Monday, November 8, 2010

Fields of Flowers

Blue and sunny skies greeted me Sunday afternoon on my latest volunteer stint.

Since last Tuesday's ESL tutoring session was cancelled, I had to find a replacement.

Luckily, a fellow coworker told me about an opportunity that would get me outside, and it was close to home — a nice bonus!

I spent my time helping out the Department of Nature Resources and Environment Recreation Division, Stewardship Unit (yes, it's a mouthful) gathering flower seeds. The seeds will be taken to Seven Lakes State Park in Holly where the department is creating a more diverse, native prairie landscape.

I arrived about ten minutes late (after going to the wrong section of the park) to find Laurel Malvitz-Draper talking to a group of about sixty people gathered in a semi-circle around her.

Holding my bucket, I grabbed an orange vest, donated by Bass Pro Shop, and headed out into the field  to watch her demonstrate the plants we would be looking for.

After Laurel showed us what bush clover, bee balm and aster look like, I took off down the trail to fill my bucket with the brown buds. I found it peaceful to be in the field as the sun shone down on my face. I find it relaxing — almost spiritual — to be in nature. And the weather couldn't have been more perfect.

The hours went by quickly. Soon my bucket was full, and needed to be emptied in the communal bag. As I pulled burr-like seeds from my pants, I chatted with a couple other volunteers.

Steve Powell of Waterford Township has been volunteering with stewardship programs for about four years. An avid hunter and fisher, he realizes the importance of a balanced, natural ecosystem.

"I wanted to give back," he said, adding, "I've never realized how deteriorated these areas are."

Years ago, when it came to building, it was easier to construct homes on prairies than in the many wetlands Michigan has, he said. So, now, many of Michigan's fields don't offer the same habitat that it used to.

Now, with a little help, Steve hopes Michigan's open spaces will start to resemble what it did hundreds of years ago. Many local parks are also doing controlled burns in the area. Not only does the ash help the soil, it also helps rid it of invasive species.

The DNRE offers multiple monthly volunteer opportunities for people to help keep Michigan the gem it is. Laurel noted that budget cutbacks make it hard to do this type of work.

"Staff is used to man the booths and clean bathrooms," she said, adding that if it were not for volunteers, this type of work would not get done. "I think that everyone likes getting out in the fall, and it's good for all ages."

This proved to be true, parents toted children along for the seed collection, and it was nice to see them romping around on the two-track dirt paths.

"It's really fun, and it doesn't really feel like work," she said.

I had to agree. Before I left, I made sure that my name will remain on the e-mail list. I'm looking forward to some winter activities to help stave off cabin fever.

To find out more about volunteer opportunities, check out the volunteer page as well as the calendar of events.

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