|Habitat Management & Restoration
Habitat management in the parks is guided by our understanding of presettlement conditions in the Miami Valley. While primarily forested, prairies and wetlands were also an important part of the historical landscape. Today we know that preserving this diversity of habitats is essential to protecting and preserving the diversity of plants and animals. From invasive species management to habitat restoration, park lands are carefully managed to preserve and protect the native plant and animal communities of the Miami Valley. In turn, park visitors our provided with an opportunity to experience and learn about their natural heritage.
Past studies have shown that active habitat management yields the greatest benefit for the least amount of expenditure. Five Rivers MetroParks employs the following methods of active management to assist in their efforts.
- Controlled Burning
Controlled burning is an important tool for managing prairie and early successional habitat. It releases nutrients and stimulates the growth of certain plant species.
Mowing is used to prevent establishment of woody species and maintain grassland areas.
- Invasive Plant Removal
Many types of non-native invasive species have invaded MetroParks. These plants can compete with or eliminate native plant species. Control methods include cutting or treatment with herbicides.
Types of Habitat
In general, five broad habitat types are managed: forest, succession (including controlled and natural), grassland, wetland, and water. Each habitat type has its own management philosophy and techniques.
Most of Montgomery County was covered with a variety of mature hardwood forests before settlement by Europeans. Much of our active management of forests focuses on controlling and eradicating invasive species. The most serious invasive in our forests is amur honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii). Other invasive plants found in MetroParks’ forests include garlic mustard (Allaria officianalis) and lesser celandine (Ranunculus ficaria).
Cool, shady upland forest is found throughout Five Rivers MetroParks. Upland forest is characterized by well drained soil, flat or hilly terrain, and trees that form a nearly complete canopy overhead. These forests contain a variety of tree species and might include sugar maple, oak, hickory, ash, and beech. Beneath these tall trees is an understory that contains species such as dogwood, spicebush and pawpaw. On the forest floor, you will be able to find non-woody plants and ephemerals (wildflowers) that bloom in the spring, capturing sunlight before the trees come into leaf. Beautiful examples of upland forest can be found at Germantown MetroPark heading west on the orange trail from the trailhead on Conservancy Rd, and along the trails off of US 40 along the Great Miami River in Taylorsville MetroPark.
Bottomland forest is found on flat terrain along rivers and creeks that may experience periodic flooding. Bottomland forest contains alluvial soil, made up of a loose mixture of small particles such as silt and clay and larger particles like sand and gravel. This kind of soil holds moisture even in the driest seasons and supports large, fast growing trees like cottonwood and sycamore. Beautiful spring ephemerals are also found in bottomland forest. Look for trout lily (Erythronium albidum), a white-flowered plant with speckled leaves resembling the speckled skin of trout. Examples of bottomland forest can be found in Englewood MetroPark on the green trail along the Stillwater River and on the horse trails at Twin Creek MetroPark along the Twin Creek.
Some of the land acquired for Five River MetroParks was previously used as cropland or pasture. Prior to European settlement much of this land would have been covered in forest. Because scientific research has shown that large tracts of forest are healthier ecosystems and will protect a larger number and variety of native plants and animals, this former farmland is allowed to return to forest. This process is called ‘natural succession.’ These areas may initially look like a scrubby field with some shrubs and perhaps a few trees. Forty to 50 years later, the area will have many small diameter trees that form a canopy overhead. The trees will be spaced more closely together than the trees in a mature forest. A young forest is more susceptible to invasive species such as amur honeysuckle. Interesting examples of young forest can be found in Sugarcreek MetroPark along the green trail and in Possum Creek MetroPark along the purple/pink/orange trail.
Succession is the gradual process by which ecosystems change over time. While succession happens naturally, it can also be controlled through land management practices. Controlled succession is used in the MetroParks to preserve habitat for particular species of wildlife.
Scrub-shrub habitats are transitional areas between grassland and forest that contain grasses, woody shrubs, and perhaps a few young trees. A variety of bird species such as willow flycatchers (Empidonax trailii) and American woodcock (Scolopax minor) depend on this habitat for both nesting and food. For smaller birds, scrub-shrub habitat provides a bountiful supply of invertebrates like grasshoppers, beetles, and earthworms, as well as fruits and seeds. Small prey such as mice and voles are abundant and are important food for hawks and other raptors. Without on-going management, this habitat will quickly revert to a predominance of wood species. To prevent woody plants from establishing, controlled succession areas are periodically mowed. The MetroParks also uses a forestry machine called a Fecon to remove woody plants where they have become established. Examples of scrub-shrub habitat can be seen at Possum Creek MetroPark along the orange trail east of the ponds and along the green trail at Carriage Hill MetroPark.
Many of the meadows in the Metroparks were used as crop land or pasture for cows or other farm animals prior to MetroPark protection. Land which is not farmed or grazed will naturally succeed to meadow habitat. Meadows that are the most beneficial for wildlife contain a mixture of grasses and forbs (wildflowers). Meadow grasses are called ‘cool season’ grasses, because they grow most vigorously during the cooler seasons of spring and fall. Many common meadow plants, such as Queen Anne’s lace (Daucus carota) and tall buttercup (Ranunculus acris) are native to Eurasia. Meadows support a large diversity of insects including butterflies and moths. Look for the Buckeye butterfly (Junonia coenia), with its prominent eyespots that resemble the fruit of the buckeye tree. Meadows are also very important habitat for grassland bird species. MetroPark’s meadows are mowed early in the spring or in the late summer to prevent them from reverting to forest. There are beautiful examples of meadow habitat at Twin Creek MetroPark. Park in the lot off of Eby Road for a beautiful scenic view or at Chamberlain Road and follow the orange trail.
Although prairie habitat is native to Ohio, most of the prairies you will find in the MetroParks have been planted in the last 25 years. Prairies contain native warm season grasses and forbs (wildflowers). The MetroParks uses periodic burning to maintain prairie habitat. Prairie plants are ‘fire-adapted.’ They have large, deep root systems and grow from a point underground. Rather than being destroyed by fire, burning is beneficial in several ways. Prairie burns clear the dead and decaying matter from previous years, exposing the soil to the warming rays of the sun. Ash from the burned plant matter has a fertilizing effect. The heat from the fire increases seed germination and reduces non-native plants. Common prairie grasses include big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii ), indiangrass (Sorghastrum nutans) and switchgrass (Panicum virgatum). Prairies are spectacular in late summer and fall, when the grasses and many of the wildflowers such as gray-headed coneflower (Ratibida pinnata), dense blazing star (Liatris spicata) and prairie dock (Silphium terebinthinaceum) are in bloom. Excellent examples of planted prairies can be found surrounding Argonne Lake at Possum Creek MetroPark and in the South Park at Englewood MetroPark.
Historical records suggest that over 10% of the land in the Miami Valley was once covered in prairies. During European settlement, these prairies were converted to farmland and the prairie plants were destroyed. Fortunately, the MetroParks has protected a few examples of remnant prairie habitat. Several small, dry hillside prairies can be found in Germantown MetroPark along the pink trail and near the Cedar Ridge Camp sites on the Twin Valley Trail. These sites contain grasses like little bluestem (Schizachyrium scoparium), and unusual shrubs like shrubby St. John’s wort (Hypericum prolificum ) and fragrant sumac (Rhus aromatica). Flowering plants such as rose pink (Sabatia angularis) add splashes of color during the late summer and fall. Sandridge Prairie Conservation Area is an example of a bluff prairie. This prairie exists on land formed by glacial deposits. The sandy soil and sloping land create very dry conditions which support plants not found elsewhere in Montgomery County, including the state listed endangered plant, plains muhlenbergia grass (Muhlenbergia cuspidata).
Approximately 90% of the wetlands that existed in Ohio prior to European settlement have been destroyed. Many of these were drained to create agricultural fields. Five Rivers MetroParks has diligently worked to preserve remnants of original wetlands and to restore and create wetland habitat. While wetlands come in many forms, all wetlands are incredibly important. They are home to unique and beautiful communities of plants that are found nowhere else. They are breeding places and nurseries for many species of birds and animals. And by acting as giant sponges, they prevent flooding, and filter our water, contributing to clean, pure water.
A swamp is a type of wetland that contains mature trees or shrubs. The water table in a swamp is close to the surface and the land is often covered with up to six inches of standing water. Swamps support species that like having ‘wet feet’ such as swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor) and buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis). Examples of this habitat can be seen from the boardwalk at Wegerzyn MetroPark or in the Pumpkin Ash and Swamp Forest at Engelwood MetroPark.
A marsh is a type of wetland that is covered in water and does not contain trees or shrubs. Among the plants found in marshes are cattails and rushes which are grass-like plants with round hollow stems. Marshes provide aquatic habitat and food for many duck species, such as mallards (Anas platyrhynchos), blue-winged teals (Anus discors), and lesser scaups (Aythya affinis). Marshes can be found along the edge of the lake at Carriage Hill MetroPark or seen from the silver trail in Germantown MetroPark. During your visit, look for turtles that may be feeding on aquatic insects.
Ground water from springs and/or surface water keep fens wet. In the Miami Valley, the ground water contains calcium carbonate from limestone deposits that underlay the soil. This produces an alkaline environment (pH >7) that supports rare and unusual plants. Over time, fens accumulate layers of peat formed by plant material that can only partially decay in the wet environment. A beautiful example of a restored fen can be seen at the Woodman Conservation Area. Despite attempts over the years to drain and farm this land, it remained too wet. The fen has recently been planted with over 10,000 wetland plants. Look for the grass-like plants called sedges. Sedges are very characteristic of alkaline fens. Touch their stems and you will notice that “sedges have edges”, that is, their stems are triangular in shape, rather than round.
Seeps are small wetlands found on sloping ground. A seep is formed by water from a spring that saturates the soil over a broad area. The water often flows throughout the year and reaches the surface at a temperature between 50˚ to 60˚ F. Seeps support plants that are more commonly found along a river’s edge, such as horsetail (Equisetum arvense). A great example of a seep wetland can be seen at Hills and Dales MetroParks from the boardwalk along the Adirondack Trail.
Vernal pools form where there is a shallow depression in the land that does not have an above-ground outlet for water to drain away. Water fills these depressions through increases in the level of the water table during fall and winter or from melting snow and spring rains. Water slowly drains through the ground during the spring season, leaving the pool completely dry by early to mid-summer. Interesting creatures, such as spotted salamanders (Ambystoma maculatum) use these pools to breed during the spring. For the remainder of the year, spotted salamanders live in underground burrows or rotting logs in nearby forest. The vernal pool helps protect the eggs and young salamanders, because fish species, who would feed on them, are not able to survive in the pool. You can visit a vernal pool by walking along the orange or green trail at Sugarcreek MetroPark. The pool is located just past the prairie, between the two trails.
Lakes and Ponds
The small ponds and lakes of Five Rivers MetroParks are not only great places to fish but important habitat for many creatures. Ponds and lakes support species that live their entire life in the water, ones that use the water during part of their life-cycle, and many that live along the perimeter or find their food at the water’s edge. Pond ecology differs from lake ecology because ponds are not as large or deep as lakes. In contrast to a pond, sunlight penetrates only the top layer of a lake, resulting in cooler temperatures at lower depths. Ponds and lakes are found in many MetroParks including Possum Creek MetroPark and Carriage Hill MetroPark. During your visit look for the great blue heron (Ardea herodias) that flies in to feast on fish and insects. Or listen for the green frog (Lithobates clamitans melanota), an amphibian that is 2 to 3 inches long and sounds like the plucking of a bass string on a banjo.
Rivers and Streams
Five Rivers MetroParks is named for the five principle waterways that flow through Montgomery County, the Wolf Creek, the Twin Creek, the Stillwater River, the Great Miami River, and the Mad River. Protecting these waterways and many smaller streams is essential to the mission of the MetroParks. Forested riverbanks and floodplains with natural vegetation contribute to clean water by preventing soil erosion, shading the water, and slowing water flow during heavy rains. Clean water supports a wider variety of aquatic species. Some species of fish, such as the river redhorse (Moxostoma carinatum) survive only where there is good water quality. Many trails in our MetroParks meander along the rivers and streams, providing excellent views of these peaceful places.
Mudflats are created and maintained by temporary flooding from nearby lakes and rivers. The soil in mudflats remains wet throughout the year. Due to frequent flooding, mudflats support only limited vegetation. Yet they are a favorite place of many species. Beaver, muskrat, and raccoons visit mudflats to find food. Many birds, such sandpipers and lesser yellowlegs, feast on the worms, crayfish and other animals that live in the mud. Englewood MetroPark has a large mudflat that was formed after the shallow lake filled with silt from the Stillwater River. Migrating birds can be seen feeding there during the spring or fall.