Oakland County’s Independence Oaks Park displays environmental stewardship

Parks equal green space, so they must be “green,” right?


of them waste a ton of resources with non-native plantings that require
frequent watering and fertilizer. These plants can overtake native
ones, meaning that land meant to preserve nature instead re-imagines it
in a suburban-friendly palette.

One park in Oakland County is
turning that notion on its head with an enhanced effort to consider
park maintenance as a kind of environmental stewardship. The county
hopes that its “green” effort at Independence Oaks County Park includes initiatives that are easily transferable to other parks in the area.

Independence Oaks is 1,088 acres. It has a 68-acre
glacial lake and is home to the headwaters region of the Clinton River
— a watershed encompassing 760 square miles of land in four counties.
Its ecosystem consists of wetlands, rolling grasslands and a large
portion of wetlands that are hardwood-conifer swamp which has been
identified as a rare natural resource in Michigan.

The parks department started its efforts in 2006.
First up was combating invasive species including buckthorn,
phragmites, honeysuckle and autumn olive. These efforts, which have
included mechanical removal and chemical treatment, continue to the

Next up: a prescribed burn program, which began in
2007. “Our goal is to combat non-native species and give our native,
fire-adapted grasses and wildflowers a competitive edge in landscape,”
says Brittany Bird, natural resource planner.

The burns, conducted in spring to minimize
disruption to nesting birds and snakes, are part of a long-term
strategy that aims to restore historical natural communities like
prairies, oak-hickory woodlands and wet meadows. They take place under
the supervision of both park staff and local fire departments.

The results: so far, so good. Increased abundance of
native plant species has been observed, as well as nine species of
butterflies never before seen at Independence Oaks.

The park has also instituted a Natural Resources
Stewardship Program to conserve rare species, including the Eastern
Massasauga Rattlesnake. It conducts frog and toad and grassland bird
surveys, butterfly counts and nest box monitoring programs as well.

It turns out that just 35 miles north of Detroit, in Clarkston, lies a real slice of nature.

Source: Desiree Stanfield, Oakland County Parks and Recreation
Writer: Kelli B. Kavanaugh
Photos by John Meyland

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