City Parks and Recreation Director Joel Dunn said the clearing work as part of the renovation of Battle Park is being done because a local expert advised a lot of invasive species of plant life at the park needed to be controlled.
Dunn told the City Council during a council work session on Monday the information from the expert, Nash County Forest Ranger Bill Lewis, was that much of that growth was starting to take over the park.
Dunn appeared before the council and the online viewing audience to provide an update about the progression of the overall renovation at the park, which started in January.
Dunn was referring to clearing the understory — that is, plant life other than the larger trees — as part of forestry management work at the park.
Additionally, Dunn said the forestry management work is being done because these invasive species are damaging from a line-of-sight perspective.
Dunn said that roughly a year ago during the public input for the renovation project, “A lot of feedback we got was, ‘We want to feel safe in the park. We want to be able to see where we’re going. We enjoy the scenery, we enjoy the forest, but we also want to have a clear line of sight.”
The municipal Parks and Recreation’s website has said that Battle Park, after years of heavy use, needed renovating.
Dunn said the typical process for clearing as part of forestry management is to have a controlled burn, but in this case that was not really doable because of the park’s proximity to U.S. 64 and because of almost-impossible conditions to be met.
He said another best management practice is doing forestry mulching. He said this involves taking down everything under a certain perimeter or certain diameter — say, four inches — with medium and large trees kept in place to protect the canopy of the park.
He also said forestry mulching provides a mulch bed that prevents invasive species from returning and also provides the soil with nutrients.
“It’s also a best management practice because you’re not disturbing the soil,” he said. “You don’t pull up roots. You don’t pull up stumps. You don’t really want to do that, especially in a floodplain — and Battle Park is almost completely in the floodplain.”
He said every time the river rises and washes out, one wants to make sure erosion is controlled.
Dunn told the council that he and his team, prior to engaging in the forestry management work, sought guidance from Lewis, who has more than 40 years of experience in forestry management. Dunn said Lewis, after doing an extensive study of Battle Park, advised there were a lot of invasive species at the park in need of control.
The renovation project is being aided by grants of at least $650,000.
Dunn on Monday received comments and questions from the council members.
Councilwoman Chris Miller, who participates in council meetings via the internet, was quick to state that one can count her among those dismayed with “the damage that has been done there” as a result of the clearing work.
Miller wanted to know where the new young trees are going to come from if one has taken out everything smaller than four inches in diameter.
Dunn said he believes significant numbers of medium-sized trees have been left in place to continue providing that canopy at the park.
Dunn also said that more than $20,000 is in the budget to plant 6-inch caliber oak trees in areas of the park as part of a plan to convert parking lots in disrepair to green space.
Dunn also emphasized that given the park’s proximity to the river, the City of Rocky Mount has to get approval for work at the park from a number of agencies.
He said they included the state Department of Environmental Quality, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the state Historic Preservation Office, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state Wildlife Resources Commission.
He also said he and his team worked with experts at N.C. State University.
Miller said “noted forestry management” is a term she is quite familiar with in connection with family timberland in Georgia.
Miller said when she hears the term, “I think of managing it so that you get trees large enough to cut and produce income.”
Miller asked, “What happens to small dogwoods and redbud and things like that (which) make an area very beautiful?”
Dunn said he believes one will see that the renovation plans for Battle Park will allow native species to regrow.
Among other updates to the council on Monday, Dunn said the plans include renovating the park’s asphalt surface trail.
Dunn also said the plans include creating a natural surface 5-kilometer trail for cross-country running and mountain biking.
He also said the park’s boat ramp will be renovated in a manner similar to the work done on the ramp downriver at Sunset Park.
Councilman Reuben Blackwell expressed appreciation to Dunn for doing his homework and research and working in a manner that deals with the invasive species.
“And I know that when you’re dealing with any type of wildlife management, you do have to ensure that we have goals and objectives of preservation of native species,” Blackwell said.
Blackwell at the same time made clear there was a lot of stuff at the park that was not native.
“It was just a hiding ground for other things,” Blackwell said with a slight laugh. “And it sort of works against what the whole goal of that park was to do, I think. So hopefully, we’ll have a great project.”
Councilman Andre Knight wanted to know how the media missed that the City of Rocky Mount had state and federal guidance in doing this work.
“It seems as if it was another way to give Rocky Mount a black eye when we were doing something to benefit all of our citizens and improve Battle Park,” Knight said.
Knight told Dunn, “So that’s quite interesting to me, but it seems like you did your research. You met with several groups in reference to what we had planned to do before you had done it. So I want to thank you for that.”
Knight was referring to a story the Telegram published in the newspaper’s combined March 7-8 edition that led with criticism from Thomas Stutz, who is the chairman of Friends of Battle Park.
The organization is a nonprofit group that seeks to preserve the ecological diversity of the park.
Stutz on March 5 made clear to the newspaper he believes what happened was an extreme clearing that is devastating to plant and animal life at the park.
The Telegram subsequently emailed a city spokesman informing him of strong feelings circulating about the forestry management work, particularly among Friends of Battle Park.
The Telegram in that email to the spokesman said, “Please advise if the City of Rocky Mount would like to comment.”
The spokesman acknowledged receiving that email but there was no further response.
The spokesman on March 4 issued a news release updating the renovation of the park. The Telegram, as a matter of fairness, attached that news release to the online version of the March 7-8 story.