Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Turf Pit Review

Compared to the amount of preserved woodlands, Princeton is lacking in open field habitat for wildlife. Walk through a typical woods in summer, and you'll find almost nothing blooming. How are pollinators to survive? One victory came when the DR Canal State Park agreed years back to sharply reduce mowing in fields near the towpath between Alexander and Washington Roads. After years of ongoing decapitation, wildflowers were finally able to grow to maturity, providing cover and a progression of blooms all summer.

Retention basins, such as this giant one at Elm Court, can also be converted to excellent habitat. Mowing is done annually rather than every week or two, saving money, effort, and any risk associated with mowing those steep slopes. This is just one of many such basins around town, designed to catch runoff from nearby buildings and parking lots. Their periodic inundation would be beneficial to the many kinds of native floodplain wildflowers available.

In this photo, you can see the "sidewalk to nowhere", a puzzling design feature that, last I heard, has been shown to be unnecessary.
Smoyer Park, out Snowden Lane on the northeast side of Princeton, has some fine prospects for reduced mowing. These basins are useless for recreation and may as well become habitat. A federal program, called Partners for Fish and Wildlife, has already funded the successful conversion of a similar basin at Farmview Fields on the west side of town. They replace the exotic turfgrass with "warm-season" native grasses (Indian grass and big bluestem).
The best thing about a sidewalk to nowhere is that it will eventually break up and make room for plants to grow.
Retention basins vary a great deal in how wet they remain inbetween rains. Some receive seepage from underground, which helps keep the ground wet and allows a greater variety of plant species to survive. Where there's good moisture, you can see small rushes and sedges already growing (dark clumps in photo), despite the frequent mowing.

One basin that has particularly great potential is just down from the office complex on Ewing Street. With the Princeton Charter School next door, it would make a great educational asset for the school if planted with native floodplain species. My efforts to interest the out-of-state owner in substituting habitat for turf were unsuccessful, but it was worth a try.

No comments:

Post a Comment