Three Years of Habitat Restoration Progress in Our Parks!!

As the fall winds down and winter begins to show, I’ve had time to reflect on my time here at Oakland Township Parks & Recreation. So many things have changed during my three years here: crews have come and gone, invasive species have been removed only to pop up in other places, and areas once degraded are being restored to beautiful natural areas. I would love to tell stories of all the big projects we have completed, but I won’t be able to fit them all in one post. So I’d like to show you how several of our projects have changed over time. Check back to learn more about the other projects we have going on!

Bear Creek Nature Park

Bear Creek Nature Park has consistently been one of my favorite parks to both work in and hike in. The variety of ecosystems that can be seen there means there is always something interesting to see. During my time here one of the biggest changes that have happened is the restoration of the park’s northern area. When I started it had just been forestry mowed, so it was very bare and (I’ll admit) rather ugly. However, through several years of spot treating invasive shrubs and spreading native seeds, this once ugly area has been restored to native plants, with lush sedges, grasses, and native forbs (wildflowers) sprinkled throughout. We hope that the diversity of plants and animals in this area continues to increase over the next couple of years.

We control woody invasive shrubs throughout our parks. One of our highest priorities over the past few years has been the northern wetland at Bear Creek. A few years ago the perimeter of this wetland was a dense thicket of glossy buckthorn and autumn olive. After numerous workdays in partnership with Six Rivers Land Conservancy, we have managed to take out a good chunk of the shrubs. While this project is not yet complete, the progress that has been made will allow native species to start to retake the area lost to the invasive shrubs. Our goal over the next few years is to finish removing invasive shrubs along the wetland perimeter and continue the process of re-introducing native plants.

Draper Twin Lake Park

If you frequent Draper Twin Lake Park, you would have noticed that behind the parking lot on the west side last year was nothing more than a dense patch of bittersweet and other invasive woody shrubs, so thick one could only see in about 10 feet. After some intense forestry mowing last fall and winter, seeding native grasses, and spot treating invasive shrubs this summer, what was once a dense thicket is now an open field with scattered trees. You can now see the lake from the top of the hill on the trail, something unheard of two years ago! This project is still in the early stages of restoration. Over the next couple of years, we will continue invasive species treatment and spreading native seeds to help establish a diverse plant community there. We hope that the results are similar to the northern section of Bear Creek Nature Park.

Gallagher Creek Park

We’ve launched several projects during my time at Gallagher Creek Park. I’d first like to highlight the native garden beds behind the playground. This was actually one of the first things that I did during my time at Oakland Township. It started off as nothing more than a dream to create a space that is both beautiful and educational for kids and parents alike. When we first put the beds in with the help of many volunteers, the plants seemed very sparse and spread out. I had my doubts about how well this would turn out. But boy was I wrong! The beds are now full and lush with an abundance of native species, including wildflowers like golden alexanders, wild lupine, and milkweed, and grass and sedge species like little bluestem, Carex brevior, and Carex muskingumensis. We were even able to collect seeds from the native plants this year!

Another project that we have been working on for years is the Phragmites within the park. What started off as major infestations that were threatening to take over all the wetlands of the park, are now reduced to nothing more than a few small stands. These stands have been treated for several years now with some patches completely eradicated. We take such a hard-lined approach to Phragmites because of their potential to take over and completely out-compete native vegetation in an area. It’s easier to stay on top of them with regular treatment of a few small stems than huge treatment projects every few years.

Paint Creek Heritage Area – Fen

Unless you know where to look, one might easily be able to pass by this little parcel of land along the Paint Creek Trail between Adams Road and Gunn Road. Within this half-acre of land is a beautiful fen ecosystem. Over the years many of the fen plants have been choked out by a dense stand of non-native cattails, which often invade wetlands when nutrient levels increase. So, throughout my time here, we have painstakingly treated each cattail stem to ensure that we kill it while preserving the good fen species below. While being an incredibly labor-intensive project, it has resulted in most of the cattails dying back. The goal of this project is to open space for many more native specialist fen species to re-establish.

More Change Coming!

Writing this post has given me a unique and amazing opportunity to look back on these last three years here at Oakland Township Parks & Recreation. During my time here I have been able to be a part of so many different projects, each project shaping the future of the parks. Whether it was removing invasive species or planting native ones, I have truly enjoyed seeing the progress that has been made and cannot wait to see what happens to some of the other big projects we are working on right now.

Proliferation of Purple: A Sunday Walk at Draper Twin Lakes Park

Love lavender?  Passionate about purple?  Consider a short walk at Draper Twin Lake Park –  SOON!  Just start down the nice wide path to the fishing dock and you’ll begin to see one lavender/blue/purple plant after the next – even a lavender and blue insect!  Plus some other very cool species. Have a look:

Obedient Plant  (Physostegia virginiana), which I’m told is not so obedient, is a native plant that can spread vigorously, especially in a garden. Sometimes we need vigorous native plants to compete with aggressive non-native invasive plants. Isn’t it striking?

Obedient Plant Draper Lake

Obedient Plant, a native which quite disobediently spreads like an invasive plant.

And look how much the pollinators love it!  There are three tucked inside different blossoms!

Obedient plant closeup

Pollinators disappearing inside three different blossoms on the Obedient Plant.

Our native Bee Balm (Monarda fistulosa) is springing up everywhere at Draper Twin Lakes, just as it is at Bear Creek Nature Park.  Such an appropriate name for what I like to call “a bad hair day” wildflower beloved by bees.

Bee balm with bee

A bee appropriately enough on Bee Balm.

Maryann Whitman, a local wildflower expert, informs me that this native plant, Tall Bellflower  (Campanulastrum americanum) is not common in this part of Michigan.  Ben tells me that it was probably part of a native plant seed mix used along the trail by the Parks Commission when they built the path.  It seems to have settled in quite nicely here!

Tall Bellflower Campanula americana closeup

Tall Bellflower is reported to be a bit unusual in this part of Michigan, so what a pleasure to have it at Draper Lake Park!

Down by the fishing dock, right in the water, are two other purple plants .  This one is a native, Swamp Loosestrife (Decodon verticillatus).  The flowers grow right along the stem and though it’s hard to see here,  even the veins of the leaves are a light pink.

Swamp Loosestrife in Draper Lake

Swamp Loosestrife, a native, has its feet in the water right beside the fishing dock.

Unfortunately, right across the way, on the other side of the fishing dock, is a fierce, Eurasian invasive plant from the same family.  If Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) takes hold, it will crowd out our native plants. Fortunately, a beetle that only eats Purple Loosestrife was introduced to Michigan in 1994 and has done a great job reducing the abundance of Purple Loosestrife. Now, instead of wetlands full of these invasive plants, Purple Loosestrife populations are mostly kept in check.  With the potential to produce 2.5 million seeds per plant each year (!), we still remove any Purple Loosestrife  we find, but we don’t have to worry about it as much as we used to.

Purple Loosestrife

A very invasive relative from Eurasia, Purple Loosestrife can be a major problem in wetlands, crowding out native plants.

Also on the deck, is a color-coordinated damselfly, the Violet Dancer (Argia fumipennis violacea).  Really!  A damselfly that matches the flowers nearby!  I’ve seen these lavender and blue damselflies before at an inland lake. They must prefer water deeper than the ponds at Bear Creek.

Violet Dancer damselfly Argia fumipennis violacea male

A male Violet Dancer damselfly. Its mate has a much less flashy color scheme – brown and black.

Down in the water at the end of the deck – what else? Blue Gills, looking very blue and lavender under the water.

Two young Blue Gills

Even the fish are color-coordinated at Draper Lake. Some young blue gills gathered at the end of the deck.

If you learned the complementary color wheel in art class,  you may remember that the complementary color to purple is yellow.  So nature obliged at Draper Twin Lakes.  Near the dock, an Evening Primrose (Oenothera biennis) stood at attention, its yellow flag flying.

Evening Primrose Oenothera biennis

Common Evening-Primrose provides the complementary color to all the purple flowers and the Violet Dancer  – a bright yellow.

Off in the plants near the fishing deck, a a golden dragonfly, The White-Faced Meadowhawk (Sympetrum obtrusum) balanced delicately on a dried flower stem.

White faced Meadowhawk Dragonfly cropped

A White-faced Meadowhawk dragonfly provides its golden/orange color to complement the purple flowers around nearby.

And below, crowds of orange and yellow Jewel Weed (Impatiens capensis) gave the final golden moment to a lovely walk.

Jewel Weed Draper Lake

Yellow and orange jewel weed added a last minute golden glow to a great walk.

From start to finish, going out and coming back, this short, easy walk  to the fishing dock at Draper Twin Lakes Park is well worth your time – especially if your favorite color is purple!

July Park of the Month: Draper Twin Lake Park

Draper Twin Lake Park hosts Sandhill Cranes, Eastern Meadowlarks, a variety of sparrows, and lots of cool wildlife. This fall we will be planting native prairie species into the field on the northeast corner of Draper Twin Lake Park. Our goal for the July workdays is to remove autumn olive and other non-native invasive plants in the fields on the east side of the park to improve habitat for wildlife and prepare for our prairie planting (learn more by clicking HERE). Hope to see you there!

  • Where: Draper Twin Lake Park. Meet in the parking lot on the corner of Hadden and Inwood, 1015 Inwood Rd.

  • When:  All workdays are 9 am to noon. In the event of inclement weather, the events will be cancelled.
    • Saturday, July 11
    • Tuesday, July 14
    • Tuesday, July 21
    • Saturday, July 25
    • Tuesday, July 28
  • Who: Anyone! These event is free, with no experience necessary. We’ll train you to do the work. You’ll get to work with our stewardship field crew so that you can learn how to manage invasive plants on your own land!
  • Why: Why not? We will be remove non-native invasive shrubs to help the native plants thrive. Come out to enjoy beautiful areas and hang out with great people!
  • What: Bring water and gloves, and wear closed-toed shoes and long pants. We’ll have extra gloves if you can’t bring your own.

We’ll provide water and light snacks. You will need to sign a release form before we begin working. Families are encouraged to attend! All minors will need permission from a parent or guardian to participate, and minors under 14 will need to have a parent or guardian present. We will have lots of fun, so plan to come and share this opportunity with others! The schedule of upcoming workdays can be found at the Volunteer Calendar.


Friday Photos: Sparkling Snow, Beautiful Blue Skies, and Winter Birds

When  clear, deep blue stretches across the sky in Michigan in January, it is time to get outside. Fortunately, our weekly Wednesday bird walks offered a great excuse to do just that. We started out at Bear Creek Nature Park on January 7 on a chilly morning. The walk began quietly, but as the sun rose birds began to move and call until we were busy hunting down the sources of loud hammering, persistent chip notes, and musical calls. Fresh snow on the ground captured the path of a small mammal forging through the snow.

Paths in the winter snow at Bear Creek Nature Park.

Paths in the winter snow at Bear Creek Nature Park.

On January 14 at Cranberry Lake Park we were treated to a thick frost covering the surface of every twig. Ice crystals hanging suspended in the frigid air sparkled as the sun filled them with light. In addition to many of the usual birds we were treated to the calls of a Great Horned Owl in the distance.

Sun shines through sparkling ice crystals long the shore of Cranberry Lake at Cranberry Lake Park

Sun shines through sparkling ice crystals long the shore of Cranberry Lake at Cranberry Lake Park

The third Wednesday of January we birded in a snow squall at Lost Lake Nature Park, so I didn’t get any pictures. But this past Wednesday, January 28 at Draper Twin Lake Park was another morning with beautiful blue skies. I snapped this picture as we tried to locate some pesky birds hiding in the underbrush along the eastern wetland.

Animal tracks mark the snow and vapor trails from jets cross the sun. People and animals still need to get places when it is cold!

Animal tracks mark the snow and vapor trails from jets cross the sun. People and animals still need to get places when it is cold!

We’ll be out birding again in February. Remember that I do have a few pairs of extra binoculars that you can borrow for the bird walks. If the weather is nice I usually stick around after the bird walk to remove invasive shrubs for a few hours. You’re welcome to join me. Check out the January Bird Report if you’re interested in the complete list of birds we were able to identify this month. Hope to see you out there next week!

Prairie Restoration, Part 1: Preparing the Site

Ever since we were awarded the US Fish and Wildlife Service grant this summer, we’ve been busy preparing the sites at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park for prairie restoration! It is very important to prepare our restoration sites properly before planting. Otherwise our prairie plants won’t establish very well and we will probably have big problems with weeds. So how do we prepare for planting a prairie?

  • Step 1: Figure out what is already growing. Are the plants mostly native or non-native? Are there lots of trees or shrubs, or only herbaceous (non-woody) vegetation? Do we have many invasive plants (glossy buckthorn, autumn olive, multiflora rose, swallow-wort, etc.)? A quick search in the old field at Draper Twin Lake Park found 45 plant species, 20 non-native and 25 native (click here to see the list). Only a few of the the native species I found are considered “conservative” species – species that tend to grow in high quality native plant communities. Based on these observations, the existing plant community doesn’t appear to be of high quality.

The current plant community in the old field at Draper Twin Lake Park consists mostly of non-native species and "weedy" native species.

The current plant community in the old field at Draper Twin Lake Park consists mostly of non-native species and “weedy” native species.

  • Step 2: Make an action plan based on the observations. After we initially look at the site, it was very tempting to just jump out there and start working. However, we took a little more time to develop our observations into an action plan. We also noticed that box elder (Acer negundo), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellata), and black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) were establishing thick stands. Some of the black locust had grown nearly 20 feet tall in the four years since the field was plowed! These needed to be removed before we could even think about planting. Based on our quick botanical survey, we knew that we didn’t have a high quality plant community in the field. Therefore, the best route – the option that will ensure the highest establishment of native prairie species and fewest problems with weeds – was to remove all of the existing vegetation and start over from bare soil. We won’t till the soil, though, as that will expose more weed seeds that have built up in the soil seed bank.

    Black locust at Draper Twin Lake Park.

    Black locust at Draper Twin Lake Park. These trees are not native to Michigan. They sprout readily from stumps and roots, and can be very difficult to control. We think that these grew so quickly because they sprouted from the roots of trees along the edge of the field.

    Box elders at Draper Twin Lake Park

    Box elders at Draper Twin Lake Park. Although a native tree species, box elders are found in many different habitats and often establish quickly on bare soil.

  • Step 3: Remove the trees and shrubs. Based on our observations of the current plant community at Draper Twin Lake Park, we feel confident that we can improve the plant community and wildlife habitat by replanting after removing as much of existing vegetation as possible. For all of the large trees and shrubs in the field, we used brushcutters and a chainsaw to chop them off at ground level. We then daubed the stumps with herbicide to prevent re-sprouting.

Searching for cut stumps to daub with herbicide.

Searching for cut stumps to daub with herbicide.

We stacked the cut brush in piles.

We stacked brush into piles.

  • Step 4: Mow the field. After removing the woody plants, we mowed the field at Draper Twin Lake Park to remove any smaller shrubs and to prepare the field for herbicide application.

Mowing the field at Draper.

Mowing the field at Draper Twin Lake Park.

  • Step 5: Herbicide Application. To give the native seeds the best chance to succeed, we treat the field with herbicide to kill existing vegetation. If we find any special native plants we avoid that area or cover individual plants. Most of the areas we treat have very few native plants remaining.

And that is our site preparation process. Site preparation will change depending on what is already growing  at the site, what your restoration goals are, and what resources you have available. In every case, taking the extra time to learn about the site, develop an action plan, and thoroughly prepare the site will save you time and money in the long run. We’ll keep you updated as we continue this process!