By Valerie Mann
With a staff of one employee, Pringle Nature Center depends on the help of volunteers with restoration and other activities. Pringle is located in the 197-acre Bristol Woods County Park in Bristol, Wisconsin. While the nature center is not operated by the county, we do work in partnership with them when it comes to land management and restoration. We are currently working to restore Oak Savanna remnants as well as restoring a grassy area back to prairie. As with many restoration projects in the region, we have the usual invasive species – garlic mustard, buckthorn, honeysuckle, and multiflora rose, just to name a few.
Oak Savanna, a highly endangered ecosystem, is an area where the Oak tree is the dominant species and in which the trees are spaced far apart with a grassland-type understory. Fire is an essential tool in order for the Oak Savanna to thrive because it clears out the detritus and other growth in the understory and provides nutrients to the soil for other plants to grow. However, due to some of the dangers that fire can pose to communities surrounding natural areas, fires are typically suppressed as quickly as possible. While there are prescribed burn practices to help restore and rejuvenate forested areas, at this time the County does not allow us to burn the woods. Therefore, on the third Saturday of the month from April to November, we rely on the help of volunteers to help clear the brush, remove invasive species, and open up areas around our magnificent Oaks.
It’s always amazing to watch volunteers – ranging from groups of 2 to 20 people – have such an impact on an area of the Oak Savanna. Fortunately, we have individuals and groups that come out on a regular basis, including students from the University of Wisconsin at Parkside. Volunteers are led by our volunteer workday leader, Al Sommer, who motivates the college students and other to work hard. In addition, as a partner in the Mighty Acorns program, we are fortunate to work with the fifth grade class from Dimensions of Learning Academy in Kenosha. Through this program, students visit a site three times a year to help with stewardship activities, even in the winter weather when they help to cut back brush. Although our volunteers are able to clear large patches of land, we also purchased a brush mower using a grant from The Norcross Wildlife Foundation.
In addition to our hard-working volunteers, the Pringle Nature Center also enlisted the help of grazers. In March 2008, Kim Hunter from The Green Goats approached us about her entrepreneurial enterprise: using goats to help get rid of invasive plants! Together, we submitted and received a $4,000 grant from the Binky Foundation to purchase electric fencing and other materials to contain the goats as they consumed the invasive species – and helped to restore the Oak Savanna. Using grazers is also gaining traction as a restoration method because other techniques such as treating an area with chemicals have potential to be harmful to human health and negatively impact our natural areas.
Since 2008 we have continued to use the goats, however, this isn’t the first time that grazers have helped to remove invasive species. When the Pringle Family lived on what is now the park, they owned cattle that roamed the woods. Bob Pringle, Jr., Director of the Board, remembers that when he was a child, he could see far into the woods in areas where the cattle grazed.
For more information and to get involved, visit http://www.pringlenc.org/.