The Weed Warriors' Story
The Weed Warrior Project began in 2009 when a group of concerned friends decided it was time to do something about the serious infestations of invasive non-native plants that dominated the woods of Memorial Park. This core group – Linda Chafin, Sue Wilde, Dorothy O’Niell, Ed Wilde and Gary Crider – partnered with ACC Leisure Services staff to establish regular bi-monthly workdays in the park through the fall and winter. The first workday was held on October 3, 2009. Other volunteers joined the effort; between 2 and 15 people have turned up for most workdays. Occasionally larger groups participated as well.
The invasive plant problem in this 70-acre park could be overwhelming. Much of the park was dominated by stands of dense invasive shrubs including Chinese privet, autumn olive and bush honeysuckle, which created a tunnel effect for trail hikers. Those native plants that still survived were hard to find and the overall effect was an unpleasant and stifling forest that provided few views into the woods. In addition to the shrubs, vines such as English ivy covered much of the ground, preventing native wildflowers and other plants from growing. The ivy and other vines also climb mature trees, usually causing damage.
The Weed Warriors did not let this intimidate them. They developed a strategy to focus on specific areas where they would eradicate all invasive plants in that area before moving on to other spots. The main focus early on was in the area below the zoo near the Birchmore Trail trailhead, beginning at the wetland near Gran Ellen which feeds the stream that runs through the park (see before and after photo below). Work has since expanded to the other side (western) of Gran Ellen. As of 2019, they have treated over 10 acres of the forest.
A second and very important objective of the Weed Warriors has been to raise awareness about the damage invasive plants do to the environment and to teach people how to deal with invasive plants themselves. The workdays themselves have provided teaching opportunities. In addition, members of the core group have given presentations of various types to reach a wider audience.
It has been gratifying to watch the gradual transformation of the Memorial Park forest during these years. Where once there were few native wildflowers to be seen and a thick understory of non-native shrubs with trees heavily engulfed with English Ivy or strangled by Chinese Wisteria vines, now there is an expansive view through the woods. Many wildflowers and ferns have appeared in response to being uncovered. Trail-walkers now feel more secure because sight-lines have been opened up, and they often comment on the changes to the forest and thank volunteer workers for the work they are doing.
The Weed Warriors have received the following awards and monetary and plant contributions:
Two $300 grants from the Oconee River Audubon Society.
$300 from Roger Cauthen, Administrator - ACC government's Landscape Management Division.
Chris Aubry of Aubry's Arbor and the folks at Baker Environmental generously gave us reduced prices on the plants we bought from them.
Donation of 500 wildflowers from North Creek Nurseries of Pennsylvania.
Donation of Beautyberry and Royal Fern from Linda Russell.
Donation of Christmas Fern from Candle Brumby.
$58 MLK Day mini-grant.
$200 grant from Kiwanis in honor of Fred Birchmore.
$500 grant from Leisure Services for tool shed, Weed Warrior signs, and tools.
Statewide Community Beautification Award, 3rd Place - “Distinguished Service”.
The Alec Little Environmental Award was given on separate occasions to Gary Crider, Dorothy O'Niell, and Ed and Sue Wilde. (Linda wasn't eligible for this award because she's a professional botanist).
Fall, 2010 – Georgia Parks and Recreation Association “Volunteer Group of the Year” award for this region.
“STAR” volunteer award from Leisure Services to Gary, Sue and Ed.
Donations were used to purchase tools and materials, plants, and bird nesting boxes.