The Charlotte Park and Wildlife Refuge is a Town-owned recreation and conservation area. The 290-acre park includes active cropland, hayfields, pasture, abandoned apple orchards, meadows in various stages of succession, wetlands, and mature hardwood forest. Three miles of trails are enjoyed by runners, birders and walkers. The park is managed by a volunteer Park Oversight Committee, which in recent years has become active in invasive species management. Invasive plant management goals for the park include the restoration of wildlife habitat and the enhancement of scenic and recreational opportunities.
The property was once an active farm. When it was abandoned in the 1970s, the meadows and forests in the park began to fill with honeysuckle, buckthorn, and Amur maple. Many of the trails are lined with 6- to 8-foot hedges of honeysuckle, and throughout much of the park the forest understory is an impenetrable thicket of invasive plants. Purple loosestrife and a relatively recent invader, Dyer’s greenweed, are common in the wetlands.
The problem with invasives did not receive much sustained attention until 2008 when Charlotte resident and TNC trustee Larry Hamilton arranged a meeting between members of the Park Oversight Committee and TNC. Together they developed goals for the park and agreed to make the park a WoW! demonstration site.
Outreach and Media
A variety of invasives educational materials are available for visitors at the kiosk at the main entrance to the park, including a nature guide which includes information on invasives in the park, and TNC invasive plant fact sheets. Wise on Weeds! demonstration site signs are placed in several areas within the park where concentrated restoration work has been done.
Due to its high level of volunteer engagement and proximity to Burlington, the project has received a fair bit of media attention from town and regional papers, and area television stations. In 2009, a week-long control effort resulted in articles in local papers as well as a feature piece on the PBS series Across the Fence. In November 2010, a television news crew covered a UVM student project on the site.
The ongoing work of a small group of volunteers has been the lifeblood of the control efforts. Work days are concentrated in the fall, as well as during annual events when people are looking for volunteer activities, including Green Up Day and Earth Day. One year, on Green Up day, an area resident decided to hold a friend’s birthday party in the park. The day included both invasive removal and tree planting by attendees of the party.
The high media profile combined with the core volunteers maintaining an ongoing helpful presence in the park exemplifies the maxim that “activity breeds activity.” Student groups and researchers seem to see the park as a prime opportunity and regularly contact the Oversight Committee to explore possibilities for projects within the park. The volunteer group is consistently receptive to and supportive of these overtures. In November 2010, a group of 30 UVM students, under the supervision of the park committee, spent a day clearing a large patch of honeysuckle from a forested area.
Sometimes, outside sources of funding have allowed for additional volunteer events. In 2009, EPA funding allowed TNC to spend a week on site, supervising local volunteers and the Vermont Youth Conservation Corps (VYCC) high school program. Together, they used chainsaws and hand clippers to clear 3 acres of honeysuckle and buckthorn.
Over the two years 2009-2010, volunteers have contributed 573 hours of work. Oak, hickory, and sugar maple seedlings are gaining ground in areas that once had been filled with invasive buckthorn and honeysuckle.
Developing a plan
Over the years, the park committee has developed a strong working relationship with UVM . In 2009, the UVM LANDS Stewardship team mapped invasives on the property and collaborated with TNC to develop an Invasive Species Management Plan for the site. This weed plan has brought focus to the restoration work, helping parks committee members determine which areas to work on next.
However, the committee also practices adaptive management. For example, if a large student group wants to help, the park committee will choose an area that is accessible, can be clearly defined, and which can produce an immediate tangible result, as opposed to a potentially higher priority area where the students might not be able to work as effectively.
In 2010, they decided to focus some of their restoration efforts on a piece of the property that has the potential to become better quality habitat for shrubland birds. This work supports Green Mountain Audubon Wildlife Biologist Mark LaBarr, who has received a TogetherGreen fellowship which allows him to find and then restore shrubland bird habitat in the Champlain Valley. The Audubon’s expertise in bird habitat restoration will help the park committee build science-based knowledge for their future efforts.