2021 Township wide taxable value, it is estimated that this proposal would result in authorization to collect up to $924,318 of revenue in the first year (2021) if this millage renewal is authorized and levied.”