February 21, 2015 – Greenbelt Nature Center

February’s Workshop proposed to be even less promising than January’s. The previous four weeks had been much colder than in recent years and in that frigid period what snow had fallen had little opportunity to melt. Saturday day broke cold and a bit gloomy and was likely to discourage additional volunteers coming out; moreover,  by some quirk of memory I had the idea that Dom would be back with us and that Elaine would be away,  therefore it was likely that there would at most be three of us. This Workshop had us scheduled to remove what we could of alien Devil’s Walking Stick seedlings and saplings from the small infested triangle between the two arms of the Department of Parks’ restoration site adjacent to Rockland Avenue.

I was wrong; that dingy day saw five of us ready to brave the snow and do what we could. The trails were icy and there were several inches of snow on the ground. Moreover the ground was hard. Three weeks of sub-freezing weather had hardened the surface in spite of an insulating blanket of snow, and that, I thought, would probably make yanking things out of the ground difficult. Lugging ponderous Weed Wrenches to the restoration site would have been arduous and a bit hazardous where we would have to negotiate eroded portions of the Red Trail. Weighing all up, Dom and I decided that it would be better to cut vines along the flat portion of the Nature Trail close to where it intersected the Blue, so on the way to the Nature Center we stopped at High Rock to gather loppers, gloves and pruners.

There we got our first indication that indeed, the weather wasn’t cooperating. When we tried to open the door of the storage shed we discovered that it hadn’t been opened recently and that several inches of icy snow prevented it from swinging. This snow and ice wasn’t stuff that you could just brush away; it was thick and hard. There were no suitable tools in the car (of course they were plenty of suitable tools in the shed that we couldn’t get into), so we went to the administration building and garage to see if we could find something that might serve. Nobody home and all locked up… We poked around and discovered the handleless head of a discarded broken shovel and as it was the only “tool” available took it back to the shed. It wasn’t a very effective implement, but five minutes of jabbing, scraping and prying provided enough room to swing the door open just enough to slip inside and fetch our tools.

At the Nature Center we crossed the bridge and followed the trail, cutting vines along the way. Dom, Chuck, Brian and Elaine took loppers and went ahead toward the trail intersection where we knew there were many large uncut vines. I lagged behind because I was determined to root out some Araila saplings we encountered in order to try out a new tool. Well, sort of a new tool…

In the past we had several workshops whose object was to remove small, new infestations of the alien Devil’s Walking Stick before they got out of hand. The best way for us to handle these plants was to yank them out of the ground with a lever called a Weed Wrench. Somewhat more than a year ago the manufacturer ceased production of this tool, and because no more were available the Parks Department would no longer loan us any of their Wrenches. Since we did not have many of our own it was impractical to schedule a workshop targeting these plants. Last year we purchased a competing device made in Canada called a Puller Bear, which worked on the same principle. After trying it out, it was my opinion was that although usable, it was a somewhat lighter duty tool more suitable for removing stuff like Multi-flora Rose. Recently I discovered that a company in the US had begun marketing a slightly improved Weed Wrench clone called The Uprooter, and Protectors promptly purchased one to try out. Long story short, it looks just like a Weed Wrench, colored white not orange, and it works just fine. Maybe now Parks will allow some of their Wrenches to come out and play with us.

Although I had to jam the tool down through the snow to get close to the base of the Aralia saplings, I was able to yank out a good number. In a few places hard and rocky ground won out and I had to leave those plants in place, and in others a few roots broke off in the hard soil. These roots may sprout again in the Spring and we’ll have to pull those out in future workshops.

After a short break – Clementines again, a nice break from bananas and naturally refrigerated! – we finished (no one was up for a walk afterwards this day) by cutting large Bittersweet vines that we saw further off the trail. There’s a lot to do on that section of the Nature Trail: more Oriental Bittersweet, Multi-flora Rose, Japanese Honeysuckle, Oriental Wisteria and even some Porcelain-berry. We’ll be back.

As I write this today we’ve had a series – thankfully! – of warm days. Spring is demonstrably on its way and the Greenbelt is threaded with rivulets of snow melt. Three weeks ago advance guards of Redwing Blackbirds were already “konk-a-reeing” and marking out territory in the marshes, and I’ve seen photos on the web of overwintering moths in New Jersey observed to have come out of their hibernating places (but I didn’t see these live, myself). Buds should be swelling and getting ready to break, and soon we can look forward to seeing Skunk Cabbage, Pussy-willow catkins, and Red-maples starting to flower. Spring Peepers sounding at the edges of vernal pools too! Spring just can’t get here any sooner.