Oakland County Parks adds 186 acres of ‘Priority one natural area’

Independence Oaks County Park near Clarkston has expanded by 186 acres that features rare natural communities, four miles of headwater streams, state-threatened (legally protected) bog bluegrass, and two species of special concern in Michigan — the Tamarack Tree Cricket and Purple Twayblade Orchid.

“The parks commission is pleased to have signed a purchase agreement for one of the most significant high quality green spaces in Oakland County,” Executive Officer Dan Stencil said. “The Upper Bushman property, named after a lake on site, has been on its radar for years with the intention of preserving it for future generations.”

With the addition, the total acreage at Independence Oaks County Park expanded to 1,274 acres, making it the largest of the 13 Oakland County Parks. The system now totals 6,705 acres.

Both the Upper Bushman property and Independence Oaks County Park lie within an area that was once a 1,200-acre contiguous mixed conifer swamp according to pre-settlement vegetation maps, Natural Resources Planner Brittany Bird said.

“With the acquisition, 572 of those original 1,200 acres are now protected,” Bird said. “It’s basically a wetland complex containing rare natural communities such as southern wet meadow, wet-mesic prairie, prairie fen, and hardwood-conifer swamp.”

The new property also protects more than four miles of headwater streams within the Upper Clinton Subwaterhead. The streams feed 31-acre Upper Bushman Lake and 68-acre Crooked Lake, a fishing and boating lake within Independence Oaks.

“Upland natural communities adjacent to the rare wetland complex and lakes include mesic southern forest and remnant oak barrens which round out the 944-acre Michigan Natural Features Inventory (MNFI) Priority One Conservation Area that is now protected at the park,” Bird said.

MNFI Priority One Conservation Areas are defined as places on the landscape dominated by native vegetation that have the highest potential for harboring high quality natural areas and unique natural features. These natural features will provide critical ecological services, according to Bird.

“It will provide floodwater retention, maintain water quality and quantity, foster soil development and stabilization, as well as provide critical wildlife habitat and travel corridors, stopover sites for migratory birds, and sources of genetic diversity,” she said.

Creating trails, hiking opportunities priority

The new property is situated northeast of Independence Oaks County Park and bordered by Sashabaw and Oak Hill roads. The corners of the two properties connect tip-to-tip through wetlands creating opportunities for a boardwalk connector trail.

“Walking this land you really get the feel that you are in northern Michigan,” Stencil said. And hiking is one of the main activities Stencil hopes the property will provide to county residents and visitors alike. Public interest surveys commissioned by the Oakland County Parks in 2006, 2008 and 2010 indicated trail use is the most important form of recreation to Oakland County residents. Surveys also indicated preservation of open space is a high priority.

Independence Oaks offers more than 14 miles of nature trails. The Upper Bushman property, according to Stencil, already has a number of “two track” trails established.
“There are also potential connections using the high tension power line corridor owned by ITC Transmission as a critical north/south connector for Oak Routes, the county-wide trail network,” Stencil said.

Long term, Stencil and staff will create recreation opportunities for fishing, non-motorized boating, cross-country skiing and hunting on the property. An analysis will be done to determine whether to raze or repurpose three residential structures on the property.

“There is a lot of interest from the public in outdoor adventure programs and heritage sports such as fishing and hunting, backcountry camping, a high ropes course and archery, canoeing and kayaking. These programs need to be made accessible to people of all abilities,” he said. “We will welcome public input in our master planning process. Staff will also analyze the potential impact of proposed recreation opportunities on the natural resource base of this property.”

Stencil projects the property will be available for public use in April 2011.

Grants helped fund land purchase

The property’s $2.836 million purchase price will be paid for with $1.74 million from the Oakland County Parks, $945,000 from a Michigan Department of Natural Resources Trust Fund grant, a contribution of $16,000 from the North Oakland Headwaters Land Conservancy, rental income from three residences on the site for the next six months, and a potential pending grant application to the Carls Foundation through a partnership with Ducks Unlimited. The NOHLC donation will come from a fund created by multiple small donations from residents within Independence Township.

Independence Oaks County Park is located on Sashabaw Road, 2 ½ miles north of I-75.
For more information about Oakland County Parks, visit DestinationOakland.com.