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May 23, 2018

Leave the Jones Avenue forest alone

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Leave the Jones Avenue forest alone

Volunteers to maintain Lancaster County park trail with no weed-killers or pesticides

They don’t want chemical weedkillers to be used in parks where kids and adults frolic, so a new group of local volunteers is taking matters into their own hands.

With hoes, saws, gloves and elbow grease, they are going to naturally maintain a section of trail in Lancaster County Central Park, keeping it free of noxious and invasive plants such as poison ivy and garlic mustard.

Poison-Free Public Spaces Lancaster is the group behind the chemical-free effort, which it hopes is adopted by other public parks in Lancaster County.

“This is a test plot, to see how wildlands can become poison-free,” said Wilson Alvarez, a leader of the group, of the Central Park trail section.

The group grew out of a recent visit Alvarez and his family made to their favorite part of the county’s Central Park, a 544-acre plot dotted with pavilions and looped by trails that is located south of Lancaster.

The family likes to frequent the area near Pavilion 21 and walk the Mill Creek Trail, where Alvarez said there are some rare and beautiful plants such as dwarf ginseng and putty root.

“The day before I had gone for a run and saw plants that looked really yellow along the trail,” Alvarez said. “The next day, I said, ‘Let’s go take a walk,’ and everything was completely dead.”

Alvarez said he and his wife, Natasha, are both experienced landscapers. They knew that someone had used a chemical weedkiller on the trail’s margins.

Upset, Alvarez called Paul Weiss, county parks head, to ask him about it.

Weiss acknowledged that the area along the trail had been sprayed, by someone certified to do so, who used state-approved chemicals.

County parks employees do use chemicals to control invasive plants, such as Japanese honeysuckle and tree of heaven, and noxious plants, such as poison oak, poison ivy and stinging nettles, Weiss said.

The employees oversee 2,080 acres of land in nine parks. The county simply does not have the manpower to maintain all of that land naturally, by hand.

But Alvarez asked for the chance to try the natural approach, and Weiss agreed.

The Poison-Free group formed, launched a Facebook page and began to meet and organize, gathering at 6 p.m. Wednesdays, near Pavilion 21. It has about 25 active members.

Alvarez said he hopes to not only control the noxious plants along about a 2-mile stretch of the trail, but also to remove invasive plants, such as garlic mustard, that grow in the area.

He wants to be careful about how the plants are managed, not pulling them when they are going to seed, which can help them spread.

Instead, in the spring, he envisions a workshop where people could pull out and learn how to use garlic mustard, which he said is both delicious and nutritious.

He also envisions replacing noxious or invasive plants with better alternatives. The group is inventorying the plants and trees in the area, and will submit a list to the county parks department for approval of possible replacements.

Those plants will include wild ginger, spice bushes and other native plants or shrubs, Alvarez said. Because it is operating on a shoestring budget, the group may transplant replacements from other areas of the park or grow them from cuttings.

Alvarez praised the county parks staff for being willing to work with his group.

Weiss said, “It’s a very labor-intensive way of trying to control weeds of that nature. They want to demonstrate it can be done as easily as spraying. … We certainly are willing to give them a try.”

The Poison-Free group also plans to call officials for every park in the area, asking them about their policies on and use of herbicides.

The group will provide the parks with pamphlets and information that show how natural plant management is being done in other areas of the country, particularly the Northwest.

Poison-Free also is keeping records of the hours that its volunteers work, so other parks can see that it might be feasible to actually pay people to do the work.

“I just want to be able to educate the public,” Alvarez said. “Why are they using poisons? Do they have to? What are the alternatives to it? We are concerned about the long-term effects.”

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Volunteers to maintain Lancaster County park trail with no weed-killers or pesticides

Leaves of poisonous plants cluster in threes

I’d had it with the tree monster taking over my driveway. It loomed larger every day and threatened to eat me and my car every time we pulled in. As my personal rainforest grew thicker and more menacing, so did my resolve to hack it back … some day.

Some day when I wasn’t dressed for work, or late for spin class or a social plan, when I wasn’t too tired and it wasn’t too dark, I would cut the tree monster back.

That day came last week. But the tree got the last word.

After a night of heavy rain, I bolted out of bed when I heard the trash truck approaching. As I haul the recycle bins from garage to curb, I must plow through the tree monster, now rain-soaked and bowing lower than usual. I get drenched.

That’s it. Because who knows where the yard clippers are, I grab my rose clippers (yes, I know I have told you to use these only for flowers) and engage in hand-to-hand combat with the tree monster.



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Still in my PJ pants and a tank top, I hack away, creating a large pile of plant remains. As I whack back, I notice I’m cutting through branches and vines intertwined. Some vines have clusters of three leaves.

Then — remember, this is all before I’ve had my coffee — I recall some little rhyme about leaves of three let them be. What if it’s….Could it be…..Poison ivy?

Too late now. I stuff the last of the plant debris into the second large trash bag. Back inside, I search my phone for what to do if exposed to poison ivy or oak. As a precaution, I follow the instructions to the T: Immediately douse exposed area with rubbing alcohol, rinse with water, shower with soap.

Reactions, I read, usually show up 12 to 48 hours later.

Pretty sure I’ve overreacted, I forget all about it. Until … 30 hours later, bumps appear on my right inner arm and inside left elbow. The rash looks like measles, and soon blossoms into itchy blisters.

“I have leprosy,” I tell Katie McCoy Dubrow, a publicist for Garden Media Group, who said, the same thing happened to her last summer. She, too, got poison ivy for the first time, while clearing out some underbrush at her new home outside Philadelphia.

“You were lucky you acted fast,” she said. “I got it from head to toe.” This was a small comfort. She works in the garden industry and knows better.

“I thought I was immune,” said Dubrow. “Did I think some of the plants might be poison ivy? Yes. Did I worry about it? No.”

She had to see her doctor, who prescribed steroids.

I now had no room to complain about my two little rash patches, which wouldn’t cover a post card.

But to spare you, and me, in the future, I called R.J. Laverne, education manager for The Davey Tree Expert Company, in Kemp, Ohio, for some poison plant pointers.

“Summer is prime time for poisonous plants,” said Laverne. Just about every part of the country has at least one type of toxic plant. Here’s how gardeners can spot and handle them, and what to do if exposed:

•Know the enemy. Poison ivy, poison sumac and poison oak are all relatives, said Laverne. All exude the same oily substance called urushiol, which causes a rash, blisters and itching in most humans, though not all, who come in contact.

•What to look for. All are easy to spot, says Laverne. Poison ivy has three leaflets on short stalks. Leaf edges often have a notched edge. Poison ivy grows both as a ground cover or a climbing vine. You often find it along edges of woods or fence lines. It’s most common in the Southeast, the Midwest and as far north as Michigan. Poison oak grows in the Southeast and the West, but not much farther north than Kentucky. It’s a shrub, between one and three feet tall. It’s leaves also come in threes, but have deeper lobes so resemble red oak leaves. Sumac, the most toxic, is common in the East up to Canada. It grows as a shrub or small tree, with seven to 11 oval, deep green leaflets per stem.

•Wear a barrier. If you’re not sure whether these poisonous plants are in your yard, assume they are, and, when working outside, wear gloves, long-sleeves, long pants, a hat and closed shoes.

•If exposed, break out the alcohol. No, not to drink, to douse exposed areas. Hit exposed areas with rubbing alcohol fast, inside 30 minutes, if possible. Intervene before the oil binds with skin cells. Then rinse with clear water and shower (don’t bathe) using warm water and soap.

•Wash clothes and tools, too. Urushiol can stay on clothing, shoes, gloves and tools for years. Wash exposed clothing apart from other clothes. Hose off tools and shoes right away.

•Beware of dog. Though animals don’t react to poison plants like humans, Fido or Fifi can drag the oils into the house on their fur. If you pet them, you could get a reaction.

•Never burn. Don’t burn yard debris if you suspect any plants are toxic. Anyone who inhales the smoke could land in the hospital.

•Spray it away. To rid your yard of poison plants, spray the foliage with weed killer, such as Round-Up, and let the plants die, roots and all, said Laverne. (Don’t pull them out.) If you still want to remove the dead plant, wait until winter when the least amount of oil will be present.

•If you get a reaction. Try over-the-counter remedies such as Benadryl Calamine, or hydrocortisone ointments to relieve itching. (I liked Tri-Calm.) If that isn’t enough, see a doctor for something stronger. Then, said Laverne, who’s been in this boat dozens of times, “Grin and bear it for a week.”

Syndicated columnist and speaker Marni Jameson is the author of “House of Havoc” and “The House Always Wins” (Da Capo Press).

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Leaves of poisonous plants cluster in threes

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