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How “Maintained” Do We Want Our Parks?

In recent years the Buffalo Olmsted Parks Conservancy has been incorporating Maintained Meadow Areas (MMAs) into its park system. The idea behind maintained meadows is that instead of mowing an entire park over and over (which is not healthy for grass to begin with), small pockets of land are to be dedicated to meadows (something that Olmsted always envisioned for the parks).

Of course, over time people began to look at parks as manicured places with little vegetation other than freshly mowed grass. If you look at our city parks (not the Olmsted parks), most of them look very much the same. Giant stretches of grass that are relatively boring to view and not conducive to a variety of uses. Yes, they are good for throwing Frisbees and laying on beach towels, but if you closely examine the urban parks, they are relatively underused unless you’re talking about sports fields, running tracks, picnic shelters, etc.

What makes a park beautiful to people, and appealing to wildlife, is a mixture of maintained meadows and open lawn. Take Squaw Island for example. It’s not often that you find people sitting around and enjoying themselves on the wide open lawns. Instead you find the visitors (many refugees actually) sitting under trees or close to water features, or amongst the rocks and boulders by the river. These are the areas that are most appealing for people (and birds, butterflies, etc).

There’s an old dumping ground at Squaw Island that remains to this day (see photo below). You can tell where it is because of the huge mounds that look like natural hills. Over the years the hills have become natural meadows filled with flowers and plants and small shrubs and bushes. To me, it’s one of the most natural, breathtaking areas in the entire city. There are even trails (desire paths) to get around, created by people who have found the meadows to be a peaceful and spiritual place.


At one point in time, the rest of the dump was removed and taken to Tifft Farm, where it was covered so that nature would then take its course. Today that land is Tifft Nature Preserve – another of the city’s most incredible natural assets. It’s interesting to note that the most aesthetically pleasing natural assets in the city were/are dumping sites. That’s because the land is completely useless for anything other than Mother Nature to work her magic.

I’m not saying that all of our urban parks should be overrun with meadows. Rather I am pointing out that there is an opportunity to create diversified ecosystems within the park-scapes, where people can play games, pick flowers, bird watch, and enjoy the sights and sounds that were always intended to be a part of our daily life. Olmsted wanted to bring nature to the city, and I commend the Olmsted Conservancy for finally realizing that “nature” is not a manicured lawn. It’s woods and meadows, flowers and trees, birds and butterflies… areas that make us feel as if a part of nature, and the inherent ecosystems that would thrive if given the chance. It might be easier to just go out and mow everything down, but there is something that is missing when we take our walks through lifeless barren landscapes.


Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

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  • greenca

    Very well said.  The natural meadows add a lot to the parks; they make them much more interesting.  Now if only more of “The Meadow” of Delaware Park was actually a meadow, rather than an overly-manicured golf course.

  • bobmur

    Good post.  We need more thinking about all the parks in Buffalo, both present parks and future parks.

  • bflobflo

    Totally agree. Manicured grass never looks that great unless a large sum of money is thrown into it. Dirt patches and yellow grass are never any fun. I am all for a more interesting, natural enviroment and more resources for less numerous manicured grasses, but ones that are actually manicured to be beautiful and green.

  • OldFirstWard

    “The idea behind maintained meadows is that instead of mowing an entire park over and over (which is not healthy for grass to begin with)”
    Actually it is healthy. A maintained lawn is less susceptible to disease and will provide for a healthy and vibrant root system.  Tall, uncut grass will become a breeding ground for rodents, and can become overcome with invasive weeds.

  • YoungBuffalonian

    Doesn’t the meadow allow dor more rodents to thrive in the area. Across from Nichols, there is a meadow and whenever I go by it, I think about hiw many rats are in it. Same for the one that occurs in spring at Lincoln and Forest.

  • hockeyhips83

    OldFirstWard you’re right, because before anyone ever stepped foot on this continent, all the grass was infested with rodents, diseased and overcome by invasive weeds.  it’s completely healthy and natural to chop up natural plants. let’s chop down some trees. it’s healthy for them.

  • OldFirstWard

    If you can prove anything wrong in what I posted, please enlighten me with your facts.

  • BuffaloGals

    greenca “Golf course” is giving it too much credit.

  • DianaRenee

    Squaw Island is not intentionally left this way. It is just poorly maintained. The areas along trails, by benches and garbage cans sometimes go weeks in the summer without getting mowed or weed whacked, and then the 1 to 2 foot tall dead grass is just left in heaps everywhere.
    I do agree in structure “wild” areas or meadow, but not when it is used as an excuse to not maintain parks in poor areas.

  • DianaRenee

    hockeyhips83 OldFirstWard 
    This continent WASN’T COVERED WITH GRASS. Not the type you would see in a lawn anyway. Aside from praries (which again are a huge polyculture of different types of grasses and other plants), no place here would have had broad swaths of grass.
    People have purposely put monocultures of a certain type of grass (or a few basic grasses in a blend) in their lawns. Most of which is coated in chemical fertilizer and pesticide to keep the weeds, rodents and diseases out of it (chemicals that then go into the water table through absorption and runoff when it rains). Our social obsession with lawns is stupid on many levels.

  • DianaRenee

    Like to add too, natural meadows and prairies do not have the breed of grass covering most lawns and parks. You would need to reseed areas with a polyculture of plants native to the area and get rid of the typical “green grass,” which is not healthy if allowed to grow out.