Volunteers push back after rainy May lets weeds take over

Rhonda Chapman and Jamison Czarnecki remove incasive plant species from a trail at the Elkhart Environmental Center at a volunteer event on Saturday. 

ELKHART — Fighting invasive plant species could be a never ending battle, and yet staff and volunteers at the Elkhart Environment Center soldier on.

For a Saturday Trail Work Day, environmental center supervisor Jamison Czarnecki was joined by three volunteers, including Rhonda Chapman.

“It’s a good way to get up and be active and help the environment at the same time,” she said.

Chapman likes to take walks at the center, but decided this year that it was time to lend a hand as well.

“I told myself over the winter that I kind of wanted to get myself more involved in the community, and so I started following the environmental center and saw that they had trails to adopt and a couple of trail work days, so I just signed up,” she said.

The team worked from 10 a.m. to noon, removing invasive species such as honeysuckle and mugwort.

Honeysuckle is an Asian bush that is the first to leaf in spring and the last to leave in fall, according to Czarnecki, giving native competitors a hard time by taking all the sunlight.

Mugwort is a particularly dense weed, which takes three years to completely remove from a site, requiring removal of the root and spraying of herbicide.

It’s hard work, but also rewarding, according to Chapman.

“Just being able to give back to the community. And so many people like walking these trails, and we’d like to get the word out that these trails are available to walk,” she said. “People aren’t going want to walk the trails if they’re covered with weeds and not passable.”

Czarnecki said that weeds had been “taking over” lately, with the high amount of rain in May.

“It’s been a busy day. We’ve only been out here for about an hour and a half, and we’ve removed, I would say, at least 70 pounds of honeysuckle and then a large amount of weeds,” he said.

According to him, the best times to get rid of invasive species is early spring or late fall, especially for honeysuckle.

But “there’s never a bad time to tackle invasive species, because they’re always regenerating,” he said. “The management and maintenance of a 66 acre site takes every week. It’s the best time - right now is always the best time.”

Though three volunteers were fewer than Czarnecki had hoped for, having any help for the two-person staff makes a big difference, he said.

“Having any amount of volunteers really helps us compound our own work,” he said. “Four of us can get more done in two hours than I could in six hours by myself, so we rely on volunteers heavily and we deeply appreciate them.”

He said the environmental center will continue its trail maintenance days throughout the summer to keep pushing out invasive species.

“We see people come and walk these trails on a daily basis, and they don’t understand how many volunteers spend their hours kind of keeping this place beautified and the trails maintained,” he said.

Follow Rasmus S. Jorgensen on Twitter @ReadRasmus

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