A Day for Hurray!

Who would have thought that on a freezing day in January on a bare-tree, brown slope of an urban park you would find an occasion for laughter, joy, and triumph? Not me.

I had dressed for the weather including my waterproof boots, and brought along my ivy-fighting tools to fight the good fight against English ivy at a local park.


Mother-daugher team battling English ivy on MLK Service Day

Our local Master Naturalist group was holding a regularly-scheduled pull there on a major mission to clear the park of invasives.  I just checked their website. Twenty two lines are given to the description of  amenities at the park, which include playing fields, picnic tables, and so on. What they don’t mention is that the park is also the site of several 200-year-old trees, more than 40 acres of native woodlands, and a magnificent magnolia bog with several species of  endangered plants growing there.

The value and importance of native plants is already a subject dear to the hearts of this blog’s readership, who can probably recount for others the oft-mentioned benefits of habitat for wildlife, preservation of biodiversity, and maintenance of critical eco-system services.

Our own backyards and gardens are obvious places to invest time and money into efforts that support these goals, but it’s important to expand our reach, when we can, into the surrounding public spaces. We can help increase the amount of land that is available to produce these desirable conditions by investing sweat equity, and by inspiring others to join us. Showing up and being informed can give us more influence with local governance, too, and often very important decisions are made by the people who run the local governments.

L1090214-impGetting off the soapbox and returning to the scene, however; imagine the surprise of our little group when an unexpected flood of participants began to pour in to our meet site that morning. Unfamiliar faces, children and older folks, we were suddenly a crowd! What had happened? Turned out that they had found us by typing their zip codes into the search box on the MLK Day of Service website. Wow! The power of the mighty Internet!

All of the people I talked to had chosen to come to give service to the park because they loved it and often enjoyed its resources. Some had come with tools to help with the ivy, but many had just come. We didn’t have nearly enough tools to share, but we did have lots of trash bags, and those who didn’t have tools were happy to haul trash away.

After giving the group a little background on our goals at the park, a representative from the MLK Day of Service organization also discussed goals. She said that one of the hopes of her group was that people would realize the importance of their volunteer work and give serious thought to making a commitment, right then, to ongoing service. She carefully explained that not everyone had a lot of time to give, but if everyone there gave only an hour a month, it would be a meaningful contribution.

Next to me, a mom and her young son were discussing what they could do. The mom asked,  “What do you think? I think an hour a month is something we could reasonably expect to achieve.” The little boy looked up at her and said,  “An hour?! I think we should give a day!” One of those moments. I had only come to pull ivy. The joy of that spark has been an ongoing gift.

OK. I promised some laughter, and here it is. The group that was sent up the hill to fill the trash bags had evidently never ventured off the bike trail, because shortly after they left we heard screams. Not panic-type screams, but loud enough to send me running. They had come right up to the edge of a small stream and split into two groups. The adults going around, and the kids of course, going over.

Now the stream was not wide, but the sides were deep mud. One girl was clinging to the end of a huge tree trunk which spanned about half the stream, and her friend was on the other side. Triage. Girl number two had left a shoe embedded in the mud and was standing on one foot in a quandary. No way was she going to re-enter the mud to get the shoe. The mom in charge was begging the girl on the tree to retreat. No way was that going to happen either.

“I’ll get the shoe,” I volunteered, “I have waterproof boots on.” ” No, no,” said the mom, “I’m the mom, I should do it.” While we were debating the moral ramifications of this issue, the previously mentioned little boy, I don’t know how he got across, darted in, snatched up the shoe, delivered it to the girl in distress, and ran on up the hill in the wink of any eye, without bothering to wait for any thanks, either.

In this brief interval, the little girl clinging to the tree had also come up with a solution to her problem. “Can I jump onto the trash bag,” she queried. “NO!” said the mom, just as I shouted, “SURE.” I have to hand it to that mom, she didn’t drag the wet-footed kid home to sit by the fire, and she just shrugged her shoulders now and laughed, heading off to the bridge. The jump was highly successful. I cannot attest to the residual properties of the trash bag.

L1090233-impBut our group did a monumental job. Our bags,  combined with those of the other groups in the park, must have been more than enough to fill a dump truck. This was just one of the more memorable piles.

The results of our ivy work were astounding.  A small amount of money had been allotted by the county to spray the dense mat of ivy on the ground. Under the ivy are natives that are already starting to make their way back and will be supplemented with some new plants. We had made the money go farther by committing to hand cutting the ivy off the trees, and with the extra help we had that we had managed to finish an entire section. Triumph!

The volunteer work part of the day was over at noon, but we had about a dozen people stay and take advantage of our offer to participate on a tree walk. It was wonderfully gratifying to see how interested they were, and to hear their excellent questions. Our leader explained some of the many ways that it is possible to ID a tree in winter, a fascinating  study recently explored in this excellent piece: Twigology


We had one visually beautiful moment when we studied a Liriodendron tulipifera tree, commonly called a tulip poplar though it’s a member of the magnolia family. The fruiting structure still supporting seeds waiting to blow away are a real “tell.” You can see that this tree is a good wildlife feeder.

When we all take action, our yards and our parks both can be lovely to look at and beneficial to  wildlife. Make a commitment, and help make a difference!


Our public lands need you!

© 2013, Suzanne Dingwell. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. says

    Great post, Sue. Isn’t it great that the day of service added so many new people to your efforts? And I love the story of the boy telling his mom that they should give a whole day of service and not just an hour a month.

    Our efforts to restore habitat in our own yards is not the end of the story, improving the habitats in the whole neighborhood magnify our efforts many times over. Think beyond your garden gate!

    • says

      Thanks, Ginny, it really was one of those days that just exceeded all expectations! Several people were asking about how to get the Master Naturalist training and asking how they could do more volunteer work for us. This park is in such an urban setting that it has a great impact on many people who pass through it, some on purpose, some just to get from one place to another. One runner passed me on the bike trail and said, as he whizzed on by, “Thank you for keeping the park clean.”
      sue dingwell recently posted..The Colors of Winter

  2. says

    That’s fantastic! Kudos to all the people who participated. Being able to prevent weed killer from being sprayed in the park is a wonderful accomplishment, among other benefits of this project.
    Linda recently posted..January Bloom Day

    • says

      Linda, thank you! We did have to use a bit of spray on the mats of ivy covering the ground. But we uncovered natives that were unharmed underneath, and prevented a lot of further spraying by making the two-foot “donut holes” on the tree trunks, killing all the ivy that had grown up in the trees. Many of those trees had reached the point of being completely covered and thus nearly ready to expire. One of our goals now is to push the park into the surrounding yards, instead of having to spray (or pull!) to keep the yards’ invasives from coming into the park.
      sue dingwell recently posted..The Colors of Winter

  3. says

    Thank you for giving your time to the day of service! And what a wonderful idea to do this to help create habitat and restore the ecosystem services and native plant functions in this local park. The gift of our time is one of the most important things we can do to help our wild areas and the wildlife who call them home. As budgets continue to be cut to the bone, when we volunteer our time to help maintain the health of our environment, we are giving a gift that goes far beyond the small amount of time that we can give.
    Carole Sevilla Brown recently posted..My Interview on Real Dirt With Ken Druse

    • says

      Gail, I love your blog and have been one of those silent readers for a long time! I hope you are loving your Master Naturalist course as much as I did. The group here in Arlington does a fantastic job of providing a huge range of volunteer activities, something for everyone, from planting to pulling, work with school kids, outreach to homeowners, booths at Farmers Markets, Citizen Science projects – its just amazing. Thank you so much for your comment.
      sue dingwell recently posted..The Colors of Winter

    • says

      Donna, yours is another blog I love, and I used to live up in that general area of the world, so I really enjoy seeing your photos. There was no running water in my barn back then, so I carried water to my horses most of the winter….but, I had the most productive garden up there that I ever did have. Have you checked with your cooperative extension people? Maybe they could direct you to joint efforts going on, or maybe if you indicated interest, something could be born. Also, you might check with either of these two organizations: http://www.gcamerica.org/ and http://www.gardenclub.org/
      They are not like the Master Naturalists, but they might be able to offer some ideas for opportunities. There was a local garden club in the tiny town we lived in, Cazenovia, and they did some nice work with natives along with the more traditional garden club stuff. Keep up the beautiful work!
      sue dingwell recently posted..The Colors of Winter

  4. says

    Sue, What a wonderfully heartening post! Attracting a crowd who didn’t know what they were coming for, teaching them about native plant communities right nearby, and the joys of helping restore healthy nature right near home–this is the stuff of real, lasting change. Good for you! You tell a great story, too, BTW. I don’t think Colorado has a Master Naturalist program and it’s something we can use.
    Susan J. Tweit recently posted..A House Built With Love

  5. says

    Sue, what an inspiring post! The turnout by volunteers is awesome. When you have the numbers you can get so much done in a short time. Hopefully most of the tough slogging will have been done, if interest wanes, and the area won’t take as many hands to sustain in the future.

    • says

      Diddo your remarks, Jessie! I was thinking the same thing—kudos to those parents for fostering the love of volunteering in their children!!!

  6. says

    Tremendously enjoyed your post, Sue! It had all of the elements you promised. Loved the story of the “mud stealing” shoe—leave it to a kid to solve it so quickly and with nary a worry! Makes me think of what we can do here at River Farm to rid our trees of the ivy. I need to organize an “ivy pulling” party:) Unfortunately, we don’t have the fun streams and woods to explore, but we do have the beautiful meadow and Potomac River!!! This would be the perfect time of year to tackle it! I better get on it!!!

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