Burning for a cause at Fernwood

Published 10:06 am Thursday, March 27, 2014

Fernwood’s prairie will be set ablaze this spring so that it will grow back even more lush this summer. (Submitted photo)

Fernwood’s prairie will be set ablaze this spring so that it will grow back even more lush this summer. (Submitted photo)

Editor’s Note: The prairie burn has been rescheduled for April 12 due to weather conditions.

NILES — This coming weekend, area residents will have the opportunity to witness Fernwood Botanical Garden’s annual spring prairie burn. The event provides a great opportunity to get out in the springtime and to witness a special conservation event at the same time.

The fire department will be on-hand for the controlled burning of 2.5 acres of prairie land at Fernwood. It is scheduled to take place at 11 a.m. on March 29, but as always, it could be rescheduled due to unfavorable weather conditions.

“People should call (269) 695-6491 in the morning to make sure it will be happening,” noted Jan Ferris, special projects manager at Fernwood. “Wind or wet weather will cause it to be rescheduled.”

Fernwood’s reconstructed prairies were planted in 1976, and in the years since then, managers have burned one-half of the 5 acres in order to keep that ground fertile.

“Prairies need fire to propagate and regenerate. It puts nitrogen back in the ground. It’s very beneficial for the prairie,” Ferris explained. “It actually happens in nature—with lightening strikes and things like that.”

By burning only half of the land, Fernwood provides visitors with a clear view of how beneficial the process can be for the land.

“If you come back in the summer, you’ll see that the side we burned is more lush than the one we didn’t burn. It blackens the ground, and that enhances the amount of sun that the ground soaks up.” Ferris said. “Burning the prairie also helps to keep down on the invasive plants that spring up there.”

Fernwood’s prairie is known as “tall-grass prairie.”

“Some of the grasses get to be 8 feet tall,” Ferris said. “We have Turkey grass, Indian grass, and Switch grass, and lots of really cool wildflowers that grow there.”

While a variety of birds and other animals make their homes among Fernwood’s long prairie grasses, Ferris explained that they will not be in any danger during the burn.

“Usually, there’s no issue with the wildlife. We burn it now because the birds have not begun nesting yet. The larger animals can see us, and they get out of the way,” Ferris said. “It usually burns for about an hour, but sometimes it can go faster, so it just burns right over the turtles that bury themselves in the mud.”

Ferris suggested that parents bring their children to watch the annual spectacle. “A lot of people like to come and watch it. It’s a controlled burn, and kids love to come and see the fire trucks.”

While observers of Fernwood’s annual prairie burn are welcome to stay and take advantage of the many other features of the botanical garden located at 13988 Range Line Rd., Ferris noted that no admission fee will be charged if folks only come to watch the burning.

“There is no admission fee if you come just to watch the burn,” Ferris said. “Just come down the service road and park, and you can watch safely from there.”