Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Some trail users want poison ivy removed

Park group says native plant is hard to get rid of

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When Rachel Caspi went for a run over Father’s Day weekend, she left her house on Avamere Street and took off down the hiker-biker trail along Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park.

By the time she came back, she had a case of poison ivy so bad she needed antibiotics to treat it.

Caspi, of Bethesda, said the trail is lined with poison ivy, and something needs to be done.

‘‘I think I went two steps off the walkway,” she said. ‘‘And that’s not too far. If a dog or child stumbles off the trail, that’s where they’d end up.”

Caspi said she regularly runs along the trail, which meanders along Beach Drive from Garrett Park down into Washington, D.C., Broad swaths of the poisonous plant line the path, she said. After she initially contracted the rash, the area became infected and spread from her ankle to her knee.

‘‘Before the time of antibiotics my leg would’ve been amputated for this,” she said.

She took pictures of her infected leg and sent it to the Montgomery County Parks Department with a note – twice — but hasn’t heard a reply either time.

Calls to county parks officials were not returned.

If something isn’t done about the problem, more and more people will become infected, she said.

‘‘If you want to see a plant or creature in nature, and walk even a foot off the path you might get [poison ivy],” she said. ‘‘That needs to be fixed.”

Steve Dryden, of the Friends of Rock Creek’s Environment, an environmental group, said he hasn’t heard of any specific infestations of poison ivy throughout Rock Creek, but that he wouldn’t be surprised if the plant was growing near the trail.

‘‘It’s a hard thing to deal with because poison ivy grows naturally. It’s a native plant to the area,” he said. ‘‘It’s kind of one of the common but not very welcome plants here.”

Dryden said the plant is hard to get rid of, since it will grow back. As a nature group, Dryden said Friends of Rock Creek would rather have people learn what poison ivy looks like and avoid it, rather than have it all removed.

He said the three-leaf plant is tough to recognize at first, but after time people can learn to avoid it.

Caspi, however, doesn’t think the leave-it-alone approach is effective.

‘‘I was covered, and there were people I met on the trail who said the same thing,” she said. ‘‘Something needs to be done.”

Recognizing and avoiding poison ivy

Poison Ivy is a native plant to the area and grows easily in shaded areas along trails and hiking paths. Here are some ways to avoid it, or lessen its blows:

Know what it looks like. The adage ‘‘Leaves of three, let it be,” should be your guide. The shiny leaves of poison ivy are also a good indicator.

Shy away from the edges of trails, where poison ivy may encroach. The plant only grows in darker areas, so well canopied forests are a hotbed for it.

If you go hiking or walking through the woods, wear pants or high socks.

Wash your hands immediately after coming in contact with the plant.

Source: The American Academy of Dermatology