Earth Day 2009: Non-Native Plant Removal with the Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers

I woke up Saturday morning eager to head out to the Wissahickon Gorge, despite the projected sweltering temperatures. And morning came especially early, greeting me with the change to bike the 9 miles to our Earth Day event with 25 other TerraMar Adventures members and the Wissahickon Restoration Volunteers.

We spent the morning learning about, and removing, various types of invasive plant species in the Kitchen's Lane area of the park, including bamboo. An entire creek bed was covered in bamboo, likely from one person disposing of a decorative plant they bought. The concept of invasive plant species has always thrown me for a bit of a loop - if the effect of these plants is so widespread, how could 25 of us clearing 15 square feet of a small hillside make a difference?

Our leader from the WRV, Susannah, explained that the area we cleared would be used for planting native species. And even though we only cleared a small hillside, the plants we removed would never seed, never reproduce. Many of the plants we removed thrive in disturbed environments, environments that have been disturbed as a result of human (anthropogenic) activity. It's the least we can to do try to restore the ecosystem. And we get to save species like the Jeck-in-the-Pulpit (see pretty picture).

After three hours of digging, lopping, chopping and hacking, I was sweaty, tired, sunburned, and had made a few new friends. Lucky for me, Dan agreed to put my mountain bike in the car, then let me bike around in the woods while he drove home. I left for home on my bike, Dan in the car, and made it home just before he did, in 45 minutes. Between traffic and finding a parking spot,
biking the 9 miles was actually faster. Pedal power!

Reading Grist's "Screw Earth Day" tweets and news stories definitely hit home - thinking about how our actions affect the planet should be part of our daily routines, not reserved for a single day of the year. It's true, and I got angry just thinking about how wasteful I am, how wasteful we all are. But for the vast majority of people who don't think this way, the day helps raise awareness, and brings people together over a common cause, a good cause. I can't wait to see the native plants in the Wissahickon the next time I'm there.