Twenty acres at Oak Openings Preserve are under the careful eye of a long-time volunteer.
Randy Haar and his wife Chris adopted a portion of the park in 2017 in partnership with the Toledo Metroparks. They mostly remove invasive plants from the rare habitat and conduct rare plant monitoring.
The Haars will spend hours at the preserve, identifying wildflowers and plants and occasionally coming across one that needs more investigation.
The Toledo Metroparks nominated Randy Haar for a Daily Point of Light award. He was presented with the honor earlier this year.
Points of Light awards were founded by former President George H. W. Bush. In his 1989 inaugural address, he shared his vision of “a thousand points of light” with individuals and organizations across the nation helping others through service. He created the award in 1990.
The program’s vision is to define a new kind of volunteerism, one that calls on people to give their time, talents, voice and resources in service to build a brighter future for all.
“There is no better day for us, we go out and find a flower, we pull out our books there and identify it,” Randy Haar said about his treks to Oak Openings.
The couple have stacks of plant identification books at their Bowling Green home and once spent well over an hour pouring over pictures to identify a small brown flower that was spotted in the preserve.
Sometimes they go back out with calipers to measure the petals.
“It’s like the greatest detective story in the world.”
The couple have traveled to the Smoky Mountain and Rocky Mountain national parks. They do not leave home without a plant identification book.
He said while other travelers are looking up at birds, he is looking down at the plant life.
Haar said it must have been a slow year for volunteers for him to win the award.
“As I started reading it, there are super, amazing people. I just take care of some plants.”
The couple also won the Green Ribbon Initiative Volunteer of the Year award through the Metroparks.
“I’m just going claim it was a slow year for volunteers,” he said with a chuckle.
However, a little bit of acknowledgment goes a long way to keeping happy, he added.
Haar has been volunteering with the Metroparks for nine years. He spends much of his time at Oak Openings and leads six or seven wildflower walks at the preserve in the spring.
After leading those walks for seven years, they were put on hold this spring due to the coronavirus.
Haar also is an Ohio Certified Volunteer Naturalist after finishing the required 40 hours of coursework and 40 volunteer hours.
It’s an Ohio State University Extension program with a focus on the plant modular.
“I don’t know how we picked it, but we just started doing all plants,” he said about himself and his wife.
“It is almost exactly like being a Master Gardener except is more native,” Haar said, adding that his wife is a Master Gardener.
He also gives time to the Wood County and Bowling Green park systems as well as the Black Swamp Conservancy and the Nature Conservancy of Ohio.
Harr said the couple are mostly stewards, digging up invasive plants, cutting off heads of teasel and planting.
This spring there was a need at Wintergarden Park with the lack of college-age volunteers. A neighbor walked by his house and said help was needed pulling garlic mustard. He spent 20-30 hours on the task.
“This community that we are in, most people sort of know each other.”
He gets notices on the need for volunteers. Earlier this month, he was in Marblehead helping at the Lakeside Daisy State Nature Preserve.
“All these organizations will have workdays,” Haar said. “It depends on what lines up since I’m still working.”
Haar is an instructor of applied engineering and industrial technologies at Owens Community College. He teaches robotics, alternative energy, material science and OSHA safety.
He has held the position for 10 years and is two years away from retiring.
Harr said with having summers off, that is when he does most of his volunteer work.
The most volunteer hours he has completed in a year is 320, he said.
He said that he gets free range over his adopted 20 acres at Oak Openings.
“I’m like off trail all the time and I’m around all these rare and amazing plants all the time. You start seeing the difference once you learn about it. … We as humans have screwed up nature in numerable ways,” such as bringing in invasive plants and changing animal habitats.
“We have responsibility for fixing our messes,” he stated.
He pointed out that Oak Openings is a globally rare habitat.
Located between Whitehouse and Swanton, the preserve encompasses about 5,000 acres and has a distinct ecosystem. It ranges from oak savannas to wetlands to vegetated dunes and is home to both prickly-pear cactus in its sand dunes to orchids in the wet swales.
“It is very, very rare so trying to protect that. …” Harr said, trailing off. “If we don’t take care of the world after we screw it up, it will come back on us sometime pretty heavily.”
It all starts with plants, he continued, and that is a good place to spend time and effort.
When it comes to volunteering in the parks system, “just do it,” Haar said.
“There’s a lot for people to do so everybody should get involved … go out one day a year or go out 20 days a year. It doesn’t matter, you’ll learn something every time you go out.”