To me, maple sugaring is the first sweet taste of spring. Weeks before the snow melts and the first leaf buds, maple trees begin to shake off their winter dormancy. As winter ends, the cycle of night time freezing temperatures and daytime thawing temperatures triggers the maple’s sap to begin flowing.
By Leah Harrison, Natural Resources Technician/Volunteer Coordinator
The Natural Resources Department (NRD) at the Huron-Clinton Metroparks kept busy in 2018 working to restore and protect natural areas in all 13 Metroparks. Work is conducted year-round with the help of contractors, volunteers, government and non-profit partners to protect diverse ecosystems and meet restoration goals.
In March, prescribed burn season started with burns at Dexter-Huron, Hudson Mills, Huron Meadows, Indian Springs, Kensington and Lake Erie Metroparks. Prescribed burns are used to control undesirable species and maintain fire-dependent ecosystems, which allows native plants to flourish. These burns take place from March to May and are only conducted when weather conditions are ideal for a safe and thorough burn. Overall, 108 acres were burned throughout the Metroparks this year.
Garlic mustard season started in late April and lasted through June. Garlic mustard is an invasive biennial herb that spreads rapidly through woodland ecosystems, crowding out native plant species, if not controlled with concentrated efforts. The NRD worked at Kensington, Huron Meadows, Stony Creek, Hudson Mills, Dexter-Huron, Lower Huron and Oakwoods Metroparks to control garlic mustard in 178 acres throughout these parks. Specific attention was given to important sites in the Metroparks such as an area population of state threatened goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) to ensure that garlic mustard is not crowding out this sensitive population.
During the summer, the NRD began work to chemically treat or mechanically remove a variety of invasive plant species. Invasive species such as Japanese hedge parsley, black swallow-wort, sericea, Japanese knotweed, Asian bittersweet and woody shrubs were targeted. These species dominate and degrade ecosystems, preventing native species growth. NRD staff visited all 13 parks and 1,418 acres were covered to remove these species from our native ecosystems. Invasive aquatic vegetation was also treated in the lakes at Kensington and Stony Creek Metroparks, the marina at Lake Erie Metropark and Washago Pond at Willow Metropark. The NRD also partnered with the Michigan Nature Association, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Nature Conservancy to treat invasive species and accomplish shared restoration goals.
In September and throughout the fall, work was done to treat Phragmites, which is an invasive grass that can be found in wetlands and along shorelines in many of the Metroparks. This grass creates thick stands that block out light for native wetland plants and destroys diverse wildlife habitat. Overall, 315 acres in 10 parks were treated for Phragmites this year.
In 2018, the Metroparks held 33 volunteer days and the NRD benefited from volunteers to help remove garlic mustard, invasive shrubs and collecting native seed to spread to other Metroparks natural areas. This year, volunteers also assisted in planting 3,500 plugs in the grassland outside Stony Creek Nature Center to help restore native plants to the area.
The NRD doesn’t stop working just because the weather turns cold as work continues to remove invasive shrubs throughout the Metroparks. Also during the winter months, staff will begin work on plans to continue the relevant work of restoring and protecting our native ecosystems in 2019 and beyond.
To view natural resources management projects for 2019, visit www.metroparks.com/Natural Resources. An updated list should be available by the end of January.
As always, if you would like to volunteer with the NRD, you can find opportunities on our website under the “Get Involved” tab. We hope you can joins us in the field to protect and restore some of the best habitats in southeast Michigan.