Orchard Hills Park was formerly a 237-acre golf course in Chester Township, which during the process of developing golf fairways, modified the natural character of the property as well as several headwater streams. Furthermore, modifications to the site associated with golf course management, including small-scale grading, pest and vegetation control, and irrigation practices increased the amount of pollution reaching the local streams. Geauga Park District purchased the land in 2008 and began to take action to return the property to its natural state and maintain as a public park. Efforts included stream restoration, wetland restoration and native tree plantings. A good portion of the park has been renaturalized, but funding from the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative (GLRI) though the USDA Forest Service (USFS) in 2019 to plant more trees at the park helped continue Geauga Park District’s reforestation goals.

Chagrin River Watershed Partners (CRWP) assisted Geauga Park District in successfully applying for $72,000 of funding from USFS GLRI for this reforestation project in order to primarily protect the headwater streams flowing to Caves Creek. Funding supported the planting of 2,473 native trees and shrubs over a 10-acre area at Orchard Hills Park. Primarily 1 to 3-inch caliper native trees and 1 to 3-gallon containerized trees and shrubs were planted, as well as installation of a one-acre deer exclosure and deer protection on other plants. Geauga Park District contracted with Davey Resource Group to install the trees and deer protection. The planting was completed in the fall of 2019.

Trees provide wildlife habitat while reducing the flow of stormwater and associated soil erosion, sedimentation, and nutrient loading. This project will reduce over 46,072 gallons of stormwater runoff each year. The planting plan for the project area emphasizes the use of native tree and shrub species in order to enhance the riparian habitat, complement the existing vegetation and forest habitat, and improve overall function. Native plants attract a wide range of butterflies, birds, and other wildlife by supplying diverse habitats and shelter for mammals, and sources of food. Additionally, many native plants, particularly long-living trees like oaks and maples, help fight climate change by successfully storing the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide

Forested habitats and riparian corridors are also important for clean water. Trees help stabilize streambanks and prevent pollution from entering waterways, and riparian canopies shade streams and keep them cool for aquatic species, like stream dwelling salamanders, fish, and aquatic insects. The Orchard Hills property includes Class III primary headwater habitat streams and Category III wetland habitat and state listed species including the Dark-eyed junco, Great Lakes Crayfish, Brown Creeper, and Canada Warbler. This reforestation project will protect these species at Orchard Hills Park, and its high-quality headwater streams and wetland habitat, while also helping to create a more connected landscape of forest that will enhance resiliency in the face of a changing climate.

This site will be used to inform residents and park-goers on the importance of maintaining effective native riparian canopy to preserve and restore high-quality streams. This project will serve as a highly visible and publicly accessible learning opportunity and can be viewed from the park’s McIntosh Trail, a 1.6-mile gravel trail that is great for hiking, walking, running and cross-country skiing. Click here for fact sheet

Caves Creek Reforestation Planting: Red Oak (Quercus rubra)