Tag Archives: Volunteer

Fantastic, Forgotten Fields: Using Fire to Manage Open Habitat

When we spend a lot of time in a space, the sound, shadows, and ambience almost become part of our subconscious. The creakkkk of a floorboard as we walk through the living room. The drip of coffee slowly filling the pot in the morning. The rustle of pine boughs in a favorite patch of forest. The harsh call and boastful flash of color from red-wing blackbirds in a marsh. Our happy memories in these places make them special to us.

Wild lupine in a prairie at Highland State Recreation Area, May 2017.


What about the natural spaces that have (almost) ceased to exist in our everyday lives? The prairies and oak savannas of Oakland Township used to have a signature rustle in the evening breeze. Fields of brightly lit prairies were punctuated by speckled shade under oak groves, and seasonal bouquets of native wildflowers marked the transition from spring to summer to fall. Until a few decades ago, the inhabitants of our township had been intimately familiar with the sights and sounds that defined our open oak lands in southeast Michigan for thousands of years.

We now assume that all fields should eventually grow into shrub thickets, then forests. But many plants, birds, insects, and other wildlife are prairie and savanna specialists, with connections to each other that were formed by living together in this landscape. They depend on us re-awakening memories of these fantastic, forgotten fields, doing the important work of making them new.

Western Slope BC mid-August
The western slope at Bear Creek Nature Park was one of the units we burned in March 2018. This view is from August 2017. Photo by Cam Mannino.

So two weeks ago, with the help of our volunteer prescribed fire crew, that’s exactly what we set out to do. We assembled around noon at Bear Creek Nature Park. All the staff and volunteers that help on our burns have been trained to do prescribed fire, so they know the drill when they arrive. We double-checked our pre-burn list: introduce everyone on the burn crew and write names on helmets… check; call the fire department… check; walked trails around the burn unit… check; tested equipment… check; everyone is wearing the right gear… check;  weather and fuels meet our burn prescription… check. After reviewing the plan for the day, we headed out to begin burning. The fine grasses were nice and dry, though small patches of snow lingered in the shade on a north-facing slope.

The western slope at Bear Creek Nature Park on the morning of March 23, 2018.

We started on the down-wind side, slowly letting the fire creep into the burn unit.

Fire slowly backs into the wind.

As we built up a safe, burned buffer on the outside of the unit, we lit parts of the interior. The mowed trails kept the fire exactly where we wanted it, though we checked them often during the burn just to be sure.

Mark lights part of the burn unit using a drip torch.

As we worked around the burn unit, we let the fire creep through patches of invasive autumn olive and multiflora rose. The slow-moving flames will do more damage to the shrubs than a fire that passes quickly.

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Joan watches fire advance slowly into the shrubs. Photo courtesy of Mike & Joan Kent.

After we got around the outside of the burn unit, we stepped back to let the fire crawling through the interior finish its work. Then we walked through the area one more time to put out anything that was still smoking.

We had a nice mix of experienced staff, returning volunteers, and new volunteers. By the end of the burn, everyone got a chance to try the different pieces of equipment and responsibilities on the burn crew. And we had fun!

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Alex, Joan, Mike, and Dan are all smiles after a good burn at Bear Creek Nature Park on March 23, 2018. Photo courtesy of Mike and Joan Kent.

The fire likely top-killed the invasive shrubs in our burn unit. We’ll still need to treat any that sprout again in the summer, but fire did a lot of work for us in a few hours. The black soil will warm more quickly than areas that haven’t been burned, extending the growing season for the plants. In a few weeks we’ll see a fresh fuzz of green growth carpeting these areas. We will spread seed of more native grasses and wildflowers so that they can establish in the newly opened soil.

The western slope at Bear Creek Nature Park after our burn on March 23, 2018.

That March afternoon was a fine day for making new memories. Our memories of working together as a team to restore grassland habitat are an important part of natural areas stewardship. We only care for the things we value. The township residents that walk these fields will see the dramatic change, watch the landscape grow over the summer, and make their own memories. Hopefully most of the visitors will see the signs we posted, explaining why we use prescribed fire. A few will go home a look up more information. And maybe some will join our team next time we do a prescribed burn!

Sign up for Volunteer Burn Crew Training – February 24

If you are interested in joining our volunteer burn crew, join us for our training workshop on Saturday, February 24, 9 am – 2:30 pm at the Paint Creek Cider Mill (4480 Orion Road, Rochester, MI 48306). We will cover reasons for using prescribed fire, preparations for conducting a fire, necessary tools, roles of each burn crew member, and ignition patterns. Training is required for new crew members, and a great refresher if you’re returning. Weather permitting we will do a small demonstration or mock burn after lunch. Snacks will be provided, but please bring your own lunch.

RSVP required to bvanderweide@oaklandtownship.org or 248-651-7810 ext. 401 by Thursday, February 22 or sooner.

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Photo Monitoring: Only time can tell

Blog post by Heather Herndon, Natural Areas Stewardship Technician
Blog post by Heather Herndon, Natural Areas Stewardship Technician

Whether it be over hours, days, or even years, we observe change over time in a variety of ways. Observations can be made in a changing landscape, how fast our kids grow up, the expansion of a town’s business district, etc. There may be old photos of a building when it was first built in the 1800s which we compare to how the same building may look today.  In my own experience, a photo has been taken on my first day of school in the same spot every year by my mother. She now has the photos in an album showing how much I have grown up since the first day of kindergarten to the first day of college. I have found that over the years my favorite color to wear all of those years has been pink… and the funny thing is, it still is today! Ha! In what ways have you seen or documented changes over time?

Recently, the Stewardship Crew has been busy conducting point photo monitoring in the parks around Oakland Township. Photo monitoring is using photos (just like my first day of school photos!) to document the changes of a specific area in our parks over time. We may want to see how our work is reducing the abundance of invasive Phragmites, or see how which a patch of autumn olive is expanding.

The materials needed to do these observations are pretty simple and easy for anyone to acquire: a camera with a tripod, a zebra board as a scale to measure growth, GPS or map with the locations of the photo points, a compass to face the correct direction, notebook to record information, and a identification card for the site being photographed. Expense for these materials is relatively low, making repeat photography a favorable monitoring tool for land managers. Some of the materials can be seen in the photos below.

Setting up the camera and meter board for a photo


Keeping all the data organized in a binder is helpful
The equipment set up at one of our fantastic township parks!

Photo monitoring is a great tool to show the changes in a landscape over time – how different management strategies change an area, how fast invasive species can take over, or a prescribed burn affects the plant community. Check out some of the photos from our parks over the years!

Bear Creek Nature Park – Interpretive Node

Wow, the autumn olive and trees are filling in quickly! Better stick that on the list of things to do.

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 O’Connor Nature Park – Phragmites patch

We treated the Phragmites in 2014 and 2015. Looking a lot better!

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Paint Creek Heritage Area – Wet Prairie

Official photo monitoring began in 2011. The photos before 2011 were taken at approximately the same location as the photo monitoring point.

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Photos should be taken in the same place at specific intervals, whether it be once each season, once a year in summer, or once every five years, etc. Over time the changes in vegetation can be observed and assessed by land managers to help inform future management goals or changes in management practices. Only time can tell what changes in an area or what will stay the same.

This is a great activity for local residents interested in volunteering with Oakland Township Parks and Recreation to participate in. It is a great way to see the parks in a different light, go to places in the parks you may not have seen before, and maybe learn something new about the native flora and fauna! If you are interested in volunteering with us, comment below or call the Parks and Recreation office at 248-651-7810.

Photo Monitoring information for this post was used from the US Forest Service online guide to photo point monitoring.

Volunteers needed for June 4 Garlic Mustard Pull along the Paint Creek Trail!

  • What: Garlic Mustard Pull along the Paint Creek Trail to celebrate National Trails Day
  • Why: To help control invasive plants, keep the trail beautiful, and connect with other cool people!
  • When: June 4, 2016. Meet at 9 am at the Paint Creek Cider Mill to get instructions, pull garlic mustard 9:30 am – 12:30 pm. Lunch provided to all participants after!
  • Where: Meet at the Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Rd at 9 am. Groups will then go to different sites.
  • Register: http://paintcreektrail.org/wordpress/garlic-mustard-pull
  • Questions? Email manager@paintcreektrail.org for more information.IMG_2593

Keep the Paint Creek Trail Beautiful

To celebrate National Trails Day®, volunteers are needed for a Garlic Mustard Pull along the Paint Creek Trail on Saturday, June 4, 2016 from 9:30am-12:30pm (meet at 9 am to get instructions).  Garlic Mustard is a biennial, invasive plant with a two year life cycle that grows in shady areas, and in full sun.  It affects biodiversity and forest health by spreading quickly and preventing native plants from growing.  It is often spread by humans, bird, deer, and other wildlife. “Garlic mustard is a serious threat to our natural communities. If allowed to spread, this invasive plant forms dense stands that crowd out native plants, like trilliums and other spring flowers that we love so much. Each garlic mustard plant can produce thousands of seeds that can wait in the soil for years, allowing it to invade both disturbed areas and mature healthy forests. The most common method for controlling garlic mustard is to hand pull second year plants, preventing seed production. Taking the time to remove a few plants before they spread will save a lot of work in the future,” said Dr. Ben VanderWeide, Natural Areas Stewardship Manager for Oakland Township Parks and Recreation.

The second year plants in this picture have triangular, toothed leaves and a cluster of small, four-petaled, white flowers. The seeds fruit into long pods that dry and burst, shooting the seeds up to three feet! If you notice the pods are starting to open, it’s time to stop pulling or you risk spreading seeds all over.

Everyone is Welcome!

“Volunteer Pulls are an effective way of preventing the spread of Garlic Mustard on the Paint Creek Trail. It needs to be bagged and thrown away, because it can easily re-root if left on the ground.  In addition, it cannot be composted because the compost piles do not get hot enough to break it down.  Burning doesn’t always destroy the seeds either,” said Trail Manager Kristen Myers.  The Paint Creek Trailways Commission will have volunteer sites in Rochester, Rochester Hills, Oakland Township, and Orion Township for the pull.  Instruction and all supplies will be provided, and all ages are welcome.  IMG_2591

Volunteers will meet at the Paint Creek Cider Mill, 4480 Orion Road, Oakland Township, MI 48306 starting at 9:00am to get their supplies and directions to the sites.  In addition, lunch will be provided for all participants.  “This is a great way to celebrate National Trails Day.  The Paint Creek Trail is the first non-motorized rail-to-trail in the State of Michigan, and is known for its natural beauty.  Our trail users take ownership of the trail, and want to do what they can to keep it beautiful,” said Jim VanDoorn, President, Friends of the Paint Creek Trail.  The Paint Creek Trailways Commission will be reporting how many bags they pull to The Stewardship Network as part of their Garlic Mustard Challenge 2016 (https://www.stewardshipnetwork.org/garlic-mustard-challenge).  Interested volunteers can register online at http://paintcreektrail.org/wordpress/garlic-mustard-pull or can email manager@paintcreektrail.org for more information.

Natural Areas Stewardship Top 5 from 2015

The Oakland Township Parks stewardship program had an extraordinary year in 2015. It was a year of growth, both here on the Natural Areas Notebook and for our capacity to do habitat restoration. Whether you’ve been following the Natural Areas Notebook from the first blog post or just found us, you might have missed some of these milestones from 2015.  If you had a favorite memory from this blog in 2015, please share it in the comments below!

1. Bird Walks

Remember the deep snow and frigid temperatures last winter? We launched our weekly bird walks in the depths of winter, breaking cabin fever (and getting some pictures of spectacular winter scenes too). We had a great fun observing the mosaic of bird life change with the seasons. Join us when we start again in January!

Swamp sparrow

2. Learning Together

Why are we planting prairie in Michigan? What is prescribed fire? What are invasive species? How do we control Phragmites? What does it look like to landscape with native plants? Through Stewardship Talks, Phragmites Control Workshops, and Volunteer Workdays we learned together how to appreciate, protect, and restore our natural heritage. Look for more events to learn about coyotes, oak openings, and prescribed fire in 2016! (events will be posted soon).

Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.
Mike Hahn of Natural Areas Preservation in Ann Arbor fills us in on the finer points of regular maintenance and field repair for chainsaws.

3. This Week at Bear Creek

Cam Mannino joined us as a volunteer Park Steward early in 2015 and soon after began her weekly posts, “This Week at Bear Creek.” Each week Cam took us on a virtual tour of Bear Creek Nature Park, spirited along by her agile pen (well, keyboard) and insightful camera lens. I learned a lot about the insects, birds, and other critters that call Bear Creek home, and I hope you did too! Check out some favorite posts below.

Cam in red winter coat BC

4. Planting Prairies

Punctuating nearly two years of preparation, we planted 38 acres of native wildflowers and grasses in prairie/oak barrens restoration areas at Charles Ilsley Park and Draper Twin Lake Park. Financial and technical assistance from the US Fish and Wildlife Service, through their Partners for Fish and Wildlife program, allowed us to complete this phase of our ambitious grassland restoration project. Be sure to visit these parks over the next few years to watch the grasslands mature. Look for more big habitat restoration projects at Charles Ilsley Park, Gallagher Creek Park, and Stony Creek Ravine Nature Park in 2016!

The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.
The furrows begin to form as the seed is planted.

5. Observing, Reflecting, Summarizing

It is amazing how easy it is to forget the little details (and even the important ones!). By taking time to carefully observe, thoughtfully reflect, and accurately summarize our stewardship work, we can refine and improve our work going forward.

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Happy New Year from the Stewardship Team!

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