Baltic Creek Park (above), a 95-acre park set in the rolling hills of suburban St. Charles County, will be the newest addition to the St. Charles County Park System. The park will be home to two new lakes, a destination playground, heritage garden, dog park, 3 family pavilions, acres of flat and hillside open play areas, and a 1.5 mile perimeter trail loop that weaves in and out of open meadow and dense woodland. The park is currently under construction, with site clearing, mass grading and lake excavation wrapping up any day now. Construction of park roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and trails and shelters will be the next major improvements to commence, with an estimated park completion in early-mid summer 2018.
In many areas of the site, we’re working alongside remnant woodlands incorporating highly-programmed, manicured spaces or weaving a trail between the trees. The edges between these spaces are under continuous pressure from the dynamism of nature, and typically the woodland landscape is the first to succumb to pressure from invasive and unwanted species.
Woodland buffers are critical to the long-term health of the landscape.
Creating a woodland buffer helps to mimic the natural condition of the forest edge. Typically grasses, sedges and perennials give way to woody shrubs, before finally transitioning to small flowering trees and young canopy trees. This stepping from short to tall plants helps to minimize sunlight infiltration. The stronger the woodland edge, the more successful the woodland canopy can become.
Also, in instances where a cut has been created to incorporate a trail or roadway (like at Baltic Creek Park), sunlight infiltration can cause negative long-term effects. It’s critical in these spaces to also incorporate trees with broad, horizontal canopies that are endemic to the woodland type. As they grow, these trees will work to limit sun exposure. Again, transitional-edge plantings at the ground and mid-story level should be used to buffer this internal edge.
Maintenance also plays a role in the pressure on woodlands. Traditionally, woodland edges are pruned back, and turf or adjacent landscape is allowed to extend to the tree line. This practice permits too much sunlight to enter into these areas, which inhibits the growth of a healthy understory. Thus, promoting the growth of honeysuckle and other invasive plants. Creating a defined mow edge along a woodland buffer clearly delineates where this sort of maintenance can be performed.
Why woodland buffers matter:
- A woodland buffer will help to minimize maintenance demands and provide a better aesthetic experience
- Transitional spaces, where multiple ecologies intersect, support the highest concentrations of biodiversity.
- Healthy forest edges create habitat for many different animals, while limiting pressures from invasive species like Japanese honeysuckle.