April showers will bring prairie wildflowers this year.
The Metro Parks have worked to restore prairie grasses and wildflowers in the area for decades and there is still a lot to look forward to.
Prairie Oaks has two upcoming hikes inviting the public to hunt for signs of spring and search for wildflowers on April 10 and April 24.
“Basically, we’ve been acquiring land at Prairie Oaks since the 80s and Battelle-Darby since the 60s and we’ve been restoring the prairies by using remnant places,” said assistant resource manager of Metro Parks, Carrie Morrow, “Every year we are collecting seed and expanding those prairie patches.”
Metro Parks has spent decades harvesting seeds from existing park grounds or other agricultural areas with permission from landowners, said Morrow. Once harvested, seeds have been transplanted to Prairie Oaks, which is now home to around 500 acres of grasslands and prairie. Wildflowers can also be enjoyed in Prairie Township at Battelle-Darby Metro Park.
“There is a huge diversity in the flowers and a few grasses. There are seven different grasses and 25 species of wildflowers,” said Morrow. Some of the wildflower species include purple coneflower, prairie coneflower, royal catchfly, prairie dock, wild bergamot, and spiked blazing star and crown beard. Some of the grasses that can be seen are big bluestem Indian grass, Canadian rye and prairie drop seed.
The restoration serves to create a habitat for wildlife and preserve prairie lands in Ohio, said Morrow.
“Habitats have been heavily affected by development and agriculture. We have had the opportunity to restore a natural habitat. It gives the wildlife the habitat necessary to survival and we educate the public and allow them to see the reptiles and mammals,” said Morrow.
Morrow said the soil of the farmland used to restore prairie grasslands did indicate that it was once prairie grasslands.
“This year we are working on a larger project at Battelle-Darby, a big 500-acre wet prairie. There are different types of grasses, which alters the landscapes a little bit. A lot of time when you think of prairies you think of dry ground, but the property has got a lot of wet soil on it,” said Morrow.
Morrow said in the prairie restoration process, plant life will surface within the first year, but it takes three to four years to see the full diversity.
Morrow said the upcoming warm weather means lots of activities coming up on the prairie lands.
“We always have prairie tours and prairie hikes. The Web site is the best way to find out about those and also the Metro Parks Park Scope magazine,” said Morrow, “July and August are the best months for prairie viewing. Turkey Foot Trail at Indian Ridge (located in Battelle-Darby Metro Park) is the oldest of the prairie lands. It is a beautiful trail that really shows the diversity of the plant species.”
Prairie Oaks Metro Park has a horse trail and also trails where pet owners can take dogs along with them, Morrow said.
“Greenway Trail goes through new wetlands and prairie restoration and you can take a bike. It starts out at Cedar Ridge Lodge (at Darby Creek),” said Morrow.
Restoring the prairie grasslands also means another exciting venture for Metro Parks. Morrow said within two years Metro Parks plans to bring a herd of bison onto prairie lands.
“The grassland nesting birds are a group that is kind of hurting. In the next couple of years we are going to be bringing some bison back to the area. We are hoping to bring in a herd that can help create an even healthier ecosystem,” said Morrow.
Morrow explained the connected relationship the birds and bison share.
“The bison help create the habitat the birds need by mowing down and making paths through the grass and creating great nesting areas for the birds. We finally have enough land that we can set aside some prairie (for the bison),” said Morrow.
Morrow said historically a smaller species of bison roamed the Ohio prairies of the past, however, those bison are extinct. The herd to be brought to the prairie will be the large bison seen out west in states like South Dakota.