Wednesday, November 28, 2012

High School Park Misstep

Last year, I was invited to serve on an ad hoc advisory committee for a small park in a neighboring municipality.  I've posted about this park and my role on the committee before.  The park was created when the municipality's old high school was demolished and the grounds dedicated for open space.  The high school building was located on a flat plateau at the top of a steep, wooded slope above a creek.  The school site, the wooded hillside, and the riparian zone along the creek were all incorporated into the parkland.  The mostly-volunteer Friends of High School Park have been working to control invasive non-native plants on the property, which encompasses about 15 acres, and to introduce native species.  Until recently, their restoration work was unchallenged by white-tailed deer, but now deer have moved up the stream corridor and "buck rubbing" damage is evident throughout the park.
A cluster of trees at the edge of the slope in late afternoon light
The park is surrounded on all sides by dense upper middle class and professional class suburban development.  This inner-ring community was one of the first suburban neighborhoods developed when the interurban trolley and light rail lines were extended into the countryside outside Philadelphia.
There be dragons in these woods!
Late in the afternoon of November 14, the advisory committee met in the park to review progress on improvements funded with a state-funded open space stewardship grant.  When the school was first demolished, the Friends had tried to establish a native, warm-season grassland on the site, but the alkaline soils (from the residual mortar between the bricks) made short work of those efforts, and the grassland quickly transmogrified into an unsightly weedy mess.  So, the Friends applied for a state grant to try to do the job right.  They hired a grassland establishment expert for suggestions for appropriate plant material and soil amendments.  And, because the park is heavily used by the neighbors, they incorporated cultural amenities such as landscaped gardens (using exclusively native plants), paths, and interpretive signage.

Another view of one of the landscaped sitting areas
Native little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium) used ornamentally
 In general, I think they got it mostly right.  The grassy path around the newly re-established grassland wends in and out of newly-planted edge habitat, and the landscaped garden areas are sensitively and attractively planted.  However, because of grant timing constraints, I believe that the municipality and the Friends took a shortcut which is going to--once again--doom the grassland.  The plan originally had called for the grassland to be seeded in the first year exclusively with native grasses.  Then, during the second year, wildflowers would be introduced by "plugs" and seeds.  The thinking was that, while the grasses were becoming established during the first year, the grassland could be sprayed with a broadleaf-killing herbicide that would keep weeds under control.  Then, with the grasses in place and the exotic weeds controlled or eliminated, the wildflowers could be introduced.  Instead, the grassland was seeded with a mixture of grasses and wildflower seeds because time was running out on the grant.  Now, the grassland cannot be sprayed with herbicide to control weeds because the herbicide will kill the wildflowers, too.  And, sure enough, there are already large patches of pernicious weeds present in the grassland.  The Friends intend to try to control these patches by hand or limited herbicide application, but I personally don't hold out much hope for overall success.
The grasslands delineated with attractive, low fencing.  The yellow trees in the background are all invasive non-native Norway maples (Acer platanoides)
Plantings of shrubs and small trees to expand the "edge" out into the grassland
During the field trip, one of the members of the Friends group approached me about serving on the Friends' board of directors.  I'm still giving it some consideration, but I don't have much spare time in my life.


packrat said...

"The best laid schemes o' mice an' men . . .", eh, Scott?

Scott said...

You're right, Packrat. It seems that sometimes government can't get even simple things right--the bureaucracy is so cumbersome.