Blue Week 2021

Blue Week is Here!

May is one of our busier months here at TOPS. Getting ready for summer, training new staff, making the parks look great, welcoming many more visitors, all keep us on our toes. That makes it easy to overlook one very exciting week: Blue Week!!

What’s that, you say? Blue Week, annually the second week in May, is when we take time out to celebrate the amazing and rare ecosystem we live in, the Oak Openings Region! Is the soil in your yard sandy? There’s a good chance you are part of the Oak Openings Region!

This globally rare habitat is home to the most endangered species in Ohio. Yes, I said GLOBALLY rare! The Nature Conservancy considers it one of the  “200 Last Great Places On Earth.” This week is a great time to learn and explore this amazing ecosystem in our backyards!

The full schedule of events can be found here: 

Plus, TOPS has some fun virtual activities for you at

Take a hike or attend a virtual event to find out more about the area. Bats, birds, and biking are all topics covered. Find out about the beautiful flowers that grow here, and how you can use them in your garden! 

Take some time out this week, as the weather improves, to get to know where you live a little bit better. We can’t wait to see you and spend some time in this amazing place we live. 

Native Plants

The TOPS Blog is BACK! After four long years, we are back to share with you some educational, fun, and informative topics provided by TOPS staff and our community partners. We can’t think of a better first topic than Native Plants from TOPS Executive Director, Erika Buri.


Getting Ready for Spring with Native Plants

Now is the perfect time to talk about native plant gardening. While April is Native Plant Month, May is the best time to put things in the ground. It’s also when the most native plants are available to purchase in our region. 

So take the next few weeks to think about what you want out of your native garden. Make a list. Are you attracting pollinators? Do you want to reduce your lawn? Do you want to add natives to your cultivated perennial garden? Do you want to create a rain garden? 

Just like the plants you pick up at the local garden center, native plants have physical attributes that will impact your garden design. What do you want your garden to look like? Will it be more formal or wild and woolly? Do you want seasonal color? How tall do you want the plants to get? 

Finally, you need to consider your soil conditions, sunlight and garden size. These aspects help further narrow down your options. Like all plants, natives have specific soil, moisture and sunlight needs. The size of your garden and what style you decide on will determine how many plants you need. 

With some planning and a little research, you will have all the tools you need for a successful and beautiful native plant garden. Take before, during, and after photos to document your progress. Share them with us and show us what you’ve accomplished!

TOPS partnered with the Toledo-Lucas County Library to create a video about pollinators and native plant gardening last spring. Native plant installation guidelines start at minute 5:25. 

Check it out here: 


Other great resources for native plant gardening in northwest Ohio can be found here:


Native plant sales happen throughout the community in May. Here is information on what’s coming in 2021:

Lucas County Soil and Water District

  • Orders prepaid by May 17, 2021

  • This event takes place annually

  • Keep an eye out for their March plant sale in 2022


Oak Openings Blue Week Plant Sale (hosted by Wild Ones Oak Openings Chapter)

  • Opens May 1, 2021 for online ordering, pay attention to pick up instructions

  • This sale takes place every May, usually during the second week

  • All proceeds go to Oak Openings Green Ribbon Initiative


Friends of Wood County Parks: Plant sale cancelled for 2021

  • Check back in 2022, usually happens the weekend before Mother’s Day


Plants available year-round:

Poppin’ Up Natives ~

  • They are hosting a spring plant sale on May 15 & 16. Check their Facebook page for details.

Toledo Zoological Society:


Timberstone Junior High Helps Out at Sylvan Prairie Park

On May 12, eighty 7th graders from Timberstone Junior High School spent their school day outside at The Olander Park System’s Sylvan Prairie Park. The students planted 300 native trees and shrubs, and 1,000 native grasses and wildflowers, and participated in an educational water quality activity led by Partners for Clean Streams’ Mike Mathis.2016-05-12 13.32.42

This is the 5th year Timberstone Junior High’s 7th Grade Reading class has partnered with The Olander Park System for this day of community service. Teachers Melissa Dubiel and Tammy Gordon organize the 7th Grade class’s annual community service program called “Packed with Pride.” Each year, the 7th Grade Reading students organize, publicize and complete drives for local organizations. This year they collected items for Paws and Whiskers, Hannah’s Socks, Fellowship Matters and Austin’s Book Club. The field trip to help The Olander Park System plant trees is a culminating activity for a year of helping the community. The school funds the field trip through a grant from Target.

Sampling the Stream

Sampling the Stream

This year at the field day, teachers Joe Wendt, Ellen Bellemore and Melissa Dubiel supervised groups of students who worked with staff from The Olander Park System to plant native trees and grasses and wildflowers at Sylvan Prairie Park. The planting is part of a floodplain restoration project financed through a grant from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, under the provisions of Section 319(h) of the Clean Water Act. Olander Parks designed the project to create new wildlife habitat in the floodplain and improve water quality in the streams of Sylvan Prairie Park. The 7th graders learned about these water quality benefits and about the critters that need clean streams to survive during a fun hands-on stream activity put on by Mike Mathis from Partners for Clean Streams.

Living Things in the Stream

Living Things in the Stream

The 7th graders were excited to see wildlife using the land they were helping to restore. They saw Leopard Frogs, American Toads, Deer Mice (babies!), Crayfish, Snapping Turtle (baby!), Killdeer (eggs!), Red-tailed Hawk, and even a Long-bodied Cellar Spider eating ants. TOPS was excited to partner with the school and Partners for Clean Streams to make the “Packed with Pride” field trip a meaningful learning experience for the 7th Graders of Timberstone and to promote a connection with nature in this young generation.

Spring Ephemeral Wildflowers

You’ve heard that April Showers Bring May Flowers. But there are beautiful wildflowers blooming in April, too! We call them Spring Ephemerals because they bloom in Spring, and they don’t last very long! They are small flowers that grow in shady spots in the woods. We have several species of spring ephemeral wildflowers in the little pockets of woods at Sylvan Prairie Park, including those pictured here, plus Virginia Waterleaf, Nodding Trillium, Giant Trillium, Spring Beauty, White Trout Lily, and Wild Ginger. They’re still blooming now, but they won’t be for long, so head out to your favorite wooded park and take a look!

Wild Blue Phlox

Wild Blue Phlox by Todd Crail

yellow trout lily

Yellow Trout Lily by Maureen Bogdanski

dutchmans breeches

Dutchman’s Breeches by Todd Crail

Migrating Waterfowl are Here!

Every spring (and fall) Lake Olander plays brief host to several species of migrating waterfowl. These swimming and diving birds (ducks, grebes, coots and more) use lakes like this one as resting spots while they make their long journeys between their wintering sites in Mexico or the southern U.S. and their breeding grounds in Canada or Alaska.

And some of them are here right now!!

Ruddy Duck

“Ruddy Duck” by dfaulder, via Wikimedia Commons

Just in the past hour, I’ve seen pied-billed grebes, a pair of ruddy ducks, a bufflehead, and a possible horned grebe. Plus everybody’s favorite Lake O spring visitor… a Common Loon!

Common Loon

“Common Loon” by P199 (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons

I got a special treat while I was focusing my spotting scope on the ruddy duck … one of our resident adult Bald Eagles swooped over the lake right in front of me. It was carrying a bird in its talons! The eagle carried its prey across the lake a couple times before finally settling right by the playground to finish eating its dinner.  What a sight.

This week is a great time to come check out all sorts of birds at Olander Park!

TOPS Works to Reduce Invasive Phragmites

Phragmites. What is it? How did it get here? Why is it significant? Let me tell you!

The common reed, Phragmites australis, is an aggressively invasive plant species that can be found in many wetlands in the region. Phragmites is an exotic species, which means it is not native to our area. It was brought over to North America from Eurasia to be used as an ornamental plant in aquatic areas.

Phragmites is wind-pollinated and produces a large flowering head in late summer

Phragmites is wind-pollinated and produces a large flowering head in late summer

Phragmites grows in dense stands that can reach 15 feet in height. These groupings choke out other plant species, effectively forming a monoculture. The plant also produces toxins that inhibit the growth of competing plant species. In addition, stands of Phragmites are unsuitable habitat for many animals because it grows too thick.

At Sylvan Prairie Park, our Conservation Team is working to reduce and eventually eradicate Phragmites. In September, we treat the plants with herbicide to kill the new growth before it can spread. We then return in the winter to cut down the standing dead stalks to open up the area. Over several years of management, the stands of Phragmites have noticeably decreased, giving way to native plant species that are starting to flourish.

Cutting Phragmites

Volunteers from University of Toledo’s Department of Environmental Sciences help TOPS cut dead stands of phragmites at Sylvan Prairie Park.

Phragmites grows in dense monocultures, choking out native plant life

Phragmites grows in dense monocultures, choking out native plant life

Macro-invertebrate Sampling at Sylvan Prairie Park

Students from Lourdes University’s Restoration Ecology class came out last week to help TOPS staff conduct macro-invertebrate testing in the ditches at Sylvan Prairie Park. Macro-invertebrates are good indicators of stream healthiness and are used to gauge the living conditions in our waterways.

TOPS is tracking the state of the macro-invertebrates in the ditches at Sylvan Prairie to see if the restoration we’ve been doing there is having positive effects on the water quality on site.

TOPS Conservation Mission

Imagine yourself in the Sylvania area in the early 1800s … in a vast expanse of forested wetland (the Great Black Swamp) with large elm and ash trees, stands of sugar maple, wild turkeys, and woodpeckers. Here and there the trees give way to open marshlands with rushes, flowering shrubs, dragonflies, and turtles. To the south and east, you would find dry land where a huge band of sand dunes rises from the swamp. On the ribbon of sand dunes (the Oak Openings Region) grow stands of oak savanna and patches of tallgrass prairie, with spreading oaks, 8-foot tall grasses, ground-nesting birds, fox, and butterflies. But in the late 1800s, the landscape was changed. Swamps were drained, dunes were leveled, streams were straightened and forests were cleared to allow farming and settlements. In recent decades, much of the region’s remaining natural areas gave way to modern development: paved roads, parking lots, subdivisions, shopping malls and resource extraction.

The Olander Park System and its Natural Resources Team are dedicated to bringing back a little bit of nature to Sylvania.

Grey-headed Coneflower and Bergamot Photo by Sherrie Plessner

Photo by Sherrie Plessner

WHY?         The conversion of our natural areas has lead to a loss of native plants, wildlife and “ecosystem services.” Paved roads, plowed fields, roof tops and lawns don’t handle stormwater and pollutants the same way as wetlands, prairies, woods and streams. They don’t support the same plants, pollinators and healthy soils. The result of our artificial landscape is more flooding, more polluted water (including harmful algal blooms in Lake Erie), fewer pollinators (which we need to pollinate our food), fewer wildlife and plant species, and fewer spaces and opportunities for people to interact with nature.

HOW?         TOPS works to restore and preserve nature in Sylvania by purchasing land from developers and restoring our park lands to a more natural state. We have leveraged your valuable levy dollars by receiving competitive grant money to fund land purchases and natural area restoration projects. To plan and perform this restoration work, TOPS employs a Natural Resources Manager (me), an Assistant Manager (Robin Parker) and four seasonal Natural Resources staff.

Visit our parks to see what we do!

At Southview Oak Savanna, we remove trees and shrubs to turn overgrown woodland back into the open habitat of the globally rare Oak Openings Region.

At Sylvan Prairie Park, we convert farm fields to prairies and wetlands by planting native plants and removing drainage tiles. We restore drainage ditches to more natural, winding streams that can support fish, shorebirds, clean water and flood control by widening the channels and planting native trees on their banks.

At Olander Park, we convert some landscaping from turf grass and ornamentals to native plants that can thrive in the sandy soils. We grow native plants for these projects in our own greenhouse.

Is it working?  YES!

Bike to Southview Oak Savanna on the University Parks Trail and see endangered plants growing below the scattered oaks. Pick a few native blueberries or look for a box turtle hiding in fallen oak leaves.

Stroll through Sylvan Prairie Park on the Quarry Ridge Bike Trail and see fields of native flowers and tall grasses where once there was corn. On a spring night, listen to a chorus of frogs where once there was silence. View the mating dance of woodcocks where once they flew past to a better location. Watch the restored stream flow slowly through the plants that clean the water. Try to catch a glimpse of the beaver that moved in last fall.

Walk around Lake Olander and see hummingbirds, goldfinches, butterflies and native bees visit our native flower beds. Come during a rainstorm and watch the native raingardens by the parking lots soak up the stormwater, preventing it from flowing across the dirty pavement and into the Lake.

Want to help?

Livie and Alayna roll out the erosion matting as Maya and Taylor plant behind them.

Join us at our monthly Volunteer Adventures, “Restoring Wildlife Habitat,”

where you might wield a shovel to plant natives at Sylvan Prairie or brandish loppers to cut down invading shrubs at Southview Oak Savanna.

I hope to see you out in our parks, enjoying nature!

Melanie Coulter

Natural Resources Manager