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Township recognized for natural feature protection, preservation

By: Mary Beth Almond | Rochester Post | Published October 28, 2015


OAKLAND TOWNSHIP — For over 40 years, Oakland Township has actively preserved and protected its natural areas, an action that most recently caught the attention of the Oakland County Trail, Water and Land Alliance.

Oakland Township has earned the Trail, Water and Land Alliance’s Oak Land Award in honor of the township’s dedication to preserving and protecting its woodlands, wetlands, slopes, streams and open spaces.

“We try to give the award to a community that has gone above and beyond with green infrastructure planning, promotion and preservation, and this year it went to Oakland Township,” said Kristen Wiltfang, senior planner with Oakland County Economic Development and Community Affairs. “They have had an excellent track record for many years with land preservation, natural features inventory, trail planning, and identification of those special spaces and places in the township with unique natural features.”

Mindy Milos-Dale, Oakland Township’s director of parks and recreation, said the township’s parks system started from a much different place than most other communities in Michigan — with the desire to create a park system where natural areas are the underpinning of the system, rather than active recreation.

She said the township’s parks system and the planning that has been done to preserve its natural resources started in the late 1960s. A group of concerned township residents — some of whom still serve on the Parks and Recreation Commission — were worried that the township’s natural resources would soon disappear if they were not protected. So they worked together to research and make changes to zoning and development so that it would be in tune with the natural features of the land.

“They used this background for not only planning for the type of use and the intensity of uses across our township, but they also used this philosophy to come up with the proposal for our parks system and the millage that supports it,” Milos-Dale explained.

The township also hired a consultant from the Cranbrook Institute of Science to walk the entire township on foot and write a detailed report with his analysis of the natural features and what areas he felt were worthy of preservation and incorporation into a parks system.

“He recommended that we have a variety of habitats across the township — between different wetlands, woodlands and grasslands … so you could have a great representation for our residents,” Milos-Dale said. “That’s how our parks system really got started.”

Officials said the township’s successful preservation efforts were powered by an engaged community that approved a millage for parks and recreation and for land preservation. Using the millage, state and federal grants, and private donations, officials said township acquisitions and initiatives have improved the green infrastructure by adding important inventory over the years.

The township has 17 parks — which range in size from 0.5 acres to over 200 acres, totaling more than 1,000 acres overall — and 14 natural areas totaling 560 acres — with assets including an oak-hickory forest, glacial lakes, a trout stream, a cranberry bog, swamps, prairies and fens. The township is also home to 5.3 miles of the Paint Creek Trail.

“We have been very fortunate,” Milos-Dale said. “We have a wonderful system of parks that preserved natural areas and have a lot of trail incorporated. It’s a great resource for our residents, who can get out there and enjoy them, and it’s a win-win because we are preserving the habitat for all the plants and animals.”

Milos-Dale said she has always been “terribly proud” to work for the township’s Parks and Recreation Commission, which she noted has done “exceedingly good work” over the years in setting aside the most important natural areas first.

“We weren’t just picking up any parcel — we were very strategic. We were trying to pick up ones that were worthy of preservation,” she said. “I am very proud to be associated with them.”

Milos-Dale also credited Oakland County’s Planning Department for the township’s successes in preservation.

“The Oakland County Planning Department supports good preservation efforts that plan for the preservation of our most important natural resources here in the county. There are many counties that don’t have the kind of support that we get from them, and I’d just like folks to know that. They are a big part of the reason that we — in our township, as well as other communities in the county — are so successful at what we do,” she said.