By NATHAN GREGORY
In an effort to continue restoration in problem areas of McKee Park where bare soil gave way to erosion, Starkville Parks Director Matthew Rye is asking the community to continue bringing bagged leaves to use as mulch for the areas through the end of January.
Rye said since the project to restore the condition of the oak tree grove areas began more than two years ago, much progress has been made, and the areas where bare soil once was are now much healthier and continuing to improve due to community contributions.
“This is our third year in the program, and we’ve had increased participation from citizens each year,” he said. “We sought to target areas with erosion issues, and the leaves people have left have brought much nutrition to those areas. I want to thank everyone for their participation and let them know about the areas we’ve seen improvement in and let them know they can continue to bring in leaves until the end of the month.”
Rye said the amount of shade provided by the trees was so much it kept the areas of concern from receiving the proper amount of sunlight necessary for the soil to be healthy.
“The oak tree grove consisted of deep shade created by the trees and a ground plane composed of bare soil. The soil was eroding and sediment was being moved from the tree grove to the creek west of the site. The sediment eventually contributed to the increase in suspended solids in the creek which hampered light from moving through the water column, thereby affecting the growth of algae,” Rye said in a release. “The depth of erosion around the trees was 2 to 4 inches in depth ... Rainfall was compacting soil pores necessary for the transport of air, water and nutrients to the trees, and these conditions were causing stress ... The tops of the trees were dying back due to reduced nutrients, air and moisture availability.”
Rye said the use of leaves and pine straw as mulch over time has helped make the area much more park-like in appearance.
“An inch of dark, crumbly organic matter now exists beneath the trees, which provides nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium (among other micronutrients) ... Air and water are able to move into the soil now,” Rye said. “While protecting the soil from raindrop compaction, the mulch also acts as a sponge, soaking up precipitation and slowly releasing it to plant roots. Organic matter added to the soil will last three years before it is completely used up by microbes converting it to plant nutrients.”
Rye said Starkville Parks Commissioner Pete Melby was a key contributor toward helping restore the areas to the condition they are now in.
“(Melby) brought this to the forefront three years ago and helped bring new ideas for implementing the project,” Rye said. “His students at the time were instrumental in making outlines of the areas. We are very appreciative of him and his input.”
Rye said he also wanted to acknowledge the volunteer group and its cleaning projects to George Evans Park in observance of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.
“We want to thank the volunteers for helping clean up and doing projects for us,” he said. “We appreciate them taking their time and effort to come and help us.”
Residents can drop off their bagged leaves at the location in front of McKee Park and at the back of the park near the large pavilion. Both areas will have a white portable fence with signs.
Rye said Starkville Parks and Recreation will pick up the project again this fall.