The Parklands

Enhancing Natural Areas: Intern reflects on time spent at Parklands

Thomas McFadden was The Parklands first Natural Areas Intern from May to August of 2016.  This position was generously supported by Quail Forever to offer an opportunity for an Eastern Kentucky University student majoring in natural areas management to gain hands-on experience at The Parklands of Floyds Fork.  – Tom Smarr, Horticulture Director

Hello Parkland goers! My name is Thomas McFadden. I was hired as an intern to work with the natural areas crew throughout the summer of 2016.  I arrived from Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) where I recently completed an undergraduate degree in wildlife management. A typical day for me at EKU would include an arduous day of classes followed by homework and studying. With this kind of schedule, it is difficult to attain the hands-on experience that is crucial in the wildlife management field of work. This is especially true when your career goal is to be a land manager for an organization not unlike that of The Parklands. Through this internship it was possible for me to gain some of this experience and I was able to get real world knowledge that is often unattainable in an academic setting. 

This internship was made possible by the Quail Forever Commonwealth Chapter. Quail Forever is an organization dedicated to the conservation of quail, pheasants, and other wildlife through habitat improvements, public awareness, education and land management policies and programs. They donated funds which allowed The Parklands to hire a paid intern to work with the natural areas crew on improving habitat throughout the park.

I believe Quail Forever chose to support The Parklands because of its mission to conserve and enhance the nearly 4,000 acres of park that traces Floyd’s Fork creekIn fact, following a lot of intensive restoration work, this is the first year that we are beginning to see the return of quail to the park system. I have been impressed by the diversity across the park, having seen a wide variety of plants and birds that would not be here if this area was urban or agriculture. For example, one of my first days on the job I located a red-headed woodpecker. On another day I noticed a blue grosbeak. These are both stunning birds that I have only ever seen in higher quality habitats.

While working with the natural areas team, our main priority for the summer was to control invasive plant species across the park system. The park’s biggest “problem plants” are poison hemlock, Johnson grass, tree of heaven, bush honeysuckle, Chinese privet, and sericea lespedeza. All of these plants are non-native (meaning they originated in other areas of the world) and invasive (which basically means they form dense monocultures). These monocultures, or large areas of a single plant, leave no room for native plants and create very poor habitat for our wildlife. Managing these invasive plants is a critical step to ensuring other plants and wildlife are able to thrive.

Each invasive plant requires its own treatments for the best removal results. Mowing or cutting, fire, herbicide application, and disking are all treatment methods that are utilized at The Parklands.  

One of the jobs I was most impressed with is an area in The Strand where we removed bush honeysuckle. After a long day of cutting these gnarly shrubs that grow in extremely dense thickets, I looked back and saw how dramatically different the forest floor appeared once the honeysuckle was gone. These areas are now primed for native wildflower growth without the choking honeysuckle restraining them, and wildlife can move and live more easily in this area.    

Some of the best experience I gained at the park was learning how to use the tools of the trade for invasive species removal.  For example, I was able to use tractors, chainsaws, UTV’s, and sprayers on a daily basis.It was also important to learn about the multitude of herbicides that are available for land managers to use, along with the effects each has on different plants. The team used an herbicide known as imazopic to combat Johnson grass, and it seemed to be grass specific.  It was impressive to look at the areas that were sprayed and only see Johnson grass being effected while the native forbs that grew around it flourished.Learning when and how to use these herbicides was something that was best understood observing someone who has already learned the best methods through trial and error.

This internship was an unforgettable experience. It was important for me, not only because I gained experience that will allow me to be a more competent land manager, but also because it allowed me to make contacts that will last a lifetime. I believe that with each day of work at The Parklands I helped to improve habitat for wildlife inhabitants. I hope that my internship will be the first of many here at The Parklands that will allow the next generation of land managers the opportunity to gain the vital experience that is necessary in our line of work. 

Lastly, I just want to thank all involved with making this internship possible. Parklands Superintendent Mark Wilson and Horticulture Director Tom Smarr were instrumental in getting the internship put together.  A special thanks to the folks at Quail Forever for providing the funding. Finally, a thanks to the Natural Areas crew for teaching me the tricks of the trade, and making every day of work something to look forward to.

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