Friday, Jan 19, 2018
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Controlled burn is planned next year at Sylvan Prairie Park


A controlled fire at the Nature Conservancy at Oak Opening, with which Erika Buri.

Lindsey Reinarz Enlarge

Olander Park employees are being trained to conduct prescribed fires, a natural method to maintain Sylvan Prairie Park’s inherent grassland ecosystem.

Olander Park System Conservation Manager Erika Buri was certified in the spring by the U.S. Fire Administration and National Wildfire Coordinating Group to perform fires on prairie lands as way to encourage the habitats longevity.

“The burning is a way to stimulate the prairie's growth and to eliminate small trees or wood based plant species from the area,” Ms. Buri said.

The small trees could encroach on the natural grassy plants that makeup a prairie by shading out the native plant species, impacting the grassland and the animals that live there, said Melanie Coulter, assistant conservation manager.

The park system is preparing for a controlled fire in the next year or so. A seasonal employee also was trained in the method and Robin Parker, assistant conservation manager, is going through the training now. The training includes online courses and a physical test.

Prairie landscapes rely on fires as a way to replenish and extend the natural occurring grasses, which grow from the bottom instead of the top.

Ms. Buri explained that the prairie is still in its infancy stage. Once the plant density of the landscape has reached a certain maturity, the park will perform a controlled burn. The prairie restoration began in 2009 and park conservationists estimate a burn might be needed in 2014. The maturity of the plants will ensure it burns through the land, and a fire in the early spring is ideal to avoid ground nesting birds and amphibians on the site. 

Sylvan-Prairie Park, at 8601 Brint Rd., was formerly a golf course. Since the park system acquired it in 2006, it has undertaken efforts to allow the natural grass and wetland habitat to flourish, which includes planting native plant species and restoring a natural ditch. The park is about 150 acres.

The knowledge employees gain through certification will be used to help other area park organizations.

“We are cognizant that fire is a big component of what makes the Oak Openings unique habitat amazing,” said Lindsey Reinarz, the Nature Conservancy’s Green Ribbon Initiative Specialist for the Oak Openings Region. “Controlled fires and hydrology is what is makes these habitats so special, so we want to help other agencies in any capacity we can.”

The training courses are free. For more information about the Sylvan Prairie Restoration Project, visit

Contact Natalie Trusso Cafarello at: 419-206-0356 or

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