Orange County

Controlled burn to prompt Chapel Hill Library lessons in conservation, science, math

This 2013 file photo shows the front exterior and traffic circle of the Chapel Hill Public Library. The library is in Pritchard Park, which will undergo a controlled burn in the spring.
This 2013 file photo shows the front exterior and traffic circle of the Chapel Hill Public Library. The library is in Pritchard Park, which will undergo a controlled burn in the spring. hlynch@newsobserver.com

This spring, visitors to Chapel Hill Public Library will see a prescribed burn, or controlled burn, on the grassy sloped area above the library's circular drive. The library will use the burn as a jump-off to teach lessons in conservation, science, and math.

The library sits in the center of Pritchard Park, a 34-acre wooded area. The N.C. Forest Service and the Chapel Hill Fire Department will conduct the burn to help maintain the health of the Pritchard Park ecosystem. The burn will be an extension of Chapel Hill’s Explore More at Pritchard Park, which encourages visitors to explore the surrounding wooded area, said Assistant Library Director Meeghan Rosen.

The controlled fire will help cull invasive species of plants, and rejuvenate native grasses, according to a town press release. The burn also will help improve wildlife habitat and control insects.

The prescribed burn will occur sometime in February or March. Weather forecasting and site conditions will determine the date of the burn.

On Feb. 8, the library will offer a class related to the burn. Johnny Randall, director of conservation at the N.C. Botanical Garden, and Chris Hirni, N.C. Forest Ranger for Orange County, will present information about the role of fire in the environment. Hirni also will share details of the Pritchard Park burn plan and site and safety preparations. Chapel Hill Fire Department and Parks & Recreation Department personnel will be on hand to answer questions.

The controlled burn is part of several ongoing programs the library and town have implemented to encourage reisdents to explore the park, Rosen said. “We’re turning our lens every month to a slightly different topic, and this month’s topic is fire ecology,” Rosen said.

The library recently received federal funds to create a space to explore nature, Rosen said. Two months ago, town workers had to remove a large, diseased tree on Franklin Street. That tree was chopped up and moved to Pritchard Park to create more play space, she said.

The library, with the local Audubon Society, also has installed bird feeder stations and nesting locations. This year the library began lending backpacks with binoculars, magnifiers and a scavenger map to help families explore the park, Rosen said. A garden to encourage pollinators is in the near future, she added.

The Town of Chapel Hill will share updates and details about the burn in upcoming notices on social media and other platforms.

Cliff Bellamy: 919-419-6744, @CliffBellamy1

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