Five miles of trails and over 280 acres of land make Schmeeckle Reserve a recreational hub for the city, but people are working behind the forest backdrop to preserve it.
Volunteers and staff are trying to inhibit the spread of invasive species. One of those species is buckthorn.
“We’ve been battling it for at least the past ten years,” said Jim Buchholtz, the assistant director of Schmeeckle Reserve.
There are many ways to prevent it from spreading. An initial cut or pull can be done, but this step is labor intensive and requires a lot of volunteer work from student organizations.
“A buckthorn plant that has been cut but receives no further treatment comes back ten-fold,” Buchholtz said.
The next step the reserve takes is spraying the effected area with herbicide. In the past, even prescribed burns have been utilized.
Buckthorn is a tall, understory shrub which leaf out notoriously early, creating a shade that inhibits the growth of native plants.
This invasive plant is evident in 75% of the reserve, but is not the only species vying for a place to stay. Garlic Mustard, Phragmites , and Eurasian Watermilfoil are also concerns.
Garlic Mustard is creeping closer to the edges of the reserve in the southeast corner, but volunteers are proactive in removing it by spraying herbicide yearly.
Phragmites are more serious, but they have mostly been contained to the wetland areas within the reserve.
In Lake Joanis, Schmeekle battles the Eurasian Watermilfoil. This species is problematic because it shades out native plants like buckthorn. The cut and pull method is not applicable in the lake, so the reserve had to be innovative in the removal process.
Rather than mechanically removing the plants, a group of researchers are evaluating the effectiveness of biological control. By introducing a weevil that feeds on the milfoil into the lake, researchers hope to slowly and carefully return the lake to its natural state.
Fish populations and their feeding habits, native plant densities and a number of other factors are monitored to get the entire ecosystem’s perspective on the species.
The goal of Schmeeckle Reserve is to preserve, restore and maintain an area that closely resembles the undisturbed state of the land.
“Invasive species have always been a problem,” said Ron Zimmerman, the facilities director. “We have a lot of different habitats, so we’re especially susceptible.”
Any nature preserve set in an urban environment has its struggles and Schmeeckle is no different. A diverse array of invasive species requires an equally adaptable strategy for defense, and the reserve is using proactive, innovative solutions to keep this scenic area intact.