- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 27, 2005

A group of Americorps volunteers are ridding two Maryland parks of harmful plants so local residents can enjoy the grassy areas in the coming months.

The 11 volunteers from the organization’s National Civilian Community Corps are preserving Little Paint Branch Park in Beltsville, and Cherry Hill Park in College Park.

Despite the snow and frigid temperatures, the volunteers have been hard at work every day for the past two weeks, pulling out or digging up destructive weeds and other invasive plants that crowd out the parks’ trees, flowers and grassy knolls.

“We hope to do our best to eradicate the invasive species for the various parks that we’re working in, and to realize the impact that the removal will have on the ecosystems here,” said Erin Haugh, the group’s 23-year-old leader from Palm Desert, Calif. “We’re pulling, using pitchforks, digging through the snow. It’s all about group force.”

The group began the project at both parks Jan. 18 and is expected to complete the project by Feb. 8.

Twelve foreign species have worked their way into the parks’ ecosystems, and threaten to do more damage to the environment, said Hollie Rudolph, 23, a volunteer from Houston. Though the invasive growth covers up to 20 percent of the parks’ total area, the group says, if left unattended the damage rate will soon climb as high as 50 percent.

English ivy, vinca, garlic mustard, wineberry and Japanese honeysuckle are some of the more destructive plants. The honeysuckle and ivy are particularly dangerous, since they wind themselves around trees and gradually strangle them, Miss Rudolph said.

“They get in the way so people can’t really use the area,” she said.

The volunteers said they are excited about the project and working together to make the parks enjoyable for local residents.

“This is providing us with a really nice opportunity to learn more about the arrival of the species in certain areas, and the work required to take care of it,” said Miss Haugh, who has been a member of Americorps NCCC for about five months.

NCCC is a division of the nonprofit organization whose volunteers are ages 18 to 24. Its mission is “to strengthen communities and develop leaders through national and community service,” according to the Web site, www.americorps.org/nccc.

Founded in 1994, the organization’s NCCC division has trained more than 10,000 volunteers who have contributed more than 15 million hours of service. The organization provides help in several areas, such as public health and safety, environment issues and disaster relief.

Locally, Americorps NCCC hopes to restore the natural vegetation in nearly 150 acres of regional parks in the D.C. area. The group is working closely with the Anacostia Watershed Society, a nonprofit organization dedicated to cleaning up the Anacostia River.

The Americorps teams are sponsored by a number of organizations that apply for projects their teams can tackle for several weeks at a time.

“It’s sort of like applying for a grant,” said Alyssa Marlow, a community relations specialist for Americorps NCCC.

Miss Rudolph said that the volunteers have “already eradicated two of the 12 [threatening] species.”

“By the end of three weeks, we hope to have more done. Our goal is to leave things so that the residents can come in and maintain the parks.”

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