Buried Treasure in the Sand
How do we reduce sedimentation and nutrient runoff into our streams and rivers that ultimately ends up in Lake Erie? We have all seen the effects in Toledo and in the rest of the Great Lakes states. With lots of research happening on this front it would seem counter intuitive to remove vegetation and expose soil on the landscape near a body of water. However, an abandoned farm field that was acquired by The Nature Conservancy in 2011 is undergoing excavation in the name of ecosystem restoration and sediment reduction. The site has ditches running through it to drain the once wet prairie to make it accessible to farm equipment, with the soil from the ditch being dumped on the field to raise it even further from the water table. But what lay just inches under the surface after decades of farming activities in the sandy native Oak Openings soil could be buried treasure. TNC and the University of Toledo expect that as a result of this project sediments will be trapped on site as opposed to running at out of the site during rain events and other hydrological processes. This process will also pull off layers of soil that have been altered by chemical agricultural to find the native seed bank, seeds that when germinated will provide habitat for birds, deer and pollinators as well filter nutrients and stabilize soil which means better water quality downstream and in Lake Erie.
And while buried treasure maps are things of fairy tales and do not result in tangible bounty, The Nature Conservancy has reason to believe that what they will uncover in this prairie will be worth its weight in gold…botanically speaking that is! How do they know? In the mid 1990’s one of these scrapes had been done on a site dubbed by The Nature Conservancy staff as the Pig Farm. Prior to The Nature Conservancy purchasing that property was just that, a piece of land where hogs were kept and where manure piled high. After acquiring the property, the trash was removed and the years of manure were scraped off. What resulted were some of the rarest plants in Ohio filling in shortly after.
While the Pig Farm scrape yielded amazing plants it was not known if this could be reproduced elsewhere in the Oak Openings region. If it could, the burden of not having native seeds for restoration projects going on around the area by multiple agencies could be lessened. We have all seen the ill effects of not taking care of the land which we all depend on (locally in the form of algal blooms in Lake Eerie). Every journey of a thousand miles starts with the first step…this project is one more step to ensure the generations to come after us have access to clean drinking water, pollinators to assist in growing the food we need, and a place that people have to get in touch with nature and all the wonder that it holds.