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Published: Wednesday, 4/27/2011

ZOOTeens turn out for Sylvan Prairie

Volunteers help plant tree seedlings in Olander Park System area

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER
ZOOTeens Ian McCallister, left, and Laura Walsh, both 17 and from Toledo, are among the 11 volunteers planting trees at Sylvan Prairie Park in Sylvania Township. ZOOTeens Ian McCallister, left, and Laura Walsh, both 17 and from Toledo, are among the 11 volunteers planting trees at Sylvan Prairie Park in Sylvania Township.
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Chilly rain fell on the 11 ZOOTeen volunteers as they planted tree seedlings in Sylvan Prairie Park late last week, but Laura Walsh didn't seem to mind.

"Who doesn't like sloshing through the mud?" the Notre Dame Academy junior from Toledo said. "It makes for a good time."

"It's just another Toledo day," agreed Ian McCallister, a Toledo Technology Academy freshman who helped Miss Walsh fill in compost and soil around a red maple seedling they had just placed in a dug hole in a very soggy part of the park.

"They're always enthusiastic. They're always willing to come out and get dirty," Robin Parker, assistant manager for the Olander Park System, said of the youth volunteers from the Toledo Zoo who work at Olander sites at least once a month.

Most recently, ZOOTeens members spent parts of two wet, windy days planting many of the 800 tree seedlings intended to re-establish native vegetation at Sylvan Prairie, which once was slated to become part of a subdivision golf course but was purchased by the parks agency after the subdivision plan foundered.

On April 16, a group of about 20 were joined by about 30 volunteers; members of the Good Friday crew were accompanied only by a few supervisors.

After a briefing from Ms. Parker, who demonstrated how to plant the seedlings to provide a good mix of soil and compost without burying anything more than their roots, the latter group scattered, toting buckets of compost from a pile and bundles of tiny trees to finish the job started six days earlier.

"I like the environment, and I've always had a passion for nature," Miss Walsh said. "The zoo helps me do that."

The group worked in an area that Olander is restoring into two ecosystems -- a wetland in the lowest-lying areas, a prairie in the higher, drier spots.

Volunteer Hannah Blanc, 19, prepares to plant trees at Sylvan Prairie Park in Sylvania Township. Volunteer Hannah Blanc, 19, prepares to plant trees at Sylvan Prairie Park in Sylvania Township.
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The Toledo area's recent persistent rain made the future wetland easy to spot.

"Planting trees is important to the environment. There are so many benefits," said Cassandra Passalacqua, a Maumee High School sophomore who cited air quality and wildlife habitat as among the most important.

Austin Mariasy, an eighth grader at St. Patrick's of Heath- erdowns School, added that planting trees also reduces carbon dioxide in the atmosphere while increasing oxygen, which should help wildlife around the Earth, not just in northwest Ohio.

"It saves the polar bears, and it also saves us," young Mariasy said.

"It's just a really great thing to be doing. Even in this weather, it's worth it," Miss Passalacqua said after donning a sweater, a concession to the 40-degree temperature she had initially defied in a T-shirt.

Although its members often do volunteer work at the zoo, the ZOOTeens' mission includes contributing to conservation efforts elsewhere in the community.

And besides sending its youth group, the zoo donated $2,500 that the park system spent to buy the seedlings.

The 33 tree species planted include Ohio buckeye, slippery elm, cottonwood, dogwood, eastern redbud, witch hazel, black and green ash, and several varieties of oak, hickory, and maple.

Sylvan Prairie spans nearly 150 acres south of Brint Road, including a 38-acre conservation easement on land belonging to the adjoining Hanson Aggregates quarry.

Along with the wetland and prairie areas now being developed, the park includes a restored meadow and playground.

And it is connected to several neighboring parks and Timberstone Junior High School by the 5.5-mile Quarry Ridge Bike Trail.

The Sylvania Board of Education and the Olander system are discussing the transfer of an additional 40 acres between Sylvan Prairie and Mitchaw Road. The school board considers the land surplus since deciding recently to build a replacement for Central Elementary School on the opposite side of Mitchaw.



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