Although I’ve been working as Phragmites Administrator for a year, I’ve had little firsthand experience with the plant or its treatment.
Oh, I can identify Phragmites. I can distinguish between the native plant and the invasive species. I’ve been learning a lot about its growth, spread and habits, and the many ways scientists and conservationists are working to keep it under control. I’ve seen some pretty frightening photographs of areas where Phragmites has run rampant. I’ve gone through the records of our treatment here on Beaver Island and the smaller surrounding islands in this archipelago.
My contribution, though, has been mostly in the form of paperwork and reports.
That all changed yesterday.
To learn more about the work involved in treating invasive Phragmites, I went along yesterday as part of the crew. An old, clumsy and untrained crew member, but nonetheless…
I had no idea!
Unable to find transportation to the outer islands on the weekend, Jeff Powers generously offered, and then rearranged his hardware and veterinary schedule in order to take us out and pick us up.
Our contractors, Pam Hilton, Marc Seelye and Christine Miller had been up early, planning and preparing. Several heavy totes and containers had to be loaded onto the boat. A bit of training, safety instructions, waivers and permission slips circulated.
We started out shortly after nine in the morning, Jeff at the helm with six passengers. Along with the three certified contractors, there were three helpers: Pam Grassmick, Dave Blanchard and me. We would have started sooner, but I neglected to call Pam Grassmick, who was faithfully waiting by the telephone for the “go ahead.”
[Personally, I find it hard enough to get myself up, dressed and out the door in the morning. I don’t know how I ever managed to get my daughters up and off to school.]
It was a blustery day, cool but also beautiful. I had never been to any of the outer islands before, so was looking forward to the experience…while at the same time dreading the possibility that I would look (or be!) incompetent, incapable or in-the way!
We came to Garden Island after a brisk boat ride, and lowered the small boat. The gear was transferred, and Marc paddled equipment and crew in to Northcutt Harbor in two trips.
Jeff headed back to Beaver Island, to continue his busy day.
We divided into two teams and went off in opposite directions, following the shoreline with plans to meet back at this location at a specified time, to be ready to go when our ride returned.
One member of each team took GPS readings and recorded the coordinates for each stand of invasive Phragmites we found. It was noted how large the area was, and graded: scattered, patchy or dense. The other two members were responsible for herbicidal treatment.
The water level is up this year. We were often walking in the cold water in order to follow the shore. The ground was covered with irregular and sometimes slippery rocks.
It’s evident that our treatment is helping. Areas that had been treated last year were always smaller stands, and graded “scattered” or “patchy.” When we came to Indian Point, which had not been treated last year (weather conditions made travel impossible), we came upon a massive stand (I think they approximated it at 80′ x 100′!)of the invasive plant. We noted many long runners trailing through the water, with dangling roots and leafy vertical starts every few inches.
The stand was so dense, it was difficult to gauge where I’d been, and where I needed to be. We were sloshing through deep water with a mucky bottom, and filled with runners ready to catch us up.
You may note that in addition to the protective clothing and rubber gloves that make all movement more difficult, a strong wind came up off the water, making it necessary to work backward toward the shoreline, to avoid the wind carrying the herbicide. Through it all, Pam Hilton carried a large, heavy backpack sprayer.
After treating this area, we made our way – through the stoney, grass filled water and dense, brushy woods -to the DNR cabin. From there, we followed the trail through the woods back to Northcutt.
I was wet, cold and exhausted.
Pam Hilton checked her watch.
“We’re early,” she said, “It took us 45 minutes on that trail. If we were to walk back, 45 minutes, we’d have about twenty minutes more work time before we had to head back.”
[“Are you KIDDING me???” was the thought going through my head]
“It’s up to you,” was what I think I spoke out loud.
Pam Grassmick had the idea to build a campfire. It was a dandy one!
I started to warm up and dry out.
I started to think this was not so bad.
Lovely, knowledgeable, hard-working people!
Worthwhile, important work!
[ Of course this counts as exercise! Every muscle in my body aches!]
“So…how far do you think we walked today?” I asked.
[ My guess would have been 18 miles, based on how tired I felt, but I knew a more reasonable estimate would be half that.]
“Oh…at the most, I’d say maybe three to three and a half miles,” was the reply.
[Are you KIDDING me?]
For their expertise, caution, patience, devotion and hard work, these people earn their pay!
Volunteers deserve our undying gratitude!
I returned to Beaver Island with new respect for the entire process, and the people that make it happen.
Much thanks to all of you!