Thanks to the Over 330 Who Have Volunteered

19 Nov

Update: Another 22 volunteers help out today, December 2. Thank you! See photo of what the site looks like NOW way below.

Forest Tze, a UMass Boston student, has dedicated 15 hours to this project. Thank you, Forest!

It was perfect in the swales this morning: 55˚ F with a light warm rain and mud everywhere—ideal conditions for pulling out phragmite rhizomes. They came out easily.

Removing phragmites is a meditation. There you are outside, in a beautiful spot with a big sky and good company, focused on accomplishing a physical task. While the project itself can seem overwhelming (and even futile), the task itself is satisfying and, especially today in the mud, even fun. I don’t know if I’ve ever been so dirty.


The rhizomes are thick and extend in a web 3″-6″ deep across the swale.

I have developed extraordinary respect for phragmites. They dominate because they extend a web of 1/2”-¾” thick rhizomes that grow horizontally 3-6” below the surface. They’re strong and jointed like bamboo. They also spread by seed from their beautiful seedheads. A few weeks ago, on a windy day, we watched thousands of these seeds blow across the fields.


Who knows why phragmites overtook the eastern swale? It wasn’t one of the 20 wildflowers planted there in 2009. Curiously, the “sister” western swale at the park is without them.


The western swale is full of wildflowers and volunteer trees.

In the next weeks, Elisabeth Cianciola of the Charles River Watershed Association will lead a few more volunteer events to dig out the last rhizomes and then cover the site with black fabric that will stay down for 2 years. Then, wildflowers will be planted, which, we hope, will out compete the phragmites.

The whole goal of this project has been to replace the invasive phragmites with wildflowers again for the sake of biodiversity and to recreate a richer habitat for insects and birds. May we be successful.


Eastern swale as of 12.2. The CRWA will be covering it with black tarp in the next few days.

Thanks to the over 330 who have already volunteered, to the others who will pitch in in the coming weeks, to the CRWA for leading this effort, to the National Fish & Wildlife Foundation for funding it, to the Charles River Conservancy for partnering, and to the City of Cambridge for loaning tools and disposing of the waste. Working together, we’ve got a shot at success. This small project has been HUGE.


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