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Earth Notes

Earth Notes - Parks

Buffalo Park on McMillan Mesa in Flagstaff

Flagstaff, AZ – Earthnotes: Parks

Look closely at a detailed map of a southwestern forest, and you'll see numerous places labeled as "parks" or "prairies." They're openings in the woods, from the size of a baseball field to miles in extent, where the soil is generally too wet or too dry to support trees.

But these meadows are full of life. Pronghorn and elk graze in them; gray foxes, hawks, and coyotes hunt. Prairie dogs build large underground towns, and after wet winters small pools come alive with the calls of frogs, while meadowlarks sing in the grasses.

People have also long enjoyed these open parks. Thanks to their game animals and rich plant life, native Americans hunted and gathered in them. 19th- and 20th-century settlers tried their hand at farming. Modern developers often find parks easy places to build because there are no trees, and in many cases deep soil rather than the all-too-common rocks that can make construction expensive.

As a result, many parks have grown crowded with houses, and others are threatened by a wave of imported weeds that crowd out native plants. That makes it harder for pronghorn and prairie dogs to find suitable open space.

Parks are a natural for recreation. Check out the watchable wildlife trail in Kendrick Park on the west side of the San Francisco Peaks, or the urban trail that winds around McMillan Mesa in Flagstaff. No, they're not great places for trees, but our parks sure are worth enjoying, and protecting, for wildlife and for people.

-Larry Stevens