Basin Recreation asks hikers and bikers for help pulling noxious weeds
June 17, 2018
Spring wildflowers are blooming across the Wasatch, but some of the flowers aren't as easy on Jessica Kirby's eyes as they are on others.
Don't blame her; it's her job as Basin Recreation's open lands manager to look at trailside foliage with a critical eye, because some of them — like the dyer's woad she was recently uprooting by the armload near Iron Bill Trail — are noxious.
She piled the weeds, which can be identified by their clusters of tiny yellow flowers and tall, slim stalks, into a clump on the trail.
"They out-compete native vegetation," she said, explaining why the woad was on Basin Rec's hit list. "They actually have some chemicals that they secrete into the soils that helps them as well, and they love to take over disturbed areas."
In centuries past, the woad was traded for use as a dye, making cities in England, France and Germany prosperous for the resulting blue color it rendered. But after it was replaced by modern dyeing techniques, the woad's reputation waned. Now, it's considered a noxious weed in most western states, and Kirby said, it's a threat to the Wasatch's ecological web.
She said by supplanting native vegetation, the woad diminishes food supplies for native animals.
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"Wildlife habitat, forage, and scenic value as well — there are so many things in open space that we protect, and the weeds compromise that," she said.
But pulling up woad and other invasive plants like garlic mustard, which looks a little like a nettle with small white flowers, is a big job, especially considering Basin Recreation's jurisdiction.
The organization cares for land around the PRI trail system, the Rasmussen area behind Jeremy Ranch Elementary School, the drainage between Toll Canyon and Summit Park, the Road to Arcylon trail, as well as the Glenwild trail system and parts of the Mid Mountain Trail.
"It's a lot of area," Kirby said. "It's almost 200 miles of trail and 3,000 acres of property."
And while property owners are legally obligated to pull noxious weeds, a lot of the responsibility still falls on Basin Recreation's staff.
To maintain the area, Basin Recreation employs four full-time trail workers, one project manager, five seasonal trailbuilders and two open space workers, one of whom is Kirby.
"I gave myself tennis elbow last year pulling weeds," she said. "That's how hard we go."
So Kirby is asking for help – especially from those that use remote sections of Basin Recreation's trail systems.
She asks the hiker, biker community to lend their mitts in removing noxious weeds. She will provide a bag, ("I typically give then a contractors trash bag, which is way more fancy then a regular garbage bag," she said) which budding weed removers can pack along on adventures, or they can pull the weeds up by the root, preferably without spreading the seeds, and put them right into their backpacks.
"The main thing is, once the weed is pulled it needs to be taken off-site," she said.
Those not ready to pull and dispose of the weeds themselves can send Kirby a photo — with its geolocation data enabled — via email, or send a Google Maps pin.
Kirby said anyone is free to pull the weeds to their hearts' desires, so long as the weed isn't the only thing growing in a large area.
"If you were in an area with 80 to 90 percent cover of the weed, you would need to take measures," she said. "Mainly, going back and reseeding."
If a large area is cleared without any remedial vegetation planted in its place, it can create a mud field and cause erosion.
"Luckily, we don't have a ton of places in our open space that are that invasive," she said. "Occasionally we do find places where you have to come back and do mitigation afterwards."
Kirby said, sadly, that the county will probably never be able to fully eradicate the woad and other noxious weeds.
"The best we can do is to keep on them," she said. "And the more we try and the more we educate people with this stuff, the better our habitat is going to be."Jessica Kirby can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. For information on the noxious weeds, go to summitcounty.org/155/Weed-Division or check out the organization's weed book at summitcounty.org/DocumentCenter/View/113/Weed-Book-PDF.
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