Tag Archives: Volunteer

Gallagher Creek Park Native Landscaping: Year 1

Things are happening at Gallagher Creek Park! This little park in the southwest corner of Oakland Township spans 15-acres at the headwaters of Gallagher Creek, an important water resource in the township which was home to a remnant native brook trout population just a few years ago. Outside the developed area near the parking lot, wetlands at Gallagher Creek Park host a variety of birds and wildlife, and prairie plantings installed between 2016 and 2018 blanket the upland areas.

In 2018 Oakland Township Parks and Recreation added a playground, picnic shelter, and rain garden at Gallagher Creek Park, and expanded the parking lot. All this work wrapped up just as fall set in last year. This spring we added finishing touches with installation of native plant landscaping around the playground. Join me, Ben VanderWeide,  for a tour of the first year of our new landscaping!

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Grownups, children and a baby-to-be playing at Gallagher Creek Park in fall 2018.

Native Plants for a Better World

We use native plants throughout our parks because they are important for a healthy environment. Native plants provide food resources and habitat for pollinators, and filter runoff and sediment from storm water flowing from developed areas of the park before  it reaches Gallagher Creek. Check out great books by Doug Tallamy if you’re interested in learning more about the benefits of native plants.

The landscaping surrounding the playground and picnic pavilion creates a transition from the play area to the existing natural community in the park, connecting visitors, especially young children and their parents, to nature. We designed this transition landscape to be visually appealing by using low-growing plants, showy flowers, and neat edges. Check out our plant list here. Our native plant landscaping is a free, publicly accessible resource for educators, nature centers, and anyone who wants examples of how to use native plants.

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Native plant landscaping design for Gallagher Creek Park.

Site Preparation

After the playground and other improvements were finished in 2018, we were left with fairly compacted soils. Some areas had fill dirt and one spot had a thin layer of soil over driveway gravel! We didn’t have the time or resources to loosen the soil, so we just hoped the roots of our tough native plants would break through the hardpan. Our site preparation mostly involved removing sticks, large rocks, and any existing plants. The total area of the native planting is about 9,000 square feet.

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The east side of the playground at Gallagher Creek Park before native landscaping installation. April 12, 2019
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The north side of the playground at Gallagher Creek Park before native landscaping installation. April 12, 2019

The area near the parking lot had been accidentally seeded to turf the previous year, so we had to kill the grass first.

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The temporary grass cover on south side of the playground near the parking lot at Gallagher Creek Park before native landscaping installation. May 9, 2019

A few weeks before we started planting, we celebrated the grand opening of the playground equipment and other improvements. Jane Giblin was there representing both The Wildflower Association of Michigan and Rochester Garden Club, two organizations which provided grants to help us buy plants. Stephanie Patil also generously gave us a donation to help purchase plants. Thanks!

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Jane Giblin represented the Wildflower Association of Michigan and the Rochester Garden Club at the Gallagher Creek Park Grand Opening on May 23, 2019. Both organizations gave us grants to help install the native plant landscaping.

The last thing we did before planting was place the log edging. We used black locust logs left over from another project. Black locust resists rot, making it favorite choice for fence posts by farmers of the past. What a great use of this invasive tree!

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We used aged black locust logs left over from another project as the edging for our landscaping. The edging helps give the landscaping a neat, yet rugged appearance.

Planting!

All that preparation got us ready for the main event, planting! We put out the call for volunteers, and many of you showed up! The slideshow below shows our process. We first marked out each planting zone, then dug holes using a bulb planting bit on a gas-powered drill.  After placing the plants in the holes, we carefully packed dirt around the plugs to eliminate air gaps. We mulched around the plants and gave them a good soaking. Finally, we put small identifications signs throughout the landscaping to help people learn the  names of the species we’d planted.

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Weeding and Watering Through the Summer

Even with careful site preparation and a few inches of mulch, we prepared ourselves for a big flush of weeds from our post-construction soils. The worst weed problem the first year was annual grasses, but we had to be vigilant as seedlings of cottonwood, Canada thistle, quack grass, and crown vetch emerged.

As summer began, we watered about twice per week to help the plants establish. Ample rain fell during the second half of the summer, so we only watered as needed. The seasonal stewardship staff did great work hauling water to the site in a large tank and keeping the weeds down. Thanks Alex, Marisa, and Grant! I know a few volunteers also stopped by to help with weeding. We couldn’t have done it without you!

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Watering the new plants during the first season helps them establish deep roots. After the first season we won’t need to continue watering, though we’ll scan for weeds regularly.

Monarch Butterflies Love the Plants!

As plants grew larger, we found monarch caterpillars on the butterfly milkweed, and adults enjoying the nectar of blazing star. Hurray for pollinator habitat!

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Plants like northern blazingstar (Liatris scariosa) were favorite nectar sources for monarch butterflies, while nearby butterfly milkweed provided hosts for their eggs and caterpillars.
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Build it and they will come! Monarch butterflies wasted no time finding our butterfly milkweed. This caterpillar we found on August 27 might be overwintering in Mexico right now!

From Small Plugs to Big Plants

Our little plants didn’t look so small by early September! The sedges and grasses did especially well, providing nice texture and structure. Some forbs (wildflowers) did well and even flowered their first year; others invested their energy in putting down deep roots. We weren’t able to get some species in the spring, so we planted a few additional species in the fall – western sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis), round-leaved ragwort (Packera obovata), and nodding wild onion (Allium cernuum). Fall plantings don’t need to be watered as much, and the plants get a head start for the next year!

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By the middle of September, the small plugs we’d planted were robust plants. The sedges and grasses did especially well the first year.
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Flagstone paths provide routes to explore the colors, textures, smells, and sounds of the native plant landscaping. I can’t wait to see what this corner looks like next summer! September 13, 2019
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Flagstone pathways allow children to play on the playground or explore the beauty of the native landscaping.
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As summer turned to fall, the colors and textures of the grasses and sedges provided seasonal interest. In this picture we have muskingum sedge, little bluestem, Carex brevior, and prairie dropseed showing off different textures and shades of green. October 13, 2019
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In October the interesting textures and shades of green from grasses and sedges replaced the pop of color that wildflowers provided during the summer. October 25, 2019.

Looking Ahead to Next Year

Next year we won’t have to plant everything again, so we’ll be switching gears to long-term maintenance. In 2019 we mulched the plantings to help retain moisture and suppress weeds, but we’re planning to reduce or eliminate additions of new mulch in the plantings over the next few years. We included several species that spread by rhizomes or stolons as part of our “green mulch” strategy – allowing the good plants to create a dense canopy that resists  the establishment of new weeds.

Next year we won’t need to water, unless we have a severe drought. At that point,  the plants should have established deep roots, and will be able to handle the normal fluctuations in moisture and temperature for southeast Michigan – another advantage of native plants!

Weeding will continue to be important until we’ve reduced the weed seed bank and established our green mulch. I’ve found that a few years of intensive weeding can reduce the weed pressure to almost nothing.  Only a few quick scans will be required every month to catch problems before they become big ones.

Every year we’ll evaluate the species mix in our plantings. What’s doing well? What didn’t grow much? Do we have consistent blooms to support pollinators throughout the growing season? We’ll add species and thin others, fine-tuning our native landscaping.

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The tenacious crew on the last day of planting. Thanks to all the parks staff and volunteers that worked so hard to bring beauty to our residents and food to our pollinators.

We’re looking forward to the challenge and joy of watching our native plant landscaping change and grow over time. We hope you’ll join us, whether you’ve been a gardener for decades or are just interested in native plant landscaping.  All are welcome!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Setting up the camera and meter board for a photo

 

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Keeping all the data organized in a binder is helpful
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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.

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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.