Hamilton Conservation Corps’ Passion for Prairie Restoration Burns Bright
By: Jeff Gambrell
Walking along one of the several trails situated within Hamilton’s Riverside Natural Area (RNA), you are bound to encounter an abundance of wildlife from butterflies and birds to rabbits and voles. The 200-acre wildlife sanctuary located north of Joyce Park is home to one of the most bio-diverse ecosystems in the world, prairies. In fact, the Audubon Society has documented the sighting of at least 193 bird species at the RNA since it was established in 1994.
However, maintaining a prairie ecosystem is no easy work. Just ask Troy Schwable, President, and CEO of the Hamilton Conservation Corps, who spent a large chunk of his day this past Saturday enduring cold weather to perform a prescribed burn to the grassland. Those unfamiliar to wildlife management may find it unusual to intentionally set fire to the landscape (especially following the tragic wildfires that have devastated much of California), but Schwable explained just how beneficial a prescribed burn is for the native grasses in a prairie.
“Generally, invasive plants that we have here don’t like the heat of burning while the seed stock in the ground of our desired grasses do like the heat. The burning also eliminates “duff” or too much old dead plant material covering the ground”.
Schwable also made sure to note that timing is of great importance as to ensure the natural cycle is not disturbed for nesting animals.
“This nature reserve is a managed system and like all systems, there is a plan to help nature succeed. So we will only ever burn 1/3 of the prairie areas in any one year and only during specific time frames. This allows ground-dwelling mammals say for instance a vole, to find another thatch of grass not too far away”.
The Hamilton Conservation Corps was formed in 2016 and works in conjunction with the Hamilton Parks Conservancy to maintain the city’s nature reserves. They are a 501(c)(3) organization made up of committed volunteers who have a passion for protecting Hamilton’s wildlife. Butler County residents who do not live near one of Hamilton’s four nature reserves are still encouraged to help out by landscaping with plants native to our area. Our local wildlife dependsRNA Map on native trees, shrubs, and wildflowers as sources for food and shelter.
National Wildlife Federation (Certified Wildlife Habitat)
Riverside Natural Area’s Facebook Page