Management of natural areas within Great Parks of Hamilton County is guided by the Natural Resource Management Plan. Great Parks manages over 17,700 acres, with more than 80% of that acreage designated as natural areas. This makes planning and prioritizing crucial, and requires adapting to new threats and changes in effectiveness of management approaches.
Our overarching goal, outlined in board policy, is for a diverse representation of native plants, animals and habitats. Higher priority is given to the more rare and endangered resources. The majority of effort is spent on protecting water quality, monitoring resources like plants and wildlife, stewarding mature and urban forests, and removing invasive plant species.
Aquatic Resource Monitoring
Every year, volunteers evaluate macroinvertebrate communities in streams across Great Parks. Macroinvertebrates are invertebrates that are large enough to see without a microscope. The presence of some macroinvertebrate groups, such as caddisflies and mayflies, can indicate good stream health, while the dominance of other macroinvertebrate groups, such as aquatic worms, can signify potential stream pollution.
Volunteers use the Pollution Tolerance Index (PTI) to generate a score for each stream, which can be used to track changes in stream health. Great Parks staff also conduct evaluations of primary headwater streams, which are tiny streams with watersheds of less than one square mile. Each stream’s physical characteristics are assessed to produce an HHEI (Headwater Habitat Evaluation Index) score. The HHEI score contributes to Great Parks’ management decisions. Additional efforts are made to evaluate lake environments and stormwater issues.
Bow HuntingLearn More
Great Parks’ mission is to preserve and protect natural resources. One threat to the local species and their habitats is the overpopulation of deer. For the past 20 years, we have studied how white-tailed deer impact the parks, and in response to large increases in deer and the severe ecological damage that occurred, we began a Deer Management Program in January of 2003. This management includes continued monitoring of the population, vegetation surveys, culling and a lottery bow hunt, which began in 2005. Since implementing this plan, several years of data have shown more growth and flowering of native plants, as well as a less-visible browse line (Klein & Conover 2010). This plan also benefits the health of deer populations by reducing their competition for food and their risk of transmitting diseases, such as chronic wasting disease. Learn more about participating in the lottery bow hunt and helping our conservation efforts below.
Get InvolvedLearn More
Pitching in at Great Parks of Hamilton County will lead to fun, rewarding and unforgettable experiences! Make an impact by volunteering, contributing or becoming a partner of Great Parks.
Invasive SpeciesCONTRIBUTE TO REFORESTATION
Great Parks of Hamilton County is working to reclaim prairies, wetlands and forests dominated by invading weeds. Trained staff and volunteers use techniques and equipment that provide the best results with the least negative impact on the environment. Some of the control methods include cutting, hand pulling, mowing, burning, spraying or injecting the safest effective herbicides. Although we will never control all the invasive plants, the results thus far are encouraging. Many acres of parkland have been restored to their natural beauty and diversity.
Featured here are five of the more than 50 plants considered to be a problem in our natural areas:
Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera maackii) is our most invasive shrub. Bush honeysuckle leafs out earlier than most native plants, thereby shading out everything under its branches, including native wildflowers and young trees. In our area, without any natural predators or controls, bush honeysuckle has become weed enemy number one.
Japanese Honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) was imported to control erosion and to be used as a landscape plant. This vine quickly forms dense patches that climb over and smother extensive areas of native vegetation.
Winter Creeper (Euonymus fortunei) is an evergreen groundcover. This tough plant carpets the forest floor, engulfing everything in its path.
Garlic Mustard (Alliaria petiolata) is another prolific pest plant that poses a threat to native flowers and wildlife. This plant can out-compete native plants and wildflowers by monopolizing light, moisture and nutrients. The animals that depend on the many species of displaced native plants are also eliminated where garlic mustard prevails.
Lesser Celandine (Ranunculus ficaria) may be pretty to behold with its bright yellow flowers, but it wreaks havoc on native species as its thick foliage smoothers out anything trying to sprout from under its leaves. Lesser celandine has even been seen spreading as much as 50 feet up steep hillsides.
Some other non-native invasive plants that escape into natural areas include:
Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata)
Glossy Buckthorn (Rhamnus frangula)
Common Buckthorn (Rhamnus cathartica)
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Asian Bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus)
Crown Vetch (Coronilla varia)
European Cranberry-Bush (Viburnum opulus)
Tree-of-Heaven (Ailanthus altissima)
Burning Bush (Euonymus alatus)
Don't Move Firewood
The forests of southwest Ohio have been under attack for years by a variety of non-native plant and insect species, but none have had the dramatic effect on our area as the emerald ash borer (EAB), which can now be found in every Ohio county. Unfortunately, another potentially more destructive insect is making its way into our area called the Asian long-horned beetle (ALB), but so far it has not reached Hamilton County. These invasive species are spread mostly by people unknowingly moving infected firewood into uninfected forests and campgrounds. If you want to help save our forests, follow these two simple rules:
- Don't move firewood. Buy local wood and either burn it on-site or leave it behind. Do not take it with you.
- If you must buy firewood that is not local, buy only wood in its original wrapper bearing a USDA-approved logo, or buy firewood that has been kiln-dried. You can purchase clean firewood at Great Parks campgrounds and at Lake Isabella Family Fishing Center.
The emerald ash borer (EAB) is a non-native beetle whose preferred host are native ash trees.
The EAB is a greenish, metallic-colored beetle that is smaller than a penny. It is believed that this insect pest was accidentally introduced into Michigan some years ago as a passenger in shipping crates imported from China.
Adults lay eggs under the bark of ash trees and the resulting larvae tunnel through the host tree’s living tissue, disrupting the flow of water and nutrients throughout the tree. Once infested with EAB, an ash tree will die in two to five years, having been effectively debilitated by the larval tunneling.
The emerald ash borer has now been identified and confirmed to be infesting ash trees throughout Great Parks of Hamilton County. The highest levels of infestation were initially recognized in parks on the eastern side of Hamilton County, but the insect (and corresponding tree damage) has since spread across the county.
Great Parks is continuing to work proactively to meet this challenge in several ways. Approximately 400 specimen ash trees across the park district are being treated with a highly effective injectable insecticide on a two-year treatment interval by trained and licensed Great Parks staff. While expensive, these treatments are expected to preserve these trees indefinitely for landscape value, aesthetic enjoyment and interpretive purposes.
To insure and improve guest safety, the park district is also actively working to identify and remove dead and dying ash trees from Great Parks areas. Over 18,000 trees, which could pose a potential safety concern, have been systematically identified with GPS locations across Great Parks. To date, over 6,000 trees located in, or near high guest contact areas (trails, roadways, picnic areas, campgrounds and golf courses) have been felled through a combination of contract removal, Great Parks staff removal and natural causes. Great Parks will be aggressively and proactively moving forward with additional tree removal projects each year.
Where ash tree removal and loss has created a significant effect on tree density and distribution, Great Parks is actively planting new trees through coordinated reforestation efforts. These tree planting projects include a variety of native tree species of varying sizes, with the end goal being a more diverse stand of trees for future generations to enjoy.
The following agencies provide comprehensive information about Emerald Ash Borer.
Natural Resource Management Plan
Great Parks of Hamilton County is home to a diverse array of plant and animal communities, and many other natural resources that are unique to Southwest Ohio. As called for in the Comprehensive Master Plan, The Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP) supports the mission of Great Parks through the employment of ecologically sound land management practices. The NRMP is based on an adaptive management approach, which allows for flexibility in the face of changing conditions.
This first comprehensive NRMP will help Great Parks balance conservation measures with development of recreation and education facilities in pursuit of its mission, minimizing negative ecological impacts. Such an approach recognizes the need for conservation of natural areas as a precursor to achieving the mission’s education and recreation components. The overall management vision is to protect and restore resilient native ecosystems at Great Parks, which provide abundant resources and services. This vision is supported in the NRMP by goals and management objectives, as well as best practices to achieve these goals.
Great Parks of Hamilton County is proud to be a lead partner in the tree planting initiative Taking Root.
The mission is to replace, retain and expand trees in the Greater Cincinnati tri-state region with a goal to plant two million trees by 2020 — that is one tree for each resident in the eight-county tri-state region! The initiative was created in response to the ongoing threat on our regions trees that the emerald ash borer, Asian longhorned beetle, bush honeysuckle and other culprits, have created. By planting trees, we can reduce the threat and help grow a healthy and diverse tree environment.
The initiative kicked off on September 26, 2013, with a ceremony at Eden Park and a great group of partners, including Green Umbrella, Cincinnati Parks, Northern Kentucky Urban and Community Forestry Council, Davey Resource Group, Ohio Division of Forestry, Cincinnati Nature Center, Clermont County Park District, Clermont County Soil and Water District, Boone County Arboretum, City of Lebanon, Natorp’s, among others. At that time, Great Parks pledged to plant 60,000 trees by 2016. On October 22, 2016, Great Parks exceeded that goal by planting its 100,000th tree!
Click here for more information about Taking Root, to donate or to register a tree that you plant to count towards the two million goal!
Great Parks Receives Awards for Tree Planting Efforts with Taking Root Initiative
Great Parks of Hamilton County was recognized by regional reforestation group, Taking Root, at the Taking Root Great Tree Summit at the Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden on January 31, 2015. The awards celebrated organizations and individuals who are helping to reach the group’s goal of planting two million trees within the eight county, Cincinnati tri-state region by 2020.
John B. Peaslee Award
Great Parks is honored to have received the Taking Root John B. Peaslee Award. The award recognizes a public sector, non-profit entity or individual for initiative that addresses the goals of Taking Root, benefits and serves as a model for protecting and enhancing our region’s trees and forests and honors the memory of John B. Peaslee, the Superintendent who closed Cincinnati schools on April 27, 1882, so that students could plant trees in an abandoned vineyard that has since become the beautiful Eden Park.
Johnny Appleseed Award
Great Parks of Hamilton County Natural Resource Manager Tom Borgman was honored to receive the Johnny Appleseed Award. The award recognizes those who have helped advance Taking Root’s goals to plant trees, better manage our forests, promote the benefits of trees and foster stewardship among people in this effort. Tom serves on the Taking Root board and has been instrumental in managing Great Parks’ tree planting projects.
Rain GardensLearn More
Green Solutions to Stormwater Pollution. During a downpour, water gushes out of downspouts and across pavement, picking up pesticides, fertilizers and other pollutants along the way. A rain garden is a shallow depression filled with native plants that act like a sponge and natural filter to keep pollutants out of our local streams, rivers and lakes.
Shaker Trace NurseryLearn More
Located in Miami Whitewater Forest, the Shaker Trace Nursery was created in the spring of 1992 to harvest and store native prairie and wetland seed for habitat restoration projects. Since then, the nursery has grown to include seed collection and processing as well as raising fish for sustainable stocking of Great Parks' fishing lakes. Shaker Trace Nursery is comprised of a drying barn, greenhouse, outbuildings, plant beds, and aquaculture ponds.
Sharon Lake ImprovementLearn More
In 2017, Great Parks began planning for a multi-year project to improve Sharon Lake. Severe sediment accumulation, harmful increases in nutrient values and aggressive aquatic vegetation is threatening the health of the 35-acre lake. The solution is to remove the excess sediment from the lake via dredging. Dredging Sharon Lake will not only let park guests continue to enjoy all recreation opportunities at Sharon Woods, but also will improve water quality and restore aquatic habitat.
William & Gina Gerwin Garnett Wildflower Overlook
Roughly 20 years ago, William and Gina Gerwin Garnett took a walk through Winton Woods to see blossoming spring plants. The couple discovered a wooded hillside with a rare blend of colorful native wildflowers in the park. This moment sparked an annual tradition, where the Garnetts would walk this area every year to view the first flowers of spring. This habitat is now preserved for the next generation, thanks to a generous gift from William in memory of Gina.
These spring wildflowers begin to bloom in February, and you can see them in all their splendor throughout the growing season. Take a moment to enjoy the scenery and see what wildflowers you can spy here, at the Garnetts' special place.
Guests can access the William & Gina Gerwin Garnett Wildflower Overlook by heading toward the Locust Dell Picnic Area on Lakeview Drive, just past Winton Woods Campground.