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Chapel Hill Public Library to hold prescribed burn to combat invasive species

CHPL Explore More Post Controlled Burn (1) (1).jpg
The last controlled burn at the Chapel Hill Public Library was in 2018. Photo courtesy of Hannah Olson/Town of Chapel Hill.

In the coming weeks, the Chapel Hill Public Library will hold a prescribed burn to combat invasive plant species in Pritchard Park, which is located at the library's site.

The prescribed burn is part of a series of programs to educate the community on the park's ecosystem and biodiversity. It is part of CHPL's "Explore More at Pritchard Park" initiative.

Justin Bennett, a county ranger from the North Carolina Forest Service, said a prescribed burn is a natural way of clearing out unwanted plants with minimal environmental harm.

Bennett and his colleagues are organizing the burn with the intention of removing invasive plant species and unwanted tree growth on the hillside that faces the library, he said.

“We were originally going to try to burn this area a few years ago,” Bennett said. “When the pandemic happened, we really didn’t want to put any smoke in the air while people were dealing with respiratory issues, so we postponed it for a while.”

According to an announcement from the Town of Chapel Hill, the last time the library held a controlled burn was in 2018.

The exact date and time of the upcoming controlled burn will likely be determined the prior evening based on weather conditions, Hannah Olson, marketing and communications coordinator for the library, said.

The controlled burn will happen on a weekday by March 23.

Bennett said that last Saturday, he led members of the public around the area that is going to be burned. The ecology walk was one event of a series this spring intended to help community members understand the process and reasoning behind prescribed burns.

“We’re trying to keep everything as natural as possible,” he said. “We’re kind of mimicking what nature would do with a lightning strike.”

The third event in CHPL's series of fire education events will be an "After the Burn" exploratory walk on April 2 at 11 a.m.

When the Town originally purchased the Pritchard Park property, the Pritchard family sold it with the stipulation that it would be only used for a library or a park, CHPL Assistant Director Meeghan Rosen said.

“It’s really given us an opportunity to think about that parkland as an asset, and that dovetails with broad library missions in general," Rosen said.

Pritchard Park has become home to many invasive species, including Japanese stiltgrass and English ivy. Rosen said the prescribed burn will create a space for native plants to grow.

“Many of (the native plants) are able to respond to fire positively, and in fact, some of them thrive when exposed to fire,” she said. “Some plants actually won’t reseed unless they’re exposed to the high heat of fire.”

Bennett said the aftermath of the burn is unlikely to harm the wildlife at the park and could even expose seeds, roots and other potential food sources for the animals.

Michelle Daschner, deputy coordinator of Chapel Hill Emergency Management, said in an email that residents can choose to receive text updates on the burn.

“Weather conditions determine whether a burn can safely take place, so there will be short notice before the burn,” she said in an email. “The text alert system helps quickly spread the word.”

To opt in to the updates, text “CHLIBRARY” to 888777.


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