Sunday, April 14, 2013

Back to High School...Park

Amy, a board member of Friends of High School Park showing off a new informational sign
I took my undergraduate Landscape Restoration class on a field trip to High School Park on Thursday (April 11).  I've profiled High School Park several times before in this blog; it was the site of a stone and brick high school that was abandoned when the community built a new high school.  The building was vandalized and burned, then finally demolished by bulldozing all of the debris into the basement.   The municipality purchased the 9-acre parcel from the school district and turned it into a municipal park.  The Friends of High School Park were formed soon thereafter to look after the parkland, and to try to restore native plant communities on the site: native grass meadows on the plateau where the school had stood, mesic woodlands on the steep slopes below the meadows, and riparian forest along a "flashy," flood-prone suburban stream called Tookany Creek.

We began our tour in the meadows, escorted by one of the Friends' board members, Amy, a good friend of mine.

This actually was the second meadow installed on the site.  The rubble from the building was covered with only a few inches of soil, so the calcareous debris sweetened the soil so much that the acid-loving native grasses and perennials that were planted on the site languished and were quickly overwhelmed by weeds and invasive plants.  This time around, the Friends got a grant from the state to restore the meadow, and planned to do it "right," with soil amendments to make the soil more acidic, followed by a planting of native grasses, and then a planting, one year later, of native wildflowers.  However, time constraints imposed by the state grant required the group to plant all of the plants together, which will not allow the grasses to get established before the wildflowers are added as the group  had hoped.  Unfortunately, I do not predict good things for this meadow.

This meadow is not going to "cut the mustard"
Non-native plants and grasses are evident everywhere in the meadow, and controlling them is going to be a yeoman's task.  At one point, we stopped at the edge of the meadow in an area sporting a huge patch of a non-native mustard - a typical challenge facing the Friends.  The Friends are not allowed to use herbicides (this would be a private group applying herbicides on public land - a real no-no, even if the Friends had someone certified to apply herbicides, which they don't).  The municipality's public works department has a certified applicator, but that individual has little or no time to devote to High School Park.  So, it's all hand-pulling, mowing, and cutting by volunteers.  Yikes!

When we came to the mustard patch, I invited the student to pick a few leaves from the plants to see how they tasted (very sweet and a bit spicy).  This completely freaked-out my students, who were sure that this was the last they would see of their instructor.  I can almost always freak-out group when I'm giving a tour if I nibble a plant.  Urbanized people are so divorced from the natural world that the thought of eating anything that doesn't come from the supermarket upsets them.

Stopping to discuss the value of meadows as a source of bird food:  insects and caterpillars
Some of the same meadow species, now up close and personal
After circling the meadow, we came to a garden with benches and paved walkways.  The Friends plan to use this spot as a demonstration garden to highlight many of the species planted in the meadow but in a format that is accessible to the public in attractive, designed beds.

Reviewing the plans for the demonstration garden
Amy had another commitment, so the students and I finished the tour by walking along the riparian trail paralleling Tookany Creek.

The Tookany Creek Trail bordered by highly invasive lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria)
The creek trail is short, and ends at a arbor and a sitting area overlooking the creek.   The wooden seats are shaded by huge specimens of a nasty, invasive shrub, Siebold viburnum (Viburnum sieboldii), a horticultural landscape plant.  Unchecked, this Japanese viburnum can overwhelm the understory of a disturbed woodland in short order.  However, the plant does have one interesting characteristic of which I take full advantage when I lead a group through the woods - when crushed, the leaves of Siebold viburnum are extremely odoriferous.  I love to crush the leaves and watch school children wrinkle up their noses when they whiff the rank odor!

Siebold viburnum about to bloom


packrat said...

Another excellent outing, Scott. Hope those students appreciate it.

High School Park, eh? I kept expecting to see Mr. Spicoli in one of those photos, noshing on a slice of pizza.

Scott said...

The students seemed distracted for much of the field trip, Packrat, but when I questioned a few of them afterward, they assured me that the trip was very worthwhile. May it's just that anything's better than having to listen to me drone on in class.

That pizza would be pretty tough by now, Packrat! The show (and the school) have been gone for a long time.