Tag Archives: Forest Restoration Workshop

March 21, 2015 – Forest Restoration Workshop Report

Forest Restoration Workshop (223),  Mar. 21,  2015 Note its been awhile since I got any reports out,  so this is an old report compiled from notes…

A soft snow had fallen overnight; with little wind, so all around branches were mantled with a 3″ layer of fluffy, white snow. The view from picnic tables at Loosestrife swamp was magic, a tracery in high contrast black and white. Looking across the swamp we could see precisely the wind shadow created by the surrounding hills; up to a certain level branches were mounds of white, but above they were bare and stood out starkly. It was almost as if an artist had been chalking them from bottom to top and abruptly stopped part way up for lunch.

We had gotten a “heads-up” that the Cub Scouts would join us again, and so they did, but this time for the most part a different group of kids. During the usual confusion while everyone greeted and sorted themselves out we got organized by circulating the sign-up sheet and opening the tool shed to get out what tools and gloves we though we’d need. It was swiftly warming up and piled snow began flaking off the branches in huge chunks. I pulled off my hat and plunked our paperwork on the trunk of a nearby car just in time to get a load of snow down my neck and all over the sign-in sheets. For some reason the others thought this was amusing…

We passed out gloves and pruners to the kids and weed wrenches and large loppers to the adults. After the obligatory warning to carry the pruners point down or let a big guy or girl carry them, we set off along the trail to Pumphouse Pond beside the Moravian Cemetery fence. We planned to cut and pull whatever invasive vines and plants we found along the way, and I feared we wouldn’t have enough for everybody to do some work. As usual, I shouldn’t have worried.

It didn’t take long to encounter our first patch of Aralia sprouts, dozens upon dozens, all small. The melting snow and some rain the week before made the ground soft enough that most of the kids could uproot the smaller sprouts by hand. Many sprouts that could have been pulled were cut, I suppose just to use the tool. We didn’t have to go far to find larger plants that needed mechanical aid to uproot. Sometimes 2 or 3 of the scouts had to pull at a plant, and sometimes they called over of the adults with a weed wrench. Often they manipulated the wrenches by themselves and eventually produced several piles of thorny, tangled sticks which we left off the trail.

Had it been a little later in the year we could have harvested some of the Spring buds which I am told by foragers are quite good to eat. Almost everyone says they have to be new buds, however, thumb sized or so. (Should you search on the web, make sure that you are looking at recipes for the oriental plant, Aralia elata, and not our other Aralias – there are several very different native plants in the same genus. Most of the recipes seem to be for tempuras.) Walkingstick buds are a foragable food I’d like to try, but it seems I’m either too intent on rooting the plants out to think about collecting some, or I’m too late in the season for the delicate spring buds… Well, someday…

We continued to Pumphouse Pond where we took a break for cookies and oranges. A cursory look around indicated that we had pretty well cleared that spot of Araila, and that we could ignore it for the next few seasons until new shoots have sprouted. The temperarture was fast rising, and there was little snow left on the branches. The snow on the ground was wet and easily packed, so the scouts got busy rolling it up to build a snowman on the trail. It seemed appropriate to use cut Aralia for the arms, and some of the many fallen sweetgum seedballs for the eyes, etc. (Thanks, Brian, for the pic) To do anything else would have been anticlimactic, so we then gathered our stuff and went home.


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.

January 17, 2015 – High Rock Park

I anticipated January’s Restoration Workshop to be an ill-attended,  cold affair. It was deep winter – a time when volunteers are typically few,  Dom, one of our regulars was away, and early weather reports suggested the day was going to be clear, but very cold. “Probably only four of us,” I thought, so I was somewhat surprised to find a volunteer waiting in his car by the shed at Nevada Avenue. I asked him what he was waiting for, expecting the answer to be that he was waiting for one of the many Greenbelt sponsored weekend events to begin, and was even more surprised when he said he was waiting for a group of Cub Scouts that were coming to some kind of a restoration project! No-one else was around so that would have to be us!

And so they did come. Eventually there were 10 of us, Protectors, kids, and parents included. We passed out gloves and tools – clippers to the small people and loppers to the others – and set off toward this month’s site on the Blue Trail south of Seaview. There was a lot of youthful enthusiasm to be handled, so on the way Brian explained what the colored blazes on the trees meant, and had a few of the scouts take turns following the blazes to lead the way. I had a needless worry that the distance might be a little far, that boredom might set in, but there was plenty of energy to get us there.

There was one young girl among the boys, perhaps a sister but I didn’t ask, who was perceptive and quite comfortable in the woods. As it turned out, one of the parents was active in Leave No Trace, and the scout leaders had done a good job of passing that organization’s values to the kids. Tenants of Leave No Trace is to stick to the trails, do no damage and leave no debris in the woods. Follow this link if you want to learn more: https://lnt.org/about.

Our work area has been heavily disturbed and infested with a variety of twining, woody vines and other, non-native and un-wanted plants. We could only make a dent there, so we concentrated out efforts on vines immediately adjacent to the trail – of which there were decidedly no lack. This allowed us to work in from the trail side and avoid some of the briars; none-the-less the thorns did cause some unexpected grief. In several places, especially where there were Pin Oaks close to the trail with skirts of descending branches, Bittersweet had twined up and almost covered the entire tree. The only way to disencumber these “teepees” of twisted vines was to begin from side accessible from the trail.

The adults used the loppers and went after the really big stuff, and the kids were set to looking for small saplings and shrubs encumbered with Japanese Honeysuckle. We explained that the small plants were much more vulnerable to being strangled by the vines than the larger trees, but that we went after the big vines too because they would otherwise keep producing seeds and make more trouble in the future.

At the break Elaine distributed cookies and fruit – clementines this time – and afterwards the rinds were collected to be brought back and discarded at High Rock. I’m afraid I usually break one of the rules of Leave No Trace when we have bananas; these I usually pitch off the trail out of sight, explaining that the skins will be brown and almost invisible in a day and will return some elements, especially nitrogen and potassium, to the soil. Citrus is a different matter however; it is both slow to rot (some sources say citrus takes 50 times as long as bananas to decompose) and remains very visible, so I don’t leave those peels behind.

We ended this workshop a few at a time, leaving according to our individual schedules. I was pleased to note that everyone leaving early was familiar enough with the Greenbelt to need little or no direction to find the way back. The last of us followed one of our young leaders who did a pretty good job of following the blazes – in fact a very good job considering that we chose to come back by a slightly different route than we had taken coming in. He got us to where we could see the parking lot from an upper slope and then we were all home free.

We few remaining didn’t have a lot of time left, so after storing the tools and gloves we chose to make a quick loop to Walker Pond and back. This turned out to be a nice crisp, clear day to be in the woods, a day to enjoy… _ _ _ _ _