We love Kentucky’s warm season grass meadows. If you’ve been in the park at all over the past two years, you’ve not doubt noticed their evolution and vibrancy, particularly around the William F. Miles Lakes area in Beckley Creek Park.
From black-eyed susans to big and little bluestem grasses, these meadows add four season depth and character to the park’s landscape. They also provide tremendous wildlife habitat for small mammals. migrating butterflies and birds by the hundreds. Lately, some some strange mowing patterns have emerged in the meadows. These are not crop circles, nor have we been invaded by aliens. What you are seeing is a series of intentional “test stewardship” activities for meadow maintenance.
Native warm season grass meadows are not “plug and play” plantings – you don’t plant these then forget about them. Their successful establishment requires careful stewardship and management by our team of natural area professionals. And growing in these meadows takes years, particularly on sites that had been ignored or overtaken by invasive plants for years. One of the key actions to help these meadows succeed is giving our native plants every opportunity possible reseed themselves and thus out-compete the non-native plants that always want to come in and take over.
What you see now in these strip mowing cycles is our work to explore and evaluate different annual maintenance routines to aid in the reseeding by the “good” plants in the meadows. We will be evaluating these mowing techniques over the years as we learn and refine our stewardship activities so that we can best maintain and support strong meadows possible.
The areas where strip mowing is being applied will be carefully monitored and evaluated this year as we gauge its success in helping the landscape achieve the trajectory we would like to see. In other meadow areas, you may see us introduce no-mowing altogether, and possibly even burn control methods in others. Each of these techniques have proven to work in some parts of Kentucky – our challenge is to discover what works best here.
Winter is the best time to do this work as we have a small gap in time when the wildlife don’t use the meadows as much as others. February is generally the month when disturbance in the fields is least impactful. All of these efforts will be shaped and evaluated by the team of natural area experts from Kentucky Fish & Wildlife, Roundstone Native Seed, Eco-Tech Consultants, and our team of professional landscape managers.
So, what looks like a random mowing cycle is in fact an intentional effort on behalf of our Park Superintendent to hone in our meadow care so that The Parklands’ prairies and savannahs are durable, resilient, and successful for years to come for not only their intrinsic beauty, but also the most key function as habitat for wildlife and pollinators.