Burning helps prairie to remain healthy

(Posted May 2, 2018)

By Dedra Cordle, Staff Writer

The end of summer was approaching and the staff at Prairie Oaks Metro Park had just begun the arduous task of taking inventory on the vibrancy of the acres upon acres of prairie that inhabit the land.

During their assessment, they noted that one section in particular lacked the lushness that is common to see on a healthy prairie. When they took their findings back to the office, they checked their database to see when the last time a prescribed burn had taken place at that location.

Upon discovering just how much time had passed since a burn had occurred along the northern portion of the prairie, its lack of vibrancy began to make sense.

“It had been over seven years since a prescribed burn had taken place there,” said park manager Tom Cochran, “so it was clear it was time for it to get a refresher.”

As is protocol, they informed the resource managers at Columbus and Franklin County Metro Parks on the state of the prairie and requested a prescribed burn during either the fall or spring burn season.

The weather kept the strike team from coming out in the fall to attend to the prairie near the entrance off of State Route 142, and so the timetable shifted to the spring of 2018.

As the start of the spring burn season neared, the staff at Prairie Oaks kept their fingers crossed so that a prescribed burn would happen in the weeks ahead. But as the days progressed, the weather did not shown signs of cooperating with their wishes. Resource manager Carrie Marrow said she began to fear that she would have to tell the staff at Prairie Oaks that a mow would be ordered rather than a prescribed burn.

“Mowing is good but it’s the prescribed burns that are best for the health of the prairie,” she said, referring to the fact that burns discourage the growth of invasive trees and species like the bush honeysuckle, autumn olive and Canada thistle.

Just when they began to believe that the prescribed burn would once again have to be pushed back, a good break in the weather occurred and a crew of 20 plus strike members came out to the park on April 11 and meticulously began to burn away 60 acres of prairie on the northern portion.

Cochran captured a bit of the burn on video and posted it on the park systems Facebook page.

“I wanted people to see how the burn was done and to show how the fire moved right through the prairie like a train.”

It took approximately five hours for the burn to take place. What was immediately left in its aftermath was a charred plot of land, but it did not stay that way for long.

“Within two week of the burn, we saw Indian grass, drop seed and flowers start coming from the ground,” said Cochran.

Cochran predicts that when the summer comes, park patrons will be able to see a new vibrancy at that location, but added that enjoyment of the 2,400 acre park can be found throughout the seasons.

“This is such a beautiful and unique place,” he said.

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