Oak Savanna Restoration at Stearns Creek Park

Update: Restoration work at Stearns Creek will begin Monday, May 18, 2020. Please take note that trails may be closed in areas where the contractor is working. 

To encourage the growth of native prairie species, the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Commission will be removing old pine plantations at Stearns Creek Park. This will improve the health of the land and hopefully restore one of Michigan’s once abundant but now rare ecosystems: the oak savanna. Oak savanna ecosystems are highly diverse and have significant value for wildlife.
Most of the pine trees at Stearns Creek were planted with the purpose of harvesting for Christmas trees or lumber. Many of these trees would not naturally grow here, and if not harvested, they can become diseased and die.

Restored oak savanna in the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge

When tree removal begins, likely this spring, you will see major changes in the landscape. These changes may seem counter intuitive at first, but a diverse, native ecosystem is waiting to re-grow where the pines now stand. The county will not profit from this harvest. Most of the trees that will be removed have little to no market value. The red pine harvest will provide enough revenue to cover the cost of this project.

Dying pines fall to the forest floor and begin to pile on one another. While downed trees often provide habitat for wildlife, too much debris can be a fire hazard.
A portion of the forest was logged at Pigeon Creek in 2009, but many pines still stand. Staff routinely monitors the area for dead trees that may be a hazard for trail users.

Along the trails, you can find clues to Stearns Creek’s history as a savanna. Scattered uncommon prairie plants, such as prickly pear cactus and frostweed, can be found in openings within the pine plantations.

Frostweed
Eastern prickly pear

Ottawa County Parks & Recreation partnered with mi EcoBUZZ to create a video about why forest thinning is important. Check it out below!

More information

Park Funding

Did you know that acquisition and improvements at Stearns Creek Park were funded in part by private donations? Only a very small percentage of millage funds were used. Learn how to stretch your tax dollars and support your parks through the Ottawa County Parks Foundation

About the Author

Jessica VanGinhoven

Jessica is the media contact for the Ottawa County Parks & Recreation Department: jvanginhoven@miottawa.org, (616) 994-4716