Mapping Rosewood park with ‘citizen scientists’ March 7, 2013 

A Columbia botanist is inviting neighbors interested in plants and nature to join him Saturday at Owens Field Park in Rosewood for what he’s calling a “BioBlitz.”

Herrick Brown, who works for the S.C. Department of Natural Resources, grew up playing in the woods just off South Holly Street.

With Richland County planning to formalize the system of trails running through the woods, Brown is working on a project to survey and document plant species at the park.

Ultimately, he would like to develop an interactive trail map to inform walkers with smartphones about what they’re seeing around them. “Citizen scientists” could add new plants as they observe them.

“We want to make it such that folks can do more than just disc-golf through the area, so they can appreciate the natural aspects of the area,” said Brown, 37, who moved back to Rosewood about five years ago.

Volunteers will meet at 10 a.m. at the Memorial Stadium parking lot. Maps of the woods, data sheets and instructions will be provided. Participants may want to wear gardening gloves and bring digital cameras, along with handheld GPS devices, if they have them.

Novices will be paired with people who have more experience identifying plants, said Brown, who organized the event with the Rosewood Community Council. The project should be done by lunchtime.

“I’m calling it a neighborhood forest project, because I’m hoping we’ll be able to do this in other area parks or wooded areas of Columbia,” he said.

“We’re just trying to generate interest in plants, in general, and get outdoors and learn about the environment, hands-on.”

Richland County is close to choosing a firm to design the trails and develop cost estimates for the project, which has been expanded to integrate drainage improvements in the woods, said Buddy Atkins, who manages environmental planning.

County stormwater manager Quinton Epps said last week he’s exploring an extension of the trail across Ott Road, into a residential area and alongside Devil’s Ditch.

“There’s a lot of pieces coming together that could potentially make a very cool project,” he said.

Epps said several initiatives, taken together, could cut down on the amount of water entering the city-county drainage system. That would improve water quality in Devil’s Ditch and Gills Creek, both of which lead to the Congaree River.

The measures he mentioned include:

• A cutting-edge drainage project in the Shandon neighborhood that involves installing underground storage bins under three streets – Amherst Avenue, Maple Street and Wilmot Avenue – to hold and slowly release rising rainwater;

• Installing permeable pavement that absorbs water for parking along select streets and at Rosewood Park;

• Raingardens at the park, Owens Field and the county-owned airport nearby.

The Owens Field Park trail project is the first of its kind for the county, which is collaborating with city government, Atkins and Epps said.

Brown’s job as an assistant botanist at DNR also places him at the University of South Carolina’s A.C. Moore Herbarium, which maintains a scientific collection of rare plant specimens.

But he’s spent enough time at Owens Field Park to surmise it isn’t home to rare plants.

“The thing I would think is most unusual is the number of native plants that have moved into this site,” he said. “There are chickasaw plums, a native plum that makes a perfectly edible fruit.

“There are some longleaf pine, which are a species of interest; the longleaf community seems to be threatened across the southeastern U.S.

“One of the things that’s really cool is a native honeysuckle. It has these bright crimson flowers on it. It’s much more pretty but it’s not quite as aggressive as the Japanese honeysuckle.”

Brown said one of the other goals of the county’s park improvements would be to “mediate” some of the non-native species and replace them with native plants.

“A lot of the local community has been aware of the more woodsy part of that park for a while,” he said.

“We want to preserve the natural integrity, because it is a gem in the community.”

Reach Hinshaw at (803) 771-8641.

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