Easter Lake North Shore Woodland Restoration Project

Easter Lake North Shore Woodland Restoration Project 2021 - 2023

Polk County Conservation is converting approximately 15 acres of overgrown woodland along the northern boundary of Easter Lake Park back to a native oak-hickory savanna. Polk County Conservation staff visits to the areas verified the presence of numerous non-native trees and a low-value herbaceous layer habitat. This spurred Natural Resources Staff to create a management plan for this area. The objectives of this plan include:

  • Reduction in invasive and non-native species
  • Improvement in wildlife habitat, increases in wildlife use, and opportunities for public to view wildlife
  • Increased infiltration of storm water
  • Improvement in aesthetic properties  

To facilitate a phased restoration process, the restoration area has been split into three sections. This will create a more gradual transition of the landscape, allowing wildlife and residents to adjust and respond to the drastic changes. 

Restoration will begin on the east side of the area in Section 1, and proceed to the west on a three-year time schedule. The following steps will occur in each section:

Removal of existing vegetation: Non-native and undesirable trees and woody vegetation will be removed by a Contractor. Tree removal must occur between October 1st and March 31st of each year according to federal guidelines for endangered bat species. A combination of herbicide and tillage will be used to remove existing herbaceous vegetation and invasive species.

Native Seeding: The seeding will be a diverse mix of native grasses (10+), sedges (5+) and wildflowers (50+) that will enhance aesthetic appeal, improve water quality via infiltration and provide quality habitat for wildlife. 

Tree planting:  Once the prairie seeding has occurred, native oak species (e.g., bur and white) will be planted at a low density (10-20 per acre) to complete the transition of this area to a savanna ecosystem. 

Post-Planting Maintenance:  The area will be mowed two or three times during the first growing season after planting to open the plant canopy and allow light to reach the young prairie seedling. Mowing also limits seed set by rapidly-growing annual weeds and thus limits the potential for future competition. Depending on weed pressure, the area will be mowed one or two times a year after planting. 

Beginning the third year after prairie planting, the area will be burned on a 5 year interval to achieve the following:

  • Removal of thatch making it easier for plants to grow
  • Recycling of nutrients bound up in thatch
  • Increasing soil temperature due to removal of shading and blackening of soil surface; this favors warm-season native species
  • Mortality of remaining annual weed seedlings.

Burns will be conducted under conditions that will carry smoke away from houses. Limitations on burning due to the site’s urban location may necessitate the use of alternatives to prescribed burning, such as grazing.

Spot-spraying will be implemented to control perennial weeds beginning the third year after planting, if needed.

Point Of Contact:

Cassie Cook cook@polkcountyiowa.gov & Amanda Brown amanda.brown@polkcountyiowa.gov

Aerial View of Phases 1, 2, 3 (Right, Middle, Left). Taken During the Summer of 2022

Winter/Early Spring 2021 - Fall 2021
Completed
Phase 1

Phase 1 began during the winter/early spring of 2021 with the removal of all undesirable tree species within an area of 3.38 acres, followed by herbicide application and vegetation removal that following spring and summer. The area was then seeded with a richly diverse prairie mix during the fall of 2021, followed by the planting of 55 oak trees consisting of Bur Oak, White Oak and Swamp White Oak.

Already in its first summer post seeding, vibrant patches of Brown Eyed Susan, Sunflower and Aster scatter the prairie floor.

Winter/Early Spring 2022 - Fall 2022
In Progress
Phase 2

The 6.34-acre Phase 2 section underwent tree and vegetation removal during the spring and summer of 2022.  If you've recently visited Easter Lake's Mark C. Ackelson Trail, a visible green mat covering the expanse of this section gives evidence to the recent seeding of a diverse prairie mix. Additionally, this area will soon be planted with a total of 94 trees consisting of Bur Oak, White Oak, Swamp Oak and Shagbark Hickory.

The photos above depict the before and after of invasive understory removal along with the new prairie seeding early this November. 

***Update, trees have been planted as of December 2022 and Phase 2 is now complete!

Winter/Early 2023 - Fall 2023
Beginning
Phase 3

Residents and park visitors may notice several trees bearing an orange tag tied around their trunk when walking through the phase 3 section. Around 60 mature trees in this area have been marked to stay, while all other existing trees and brush will be removed during the late winter/early spring of 2023. The removal of non-native trees and understory brush will allow space for the marked native trees (Oaks, Walnuts, Hickory) to grow and provide critical habitat for native wildlife. After the removal of non-native vegetation, the area will be planted with a diverse prairie mix and oak trees, converting the area back to its historic oak-savannah landscape. 

While the summer photo above gives the perception of a lush and green forest in the Phase 3 section, the following photos emphasize that the majority of this herbaceous layer consists of invasive species that contribute to poor forest and soil health, with only a few struggling native trees marked for saving before the removal of invasives.

EASTER LAKE WATERSHED PROJECT PARTNERS

EASTER LAKE WATERSHED PROJECT PARTNERS

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