By Luke Robins
Clinton County Chatter Staff Reporter
ST. JOHNS – Located near Motz County Park, just north of St. Johns, a grassland project that has used old farm land will add on to the park has been completed. This new addition will provide a safe habitat for local wildlife along with providing more recreational opportunities for visitors.
“The goal of the project is to establish a prairie grassland with some native Midwestern grasses and provide a winter cover for a possible pheasant habitat or deer,” said Tom Olson, the Parks and Green Space Coordinator.
According to Olson, an old farm like this is usually just left alone, but they are seeing what they can do with land like this.
Charles Nelson, an Associate Professor of Community Sustainability at Michigan State University, said, “The interesting thing about this project is that there is not a lack of farm land. It will provide biological diversity and recreational opportunities.”
Chad Thelen from Stoney Creek Outdoor Properties, LLC was one of the many who helped make this project happen, said, “This is 100 percent a good idea. This is the right location and there are not a lot of large grassland areas.”
The project has been brought into the Pheasant Restoration Initiative and will serve as a safe habitat for the pheasants.
“We’re offering a chance for pheasants that used to be thriving in this area of the state, but now you barely see any,” Olson said.
Not only will it provide for pheasants, but it will help other wildlife such as deer and especially for pollinators such as bees.
“Pollinators are another thing people don’t really notice, but they’re kind of getting low in numbers,” Olson said. “The more land dedicated to them is just going to be better for it.”
The project will overall help the local environment without any negative side effects.
Nelson said, “I’m not aware of any side effect. It protects the water quality of the lake and provides tremendous wildlife opportunities.”
Thelen also said that it will provide good recreational opportunities for people.
Olson said that they plan on installing foot bridges from the park to get people to experience the land and it will extend the walking trail by about a mile and a half.
“It’ll be a nice walk,” he said. “It’s going to be a pretty diverse ecosystem with those native grasses. It’s kind of a nice tough to get people out and get some exercise.”
Michelle Thompson, who works in downtown St. Johns, said, “It’s good for the community.”
According to Olson, there was a funding issue that was resolved and project cost nothing to the county except for maintenance going forward.
Thelen said, “A lot of groups came together to make this happen.”
“It’s great to be able to work with partners. This is the whole team playing together. It was a well-executed play,” said Nelson.
The U.S Fish and Wildlife Service provided all the warm season grass and flower seeds, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources provided switchgrass for the winter cover area, cool season grass for the trail, and, with Clinton Conservation District, supplied funds for fuel and herbicide spray. Stoney Creek Properties, LLC planted and sprayed the entire field according to Olson.
It actually worked out better this way, according to Olson.
“They all came together and actually provide more of what we wanted without the restrictions of the state program. We were able to plant the species we wanted.”
While the area is open, it might take some time to get it fully incorporated.
Olson said, “Really up and running it takes maybe a year or two for people to notice what’s going on there, but the idea is that it is planted and it’s going to keep growing.”