Aug 01 2017

“Thistles as Thick as the Thigh”


By Tanya Stevens; Marketing & Publications Committee Member and RFOV Volunteer

One local character recently told me that he had pulled thistles as thick as his thigh with roots reaching all the way to the other side of the world.  Every pull would trigger a small earthquake in China.  That story may be a tall tale, but some of the plumeless thistles which we encountered last month did indeed resemble small trees.

On Saturday, July 15, the collaboration among city, county and U.S. Forest Service, ACES, Roaring Fork Outdoor Volunteers, Wilderness Workshop and other nonprofits held the 3rd annual weed pull in the Hunter Creek Valley.  The Hunter Creek area is a well-used recreational area where noxious weeds, aka non-native plants, are slowly crowding out local vegetation while providing little forage for wildlife.  This was my second time to participate in the weed pull in Hunter Creek.  Last year, the hot sun, sweat, and flies made me admire the dedication volunteers put into trail work projects, for it’s no easy task.

Focusing on plumeless thistle and houndstongue weeds, we split into two groups, and I joined the group headed to the Hummingbird Trail where many users had complained about an inordinate amount of thistles.  Like prospectors, we found “veins” of thistle off-shooting from the trail.  At the very least, the patches of thistle were easily accessible, and the recent rains had softened the soil.  The task was to lop off any budding tips and bag them in order to prevent the weed’s prolific seeding.  Then the wrestling match begins.  A few thistles came out of the ground easily.  But most, and deceptively even small ones, gave a fight.  With a shovel, one would plunge the shovel underneath the roots to lift the majority of the plant out of the soil.  With a tug and a twist, one could then pry the weed out of the ground.  Sometimes, however, the tap root did seem to grow to China, and one had to resort to hacking the tap root in half as far down as possible.

We ended the day after lopping off as many blooming thistle buds along the Hummingbird Trail from the ridge to the valley floor.  For me, the views of the valley below and the surrounding mountains made the long day in the sun worthwhile.  Very few houndstongue plants were found in comparison to the year before, possibly due to the dry weather in June and thus, a small blessing in disguise.  Dinner was provided, and after a full day of weed pulling, pizza and beer never tasted so good.

Throughout the weed pull, many passers-by on bike and foot greeted us with heartfelt thanks for our work.  I had wanted to ask them to join us and help with the trail work. The experience brought up the question, “How does one instill an ethos to contribute back and of stewardship?”  As so many others have said, if every user contributes just one day a year to help with trail work, our public lands and trails would then be well-maintained.  The experience not only instilled in me a sense of ownership, but also appreciation of all the hard work that has gone into creating and maintaining our trails.  So, thank you, everyone that put this project together, and I look forward to the next trail project!

 

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