Fred Seitz, 60, of Hyattsville pushed his spading fork into the ground as deep as he could on Dec. 6 to dig up the roots of a wineberry plant, one of a crop of non-native invasive plants that have spread across a 15-acre area on the west side of Magruder Park in Hyattsville.
Shouting encouragement was Marc Imlay, non-native invasive plant control coordinator with the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission. As part of his job with the planning commission, Imlay has waged a war on the invasive plants since 2006, organizing hundreds of volunteers in removal efforts at the M-NCPPC’s Magruder Park, Little Paint Branch Park in Beltsville and Cherry Hill Park in College Park, which each contain species such as English ivy, bamboo and bush honeysuckle, a shrub that can grow up to 15 feet tall.
The plants are a problem because they are foreign and have no natural predators, allowing them to spread quickly and freely, overtaking natural vegetation and disturbing insect and animal life, Imlay said.
“Nothing else can grow there,” he said.
Removal efforts are showing progress, Imlay said. He estimates that visibility has improved by 80 percent on a 10-acre portion on the east side of Magruder Park surrounding Trumbule Trail, where he and volunteers have worked to remove invasive species. The trail was covered in mostly English ivy and also contained some bamboo, which has mostly been removed, he said.
“Now you can enjoy nature,” Imlay said. “You can enjoy walking on the trail. It is not just a little narrow thing.”
Henry Aistis, 17, of Hyattsville has worked with Imlay for several years helping to get rid of the invasive plants at Magruder Park. Aistis, a senior at DeMatha Catholic High School, earned his Eagle Scout badge for leading a troop of Scouts this summer to cut down bamboo and remove English ivy on the east side of the park.
“I had a good time, and the other guys in my troop had a good time,” he said. “When you are able to chop down bamboo and uproot English ivy, it creates a lot of satisfaction that you are actually working.”
Seitz said he participates because he is concerned about park wildlife.
“It is also therapeutic,” he said. “You get a little bit of exercise, and there is not someone looking over my shoulder.”
Imlay speculates that many of the non-native invasive plants were likely brought here years ago from other countries and spread accidentally on boots or were planted by nonexperts.
He said he expects that the east side of Magruder will be clear of invasive species by 2014. In the meantime, volunteers will focus more attention on the west side of the park.
Aistis said many people do not understand how the plants can hurt the natural environment.
“If you go to Disneyland, you expect to see all the Disney characters, not Nickelodeon characters,” he said. “Invasive species are sort of the same way. They are nice to look at, but at the same they are not supposed to be there.”