In the coming weeks, Chapel Hill Public Library will be holding a prescribed burn to control invasive plant species in Pritchard Park, located on the library grounds.
The prescribed burn is part of a series of programs aimed at educating the community about the park’s ecosystem and biodiversity. It is part of the CHPL’s “Explore More at Pritchard Park” initiative.
Justin Bennett, a county ranger with the North Carolina Forest Service, said a prescribed burn is a natural way to eliminate unwanted plants with minimal environmental damage.
Bennett and his colleagues are organizing the burn in an effort to eliminate invasive plant species and unwanted tree growth on the hill facing the library, he said.
“We were originally going to try to burn this area a few years ago,” Bennett said. “When the pandemic happened, we really didn’t want to put smoke in the air while people were having respiratory problems, so we postponed it for a while.”
According to an announcement from the town of Chapel Hill, the last time the library held a controlled burn was in 2018.
The exact date and time of the next controlled burn will likely be determined the night before depending on weather conditions, said Hannah Olson, marketing and communications coordinator for the library.
The controlled burn will take place on a weekday by March 23.
Bennett said last Saturday he led members of the public around the area that was going to be burned. The eco-walk was one of a series of events this spring aimed at helping community members understand the process and reasoning behind prescribed burns.
“We try to keep everything as natural as possible,” he said. “We kind of mimic what nature would do with a thunderbolt.”
The third event in CHPL’s series of fire education activities will be an “After the Burn” Exploration Walk on April 2 at 11 a.m.
When the city originally purchased the Pritchard Park property, the Pritchard family sold it with the stipulation that it would only be used for a library or park, said CHPL deputy director Meeghan Rosen.
“It really gave us the opportunity to look at this park as an asset, and it fits with the broad missions of the library in general,” Rosen said.
Pritchard Park has become home to many invasive species, including the Japanese stilt and English ivy. Rosen said prescribed burning will create space for native plants to grow.
“A lot of (native plants) are able to respond positively to fire, and in fact some of them thrive when exposed to fire,” she said. “Some plants will not re-seed unless exposed to the high heat of fire.”
Bennett said the aftermath of the burn is unlikely to harm wildlife in the park and may even expose seeds, roots and other potential food sources for the animals.
Michelle Daschner, assistant coordinator for Chapel Hill Emergency Management, said in an email that residents can choose to receive text updates on the burn.
“Weather conditions determine whether a burn can safely take place, so there will be short notice before the burn occurs,” she said in an email. “The SMS alert system gets the word out quickly.”
To sign up for updates, send “LIBRARY” at 888777.
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