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

Each spring, Highland Park’s central meadows burst into purple blooms against a lush green backdrop, but in winter it’s hard to see the endangered plants lurking beneath the mud.

Every fall, when things get muddy and less visible, Oak Bay closes fields to walking, potentially damaging an endangered ecosystem.

Wylie Thomas, a conservation biologist who has managed multiple projects at the 75-acre park, said Central Meadows, known for its iconic Gary Oaks and rocky outcrops, has the largest variety of flowering plants , is home to 17 endangered plant species. Home to Gary Oak Meadows and Woodlands, Ocean Meadows and Spring Ponds.

Another key to restoring and maintaining sensitive ecosystems is the work volunteers have done over the decades. Among other things, Thomas is responsible for the federal government’s habitat management program, and Friends of Highland Parks provides thousands of hours of volunteer service each year.

This month, every Sunday from 1-3 p.m., volunteers from Friends of Highland Parks have planted native species while removing invasive plants. Those wishing to help with planting can meet at the Dorset Entrance near Beach Avenue to help bring plants. Tools, gloves and refreshments are provided.

Thomas said this is the sixth consecutive winter closure for Central Meadows, and traffic restrictions have significantly reduced damage to soil and native plants, allowing more meadow flowers to reach maturity and set seeds.

Central Meadows reopens to walkers on April 30, around the time the flowers are in bloom. Sidewalks will begin to dry out, and park users will no longer access trails that are actively growing grass to avoid flooding.

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Environment Oak Bay

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