by Jim and Melanie
We go walking several days a week. There are several routes we take from our house covering about two miles each. A few times a year we go to a park owned by the county which is a few miles from home. F. W. Kent Park is just over 1,000 acres with a lake, restored prairie, camping, education center, and hiking trails. The county board does a wonderful job of caring for the park. At this time of year, the restored prairies are in their glory with six and eight foot tall plants in full bloom. Recently, we headed for the park with a picnic lunch. After eating, we spoke with a naturalist in the education center and headed for the dense woods of pine trees in the northeast corner. We had been there last summer and really enjoyed the quiet, shade, and privacy they provided.
Heading down the trail past the pond and the low marsh land near it, things looked very familiar.
The trail turned and went uphill into a clearing as expected. To our surprise, the entire pine woods was nowhere to be seen. The only traces remaining were some ground level cut stumps and small branch debris scattered about.
We followed the trail and asked ourselves if we had made a wrong turn back somewhere. We decided there wasn’t anywhere we could have done that. That dense pine woods was gone.
When we got home, I used Google Earth to look at the park. Sure enough, the pines we expected were in that image from last summer as shown by the yellow arrows.
An email to the park naturalist and director got a quick response. They explained what had happened to the trees. They included two pdf documents ( 1 , 2 ) telling of their partnership with the University of Iowa to have them removed. The trees were dying and not native to this area. They wanted to plant the acreage as restored prairie instead.
During the past decade, hundreds of trees of various conifer species, including Scotch Pine, Long Leafed Pine, Jack Pine and Colorado Blue Spruce, which were planted at Kent Park and throughout the nation, have been dying in ever-increasing numbers. This is due to the effects of disease and insect dam- age. Non-native trees and countless other plants have been, and continue to be, planted all over the world. However, this experience underscores the importance of planting species native to a specific area. To do otherwise, is a recipe for disaster.
Why have the university remove them? They were going to use them as biomass to supplement part of the coal in their power plant boilers. For several years, they have been using biomass from some local sources in that effort. This video explains.
What will become of the acreage where the trees had grown? It will undergo a several year process. The stumps will be ground off. The full sunlight will trigger growth of many plants, both desirable and not. Two to three years of mowing, chemicals, and prescribed fire will bring the vegetation under control.
Following that interval, the Kent Park sites will be seeded to a mix of native grasses, forbs, trees and shrubs to re-create the plant community known as the Oak Savanna, which was the dominant ground cover in this area at the time of settlement – 175 years ago. This project is a continuation of the effort to restore the natural ecosystems to the park which began more than a decade ago.
Little did we know when we set out to hike in one of our favorite sites that we would learn about this joint project between the university and our county. It seems like a win-win for all parties.