Connect naturally

Connect naturally

MetroParks volunteer opportunities

By Val Beerbower

Photo: Volunteers are needed to help with conservation efforts, such as prairie seed collection and propagation

For the past 50 years, Five Rivers MetroParks has protected the natural areas in and around Dayton. Today, the park district conserves more than 15,400 acres of land – 90 percent of which is maintained as natural habitat. It’s no small task to keep the land at sustainable levels, which is why MetroParks has relied upon the ongoing support of volunteers. With the recent onslaught of invasive species, volunteer efforts have been more critical than ever to restore forests, wetlands, prairies, river corridors and other natural areas.

Five Rivers MetroParks’ conservation staff is guided by the several principals in their planning:

    -Protect significant natural areas, particularly adjacent to existing MetroParks and river corridors in the Miami Valley.

-Protect and connect significant tracts of forest.

-Link forests and park lands along river corridors.

-Establish buffer areas where needed to maintain open space and protect watersheds.

The benefits of conserving land in its natural state include preserving clean water and air, protecting the diversity of plants and animals and providing beautiful places where people can connect with nature. Carefully designed land stewardship plans are developed for each tract of land. These plans guide the protection, management and restoration of native plant and animal communities and provide park visitors an opportunity to experience and learn about their natural heritage.

Land use in Montgomery County has changed over the last 50 years, creating a need for approaching land conservation in new ways. Growth areas in the coming decades are projected to be in previously rural areas, resulting in the loss of open space and natural habitats. Five Rivers MetroParks is addressing these changes by working to protect land in projected growth areas while it is both available and affordable.

Habitat management in the parks is guided by our understanding of pre-settlement 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 are 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. This is where MetroParks needs the most volunteer support. Opportunities exist for all types of volunteers, from young children to seniors and anyone in between. Regardless of whether volunteers have just a few hours each month to contribute or are “regulars” who show up to help a few hours every week, help is needed to restore the natural areas in Dayton, which has become home to several recovering wildlife species, including wild turkey, spotted salamanders, black bears, bald eagles and river otters.

These represent a portion of all available conservation volunteer opportunities. Visit metroparks.org/volunteer to learn about all volunteer programs offered in a range of skill levels and time commitments.

Land Stewardship Volunteers: These park helpers engage in a range of activities. Seed collection and propagation helps ensure the growth and development of natural habitat, such as prairies. Today, park visitors can find many acres of prairies – including some rare plants once thought extinct – providing food and shelter for native Ohio wildlife. Another type of steward is the Conservation Caretaker, who regularly visits conservation areas (many of which are not accessible to the public) to monitor and report conditions. Contact Conservation Volunteer Coordinator Yvonne Dunphe at 937.275.PARK or ydunphe@metroparks.org to sign up for land stewardship or Conservation Caretaker programs.

MetroParks Tree Corps: This special volunteer task force was assembled following the distress of the emerald ash borer. Tree Corps volunteers can help with seed propagation in the winter and early spring, seed collection in the fall and participating in the Forest Foster Family program over the summer. Five Rivers MetroParks doesn’t have nearly enough greenhouse space to grow the trees, so volunteers step in, “adopting” a flat of seedlings they raise at home and return on the specified date. To volunteer in the Tree Corps, visit metroparks.org/forests and click on the volunteer tab for the sign-up sheet.

Seedling Saturdays: Seedlings that were returned to the parks from the Forest Foster Family program will find a new home in a MetroPark. Five Rivers MetroParks is in need of hundreds of volunteers to come out and plant a few trees. Seedling Saturdays take place Saturdays on March 16 and 23 and April 20, which is the last date to be part of the annual Adopt-A-Park event. Visit metroaprks.org/forests and click on the programs tab for the upcoming dates, and then fill out the volunteer form on the volunteer tab.

Adopt-A-Park: The annual county-wide clean-up event attracted more than 2,000 volunteer in 2012. Activities include litter removal, gardening and landscaping projects and tree plantings. All ages are welcome. Groups are invited to register, but should do so as soon as possible. Register today at metroparks.org/adopt.

Find more information about Five Rivers MetroParks conservation practices at metroparks.org/conservation. Get details on volunteer programs, including conservation volunteer initiatives, at metroparks.org/volunteer.

Reach DCP freelance writer Valerie Beerbower at ValerieBeerbower@DaytonCityPaper.com


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