Dozens of Charlotte residents are spending hours, voluntarily, pulling weeds out of a local wetland this summer. It’s part of an organized effort to control an invasive species that threatens to choke the life right out of an otherwise vibrant ecosystem.
On a beautiful, breezy evening and half a dozen people are paddling around in kayaks and canoes, pulling from the water a plant that looks like a bunch of little lily pads.
Bob Hyams heads up the Charlotte Conservation Commission, and he’s helped organize these paddling trips into the wetlands -cajoling the locals to come out on their own time and their own dime to pull out these plants by hand, locals like Mike Walker who’s here for the first time.
“It’s a good idea. Nice to get out on the lake on a nice evening,” Walker said.
“This year I think we’ve had at least 75 volunteers in this wetland and for the most part I think these volunteers would not have seen these wetlands without this program,” Hyams said.
Wendy Hawkins has seen them several times -- but only because she’s pulling frog-bit - an activity she describes as a “somewhat twisted kind of fun” -- and hard to explain to her friends.
“They don’t get it at all. I have asked so many friends to come out with me but not a one is interested. It is messy work.”
European Frog-bit - the target of all this effort - is ironically a pretty little plant you can order online for your backyard pond -- the aquatic equivalent of a great ground cover, it sits on top of the water in clumps, forming a dense mat. But out here in the wild, it can force out the native species that make this area so vital - and it’s vital enough that conservationists like Bob Hyams are working to have it declared a Class One wetland - which would provide more protection from development or overuse
“You know, we’re never going to get rid of the frog-bit. This is really a control. It’s managing. And it’s not an eradication,” Hyams said. “But the future of this program is really wetlands stewardship. And maybe next year, there’s going to be a greater threat than frog-bit. A more pressing need. And hopefully through this work we’ve developed the expertise, we’ve developed the good will to keep a stewardship program going - as opposed to just a frog-bit program.”
In the meantime, the clock is ticking. As the frog-bit puts up lovely little white flowers, it’s preparing to reproduce -- so the volunteers are trying to get as many plants pulled before that happens in just the next few weeks.
Some volunteers are spending up to six hours at a stretch -- sometimes using little rakes to reach, but mostly just grabbing the plant by the handful, filling up bucket after bucket, paddling to a nearby scow provided by Point Bay Marina - to dump the wet weeds into a giant, green mass.
“So they will tow the scow back to the marina and then there’s a composting operation. And actually, the frog-bit makes a wonderful compost,” Hyams said.