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April 25, 2018

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

Recent Weather Trends Making Poison Ivy Worse

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July 30, 2013

The wet summer is causing several weeds and vines to grow more quickly than normal, including poison ivy. And research suggests that climate change may be making the plants bigger and more toxic.

The Cogill family, from Charlottesville, was enjoying a nice walk on the Monticello Trail on Tuesday, when 9-year-old Ada saw some poison ivy and warned her brother.

“Sid was about to walk right through it,” Ada said. “So I pointed it out to him, ‘Sid there’s a patch of poison ivy that you’re about to walk through!'”

Ada’s had it before, so she knows why it is important to avoid.

“I hate being itchy like that,” Ada said. “And having to scratch it because it’s too itchy.”

Charlottesville’s trails planner, Chris Gensic, is noticing it more.

“It’s been a really good year for plants to grow,” Gensic said. “So we’re seeing the poison ivy growing a little faster than it normally does.”

At times, the poison ivy is right near the walking trail. Gensic pointed to several examples in Quarry Park and Riverview Park. Gensic says park officials focus on clearing it from trails and baseball fields, but they can’t get rid of all of it.

“There’s also whole areas where it could be in there and we’re not just going to chemical bomb the whole area,” Gensic said.

Scientists say climate change could be making it worse. A study from the National Academy of Sciences says poison ivy especially feasts on rising carbon dioxide, making it grow faster and more toxic.

“Best thing you can do is know what the plant is and avoid it,” Gensic said.

Ada’s 5-year-old brother, Sid, knows some rhymes that can help out with that.

“Leaves of three, let them be,” Sid said. “Hairy vine, no friend of mine.”

The plant is distinguished by its shiny leaves in a pattern of three, and a red, hairy vine that it uses to scale trees.

But it can also come in contact with humans through other ways, like pets.

“I definitely do see it this year a lot more,” said Sammy Swale, who runs Sammy’s Dogwalking Service in Charlottesville. He has to be careful that the pets don’t take the toxic poison ivy oils back to their owners.

“Dogs brushing up against it, playing in it, running in it, and just walking through it,” Swale said. “Then you put your hands and arms on it of course because the dog rubs up against you.”

Swale keeps the dogs away from trails to avoid coming into contact with poison ivy. He also protects himself by always wearing long pants.

“It’s very painful, and I don’t want it on my legs,” Swale said.

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Recent Weather Trends Making Poison Ivy Worse

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