Taxpayer-funded park benches meant to give resting hikers a lovely view of the river instead face a wall of fast-growing shrubs. A few hundred feet away, the river view appears, but the ground is crunchy. What these two spots have in common is they’ve been taken over by fast-growing non-native species that crowd out positive pollinator- friendly native plants. They’re not pleasant to look at and about all they contribute is erosion control.
The solution is not simply to pull out the invasives, though that is a first step. Friends of the Mississippi River (FMR) has engaged with many community-based groups in long-range programs of reclaiming and stabilizing riverbanks pulling by hand, no chemicals, then seeding or planting anew.
Sept. 1, a group of volunteers involved with Sheridan Neighborhood Organization (SNO) started working with FMR’s guidance on removing invasive plants at the rain garden serving Sheridan Memorial Park’s veterans’/peace memorial. Out came 19 huge bags of Canada thistle, Virginia creeper, bouncing bet, butter-and-eggs, absinthe wormwood, leafy spurge and more. Several identifiable trees were weed-wrenched out. In rain gardens, tree roots change the hydrology (the way water flows) and make the gardens less effective at their purpose, so need to come out.
FMR has an agreement with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB). It covers taking care of the rain garden and could be expanded up the river to where the benches sit. The Park Board paved a trail for bikes and pedestrians as part of installing the playground on the north end of their site but left the western edge down to the Mississippi River untouched; that’s the area FMR and SNO are looking at for a larger project.
A project of large scope would be done in phases over several years and could be done with an informal or formal plan, said Alex Roth, FMR’s conservation director. There are areas that should become prairie again, and other areas that are more “woodland” but can be restored to contain more diverse species.
The trail is open for everyone to use, so from the start, SNO’s staff person Nicole Pappas Stanoch said they’ll encourage anyone from any neighborhood to help at related events that they expect can be scheduled for consistent days and times each month or season. QR codes for signing up could be posted along the route as was done along James I. Rice Parkway to attract dozens of volunteers.
The overall plan is still germinating, though Roth has identified what could be a manageable next task area for later this fall or next spring.
The Northeaster will post and print announcements for invasive removal and seeding/planting events. Watch the Earth Watch feature and the Northeast Experience calendar pages for details. Sign-ups are capped at the number of workers estimated needed for the task. Tools, instructions and bags are provided.
Below: As the sun dropped in the western sky, Alex Roth from Friends of the Mississippi River took a water break. FMR colleague Sophie Downey gathered vines to be composted. The volunteers in the hollow were removing Canada thistle which had entirely taken over where cattails once grew. Considered a noxious weed, it had to be bagged in black plastic contractor bags. Below right, before releasing about 15 volunteers to their tasks, Roth showed samples of plants to remove. Virginia creeper is native, but strangles other plants so in this rain garden, it needs to be removed. Canada thistle is both perennial and self-seeding, so it takes over very quickly. From the September 1 work night, about half the material removed was thistle that had gone to seed. It’ll return from seed but can be pulled out in spring before flowering. A SNO volunteer with fists full of thistle. (Photos by Margo Ashmore)