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.
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 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?
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!
Natural Resources Manager