Blue Week: What’s new that’s blue is focus at Oak Openings this week

PHOTOS SUBMITTED A Green Ribbon Initiative expert leads a hike through rare lakeplain prairie habitat.

The Oak Openings Green Ribbon Initiative is celebrating the rare oak openings habitat during Blue Week today through next Sunday with more than 20 free family events, indoor and outdoor activities, workshops, lectures and tours across northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan.

“Most people think that you need to travel far to see spectacular plants and animals, but we have an abundance of them right here at home,” said Ashlee Decker, GRI partnership specialist and former Tiffin resident. “Oak Openings Blue Week has been planned to raise awareness of this rare habitat.

“Sometimes, I think it’s one of our region’s best-kept secrets,” Decker said. “Blue Week has activities for the whole family to enjoy that can help all of us to feel proud to live in the oak openings.”

She said the Green Ribbon Initiative offers programs year round, but Blue Week is its biggest outreach event.

“It’s our chance to immerse them in the natural areas and to give the public a good spread of the types of habitats we have here,” Decker said. “We have a lot of blue species here.”

These children are exploring the many kinds of frogs in the Oak Openings region. Kids can enjoy a hoppin’ time during Frogtastic Night at Secor Metropark at 7 p.m. Friday.

GRI and its partners are to conduct programs at Irwin Prairie State Nature Preserve, Kitty Todd Preserve, Oak Openings Preserve, Tomahawk Archers, Petersburg State Game Area and a few other locations.

Some of the programs include naturalist-led and guided daytime and evening hikes, a native bee workshop and using native plants for home landscaping, native plant sale and an oak openings photo contest and exhibit.

During the event’s early kickoff Wednesday at Black Cloister Brewery, Toledo, a new beer was released in honor of Blue Week.

The event sponsored its first photo contest this year, Decker said, and visitors may see the photos beginning at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Toledo Metroparks’ National Center for Nature Photography.

Awards will be given for the best photo in each of four Oak Openings-themed categories as well as an overall winner, runner-up and a people’s choice winner.

Blue Week is named for the blue species that reveal themselves each spring in Oak Openings such a bluebirds, blue spotted salamanders, blue lupine and many others.

One of the highlights of the week is keynote speaker Susan Morse, founder of Keeping Tracks and a nationally known naturalist, who is to speak at 7 p.m. Thursday at Bedford High School, 8285 Jackman Road, Temperance, Michigan.

“She is an award-winning wildlife tracker and photographer,” Decker said. “She’s going to give a presentation about why natural areas are important and talk about the habitat of our local species, how to identify them.”

Through her award-winning photography and anecdotes, Morse is to emphasize the ecological and social values of connecting natural areas — including local places. She is to talk about habits and habitats of local species, how to identify their most telling signs in the field, the role the animals play in the local ecology and the challenges they face in the 21st century.

In addition, Morse is to lead two daylong Wild about Wildlife workshops — at Oak Opening Preserve Metropark Lodge and at Oakwoods Metropark, Flat Rock, Michigan.

The workshops are to focus on local animal behavior, and students can learn to read the landscape with a set of new eyes as they learn skills to detect, identify and interpret tracks and signs.

Blue Week offers an opportunity for participants to get their hands dirty by helping to restore habitats. Join a stewardship program 9 a.m.-noon Saturday at Oak Openings park.

A variety of other programs are offered. Decker suggested checking the website www.oakopenings.org/

blue-week for a complete list

“We have quite a few nature walks with subject matter experts,” she said.

One of them focuses on lupine in bloom.

“It’s a signature species of Oak Openings,” she said.

Also, there are other workshops such as landscaping with native plant species and why it’s important.

Another free workshop 9 a.m.-noon Monday at Blue Creek Conservation Area, 7790 CR 152, Whitehouse, is about seed collection and propagation, which is a way to learn the benefits of using native plants and techniques used for collection and propagation. The morning include such topics as site planning and preparation, seed ripeness and how to harvest and store seeds.

From 2-4 p.m. Monday, a “Butterflies of Oak Openings” program is planned at The Nature Conservancy’s Kitty Todd Preserve, and at 6:30 p.m., participants can learn about native alternative plants at Toledo Botanical Garden conference center.

“What’s the Buzz about Bees in the Oak Openings?” is to take place 2-3:30 p.m. Tuesday at Meilke Wildlife Savanna Area, 630 N. Meilke Road, Holland. The afternoon walk is a chance to see nature in action such as bumblebees pollinating wild blue lupine and blueberries in a small, sandy oak savanna.

All events are free, except the Susan Morse presentation is $5 and her two workshops are $40 each.

Decker said the Green Ribbon Initiative is named for the partnerships goals to restore as many areas of oak openings as possible.

“We’re really trying to connect these fragments of habitat,” she said. “We’re really trying to make a green ribbon if you look at it from an aerial map.”

The GRI group has been working together since 2000 to protect the natural beauty and biological diversity of the Oak Openings Region with the support of public and private organizations, landowners and individuals. GRI works to save the best remaining pieces of the Oak Openings and restore a small percentage of what has been lost.

“Most people think of Oak Openings Metropark,” Decker said. “But it’s a much larger area.”

The region stretches across seven counties in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan and was formed more than 12,000 years ago at the end of the last glacier period.

“The glaciers really laid what we have today in the Great Black Swamp and up here in the Oak Openings north and west of the Great Black Swamp. It goes from Napoleon all the way up to Detroit.”

As a large lake receded to what is now Lake Erie, it left behind large amounts of sand creating dunes and ridges. The higher elevation of the dunes allowed natural plant communities to form including oak savannas, woodlands and wet prairies. Small remnants extend as far south as Bradner Preserve, north of Fostoria on US 23.

The habitat combination is what makes up the oak openings. Five of the natural plant communities in the region are considered globally rare. Because of these unique communities, The Nature Conservancy has included the Oak Openings on its list of “one of the last great places.”

Today, less than 1 percent of the local ecosystem remains.

Originally formed in northwest Ohio, the partnership now includes partners in southeast Michigan.

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