The management of invasive species: Natural and artificial

By Ashley Bunton - Staff Columnist

Taking a walk on a long trail beside the Little Miami River last week I noticed the early wild flowers were beginning to pop up.

It was October when my friend and I worked to remove invasive honeysuckle bush from along a section of the Little Miami River in Greene County. If the invasive honeysuckle is not removed, it sends a poison into the roots of nearby plants and those plants stop growing. Once we removed the honeysuckle, Ohio’s wild flowers returned to bloom the following spring.

This is the second spring since we cleared the honeysuckle. Where the honeysuckle once proliferated, signs of Dutchman’s breeches, hepatica, and skunk cabbage are appearing, all some of Ohio’s earliest wildflowers.

I was excited to learn that the Fayette County Parks and Recreation District is starting up, and that it will soon be able to utilize the land that was formerly known as a golf course. I am interested to see how the development of the park is handled, from the name that will be used for the park to how local residents come together in its development. We have a similar property in Greene County known as the golf course that was designated as a green space.

I was also excited to recently learn about the plans to develop the Rocky Fork Lake area in neighboring Highland County. I do believe that the parks and natural recreation areas are strategic planning points for community wellness. If planned and well-maintained, these spaces can be natural treasures for tourism, economic viability, health and wellness.

Combined there are a dozen parks, nature preserves and green spaces within walking distance of where I live in Greene County, the largest being a 1,000-acre nature preserve. While on my walk on this unusually warm day last week, the main parking lot at the nature preserve was full and about 50 cars were parked in the overflow area — this has not been the tradition in the past.

This turnout of families to the parks and nature preserves is only something that has happened in the last couple of years. My friend, who works as a life coach by profession, and myself discussed this matter, and we do believe that this trend will continue into the future. Why attendance at parks and green spaces will continue is something interesting to consider.

What is apparent was that the parks allowed for a shared space for people of all ages, from the smallest of children to the parents and the grandparents. Then we considered that it is possible that people choose to visit the parks and nature preserves because it is a free activity.

It also offers a break from daily routines and allows people to study an environment that remains wild. What we do not often consider is that there is a management responsibility to assure parks remain wild, such as in the example of clearing away the invasive species. Otherwise our parks and green spaces would be significantly altered and we wouldn’t really have the parks that we do today without the management of the invasive species.

Our lives are probably like that, too. We have to manage our lives responsibly so that we are retaining some of our health and well-being without being invaded too much by things like computers, TV and social media, which if you ask me, are similar to invasive species!

Studies have proven that the more time a child spends outdoors in green spaces and in nature, the better the child’s emotions, behavior and physical well-being are when compared to children who are infrequently exposed to nature. The refraction of natural light in the eye sends signals to the parts of the brain that manage hormones and emotions. I always notice an improvement in my child after spending some time outdoors.

We are fortunate to have parks and green spaces in which we can exercise and spend time with family and friends in a relaxed landscape. We should take the time to consider the impact that these parks and green spaces have on our inner landscape, too.

As my hike through the preserve and state park circled back around to the starting point, I noticed that it offered me the opportunity to look in the mirror at my own landscape. How am I doing, managing my natural self? Or am I allowing my inner emotions, behavior and wellness to be overrun daily by the invasion of artificial technology?

If I’m not careful to cut out some of the invasive things that come into my life, my natural self is as risk for not being properly managed. In moving forward in planning of the parks and green spaces, I hope that people will consider the connection between the outside landscape to their internal landscape and decide how the community can come together to assure that all people are self-empowered to have a hand in managing both.

As I finished my hike, I heard two Great Horned Owls calling to one another from the northern trail rim, a sign that spring is a few short weeks away. It looks like it’s going to be a really good year for Ohio’s parks.

By Ashley Bunton

Staff Columnist

Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton

Reach Ashley at (740) 313-0355 or on Twitter @ashbunton