Weed Out! Racine is an all volunteer organization that aims to maintain the biodiversity of our public spaces and native places by stopping the spread of invasive species. The organization works in coordination with the City of Racine Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services. (PRCS)
Weed Out! Racine grew out of the St. Catherine’s High School Environmental Club, whose enthusiastic students started clearing honeysuckle and buckthorn from Colonial Park in 1999. The extent of these invasive species was so great that twice-yearly work days morphed into monthly work days, with the blessing and cooperation of the City of Racine Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services (PRCS).
In 2004, the local Southeast Gateway Group of Sierra Club group received a grant from Root-Pike WIN to plant native woodland forbs along the then new Root River Pathway, and work in Colonial Park became a group conservation priority. The ongoing struggle with invasives now includes garlic mustard, dame’s rocket and reed canary grass.
Currently, the most important work is establishing a functional ecosystem after removing of a thousand or more dead ash trees. These were killed by the invasive emerald ash borer, a beetle that lays its eggs under the bark of ash trees. When the larvae hatch, they eat though the cambium, (the living layer of the tree underneath the bark), disrupting the flow of water to the leaves, and the tree dies.
City Forester Matt Koepnick and his staff, with many community volunteers, planted more than 400 whips (young trees about 5 feet tall) in that area last fall, in order to get a jump start on rebuilding the canopy. It’s being done again this year, this time with 500 trees. Koepnick has selected red maple, catalpa, basswood, hackberry and some tamarack as appropriate trees for that area. This is where your help is needed! (see Side Bar.)
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For many years Weed Out! Racine, with SEGG and various school groups, have planted smaller trees and shrubs such as elderberry, viburnum, dogwood and filbert to develop cover and food sources for wildlife. Goals for Colonial Park are to improve water quality, grow habitat for wildlife and create a beautiful place for people to enjoy.
Weed Out! volunteers also work along Pershing Boulevard. What looks like a ribbon of pretty plants is actually a bioswale, an important part of the city’s Storm Water Management Plan. It’s rather like a long, narrow rain garden. In a storm event, water rushes across the parking lots and grassy areas below Lake Avenue, carrying with it debris from the parking lots. This helps prevent oil drops, rust flakes, paint chips or goose poop from ending up in Lake Michigan. The rush of water slows when it reaches the swale, dropping its load of sediment, and much of the water infiltrates into the ground water. All of this means that the runoff is cleaner when it reaches Lake Michigan.
Plants selected for a swale must like living in wet areas that are sometimes dry. They must have long roots to create the channels by which water can travel downward. And wherever you have plants you want, you are going to get plants you don’t want. Weed Out! Racine works with the city to remove the unwanted plants such as reed canary grass, curly dock, queen Anne’s lace, thistles and crown vetch.
They are removed so the desired plants can do their job. A bioswale is also a small urban oasis of plants for butterflies and pollinators, as well as the occasional mink or otter that wanders over from the breakwater.
Our parks and natural areas did not get into their current situation overnight and we cannot fix them overnight. Weed Out! Racine remains committed to managing invasive species, and they organization is heavily dependent on volunteers to make progress. Its next effort in Colonial Park is from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 26, and volunteers are needed.