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Winter protocol closes part of Oak Bay park to mitigate plant damage

Central meadow in Uplands Park off-limits to walkers until April 30
Oak Bay closes the central meadow of Uplands Park each winter to protect the endangered ecosystem. (Photo by Wylie Thomas)

Each spring the central meadow in Uplands Park blooms purple on a lush green backdrop, but in the winter, it’s less clear to see the endangered plants that lurk beneath the muddy field.

Each fall when things are muddy and less visible, Oak Bay closes the field to foot traffic that can damage the endangered ecosystem.

Recognizable by its iconic Garry oak and rocky outcrop, the central meadow has the greatest diversity of flowering plants and is home to 17 endangered species of plant, according to Wylie Thomas, a conservation biologist who has managed several projects in the 75-acre park that is home to Garry oak meadows and woodlands, maritime meadows and vernal pools.

Another key to restoration and maintenance of the sensitive ecosystem is the work done by volunteers over several decades. Among other things, Thomas heads the federal government’s Habitat Stewardship Program and Friends of Uplands Park provides thousands of volunteer hours each year.

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This month, volunteers with the Friends of Uplands Park plant native species, alongside invasives removal, each Sunday from 1 to 3 p.m. Those looking to help plant can meet at the Dorset entrance near Beach Drive to help carry in the plants. Tools, gloves and refreshments are provided.

This is the sixth consecutive winter closure for the central meadow and limitations on traffic have resulted in a significant reduction in damage to soil and native plants, allowing more meadow flowers to reach maturity and set seed, Thomas said.

The central meadow reopens to walkers April 30, about when the flowers are in peak performance. Footpaths will have started to dry out and park users will no longer step into actively growing meadows to avoid flooded trails.

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