This Sunday, I went to Russian Ridge to help restore the habitat with my friend. We had both signed up with the Openspace Preserve organization for the volunteer work.
When my friend, my dad, and I were about halfway there, the road started getting really windy. We would drive one way, and seconds later make a turn. Then, we might make some turns and go in the opposite direction that we had originally gone in. All of the twisting and turning made me a bit carsick, which wasn’t helped by the fact that the road was also heading up. For one part of the trip, we were lost, so we pulled over to the side of the road and had to ask for directions from two cyclists. They were very helpful, and pointed out the right road to take.
When we finally pulled into the parking lot, I got out of the car with the backpack of supplies and instantly felt much better. We found the group of people who we were going to be doing the restoration project with. There was also a ranger in the group.
Russian Ridge was a bit of a distance from the parking lot, so we went in the ranger’s truck. The ride, although going uphill, was much smoother. Slowly, the trees thinned out and gave way to a grassy meadow. Colorful wildflowers dotted the entire field.
When we got out, my friend, my dad, and I helped set up a “shade shelter” to rest in. It was a tent-like structure that could be pulled out to full size or pushed in to about two and a half feet tall.
Then, the rest of the group came. They had decided to walk. When they came, we learned that we would be focusing our efforts on digging up thistle; mainly Italian Thistle and Bull Thistle. Both are invasive species which are damaging to the meadow and crowd out native species. My friend and I were shown what Italian Thistle looks like.
After getting shovels, we were all ready to dig up some invasive species. At first, the thistle was relatively easy to find and dig up. Then, it got much harder. Once we had dug out the more obvious thistle, it became hard to find.
The light green leaves blended in with the rest of the grass, and when we did find thistle, it was clumped together, making it harder to dig out. To dig out thistle, we had to get the entire taproot. Otherwise it would just grow back.
The hot sun encouraged us to go back to the shade shelter and have a water break. When we were done, we went to a part of the field that had many people working in it – taking care to skirt around the short shrubs, which might have snakes – and found a whole infestation of thistle.
Many people had been working in that area and created a whole heap of dug-out thistle, but the plant still was nearly everywhere. My friend, my dad, and I worked all the way until lunch, making the pile substantially higher, but there was still a lot more thistle. Before heading back to the shade shelter, I dug my shovel into the ground and left it upright to remind us of the location of the thistle. Then we went off to lunch.
My dad and I had packed bread and beef jerky, but my friend's dad had only packed crackers for her. The ranger had brought a lot of snacks, though. My friend ate almost half of a bag of unbuttered popcorn! (It was a big bag, too.) I made sure to try all of the snacks, and was rewarded with the discovery of some vanilla cookies.
While everyone ate, the more experienced volunteers started telling stories. Some people also started talking about other parts of the preserve.
When we were done eating, we went to refill our water bottles at a water dispenser. The water was so cool and refreshing that I gulped down about a quarter of it. For a moment, I considered splashing it on my face, but then decided to save it for drinking.
My friend, my dad, and I went to the patch of thistle we had found earlier and went on weed rampage. We tried to dig up every single thistle plant that we could find. Just when we thought we were done, I discovered a whole bunch of thistle right behind the pile of thistle we had so painstakingly dug up. For the smaller weeds, I got a trowel to get them out of the soil. Finally, the Italian Thistle was all eliminated from that area.
Digging up that thistle infestation took most of the afternoon. We went searching for more thistle, and I carried both my shovel and trowel. I saw a lot of thistle, but it was all dug up ones.
Then, I made a small discovery.
When we stepped on the grass to walk around, the grass would flatten. A lot of thistle could be hidden in a footprint of flattened grass. My friend and I dug out the little thistles that had escaped notice.
I was almost disappointed when it was time to go home. The ranger offered to drive us back to the parking lot, but my friend, my dad, and I decided to walk and enjoy the scenic view.
I’ve decided that when I have next time, I want to do this again. Restoring a habitat and ridding it of invasive species was extremely enjoyable, and I liked the experience. I have free time in the summer, and I also have next year, too.