Board told of prairie burns
CHAMPAIGN — Don't be surprised if you find evidence of fire in grassy areas at two Champaign parks this fall — and two others next spring.
It's not an accident or arsonist's handiwork, but the result of a planned controlled prairie burn.
"We're promoting the good stuff and getting rid of the bad stuff," said park district horticulture Supervisor Randy Hauser.
On Wednesday night, Hauser told the Champaign Park District Board about plans to conduct controlled burns in natural areas at Porter Family Park on South Rising Road in southwest Champaign and Heritage Park just southeast of Parkland College this fall.
More controlled burns are planned in the spring at Scott Park on East Springfield Avenue near Campustown and Sunset Ridge Park on Boulder Ridge Drive on the city's west side.
Each burn will take about three hours, and the fire department and nearby residents and businesses will be notified in advance.
Hauser said controlled burns help manage prairie areas in the four parks.
Since prairie grass developed naturally under the influence of fire for many years before Champaign County was settled, it tends to respond favorably to controlled burns.
Park district natural-area Coordinator Mike Davis said the burns remove fallen leaves, allowing more plants to flower, grow taller and produce seed.
"Through fire, we can bring up even more diverse plants," Davis said.
He said a controlled burn can also return nutrients from the plants to the soil.
"It looks like wasteland right after you do it, but you can see green sprouts popping up," Davis said.
In addition, burning exposes the soil and allows sunlight to warm it more quickly, extending the growing season for certain warm-season native plants, according to Hauser.
"These plants have huge root systems," he said. "For everything that you see above the ground, there is at least two times that amount rooted underground."
Fire can also suppress weeds that may have developed in the prairie areas.
Hauser said the overall goal is to develop the park district's natural areas into learning opportunities for Champaign residents.