Woodland Trails a case of Beauty and the Beast

by Jim Boyle

Woodland Trails Park, the crown jewel of Elk River Parks and Trail system, is in danger of being overtaken by buckthorn.

City leaders are looking into the development of an ecological management plan to combat the problem, and there’s a grant opportunity out there that could help get it done.

Ravenous buckthorn is threatening Woodland Trails, Elk River’s crown jewel of parks, as it outcompetes native vegetation.

Elk River Park and Recreation commissioners hope that a combination of a $75,000 grant and commitment from the Elk River City Council will help Elk River see its way clear to get ahead of the problem of buckthorn and have a chance of staying ahead of it.

City staff and the commission will seek the council’s support Monday in the efforts to land the potential $75,000 grant from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources.

Commissioners would also like a commitment from the council to fight buckthorn over the long haul. Dave Anderson, the chair of the Park and Recreation Commission, said to do one without having the other would not make sense.

“I hope this is the beginning of saving our park,” said Dave Anderson, the chair of the commission.

Woodland Trails Park, the crown jewel of Elk River parks, is known for views like this, but buckthorn is threatening to overtake them.

Anderson and the other commissioners heard from Gina Hugo, a resource conservationist for the Sherburne Soil and Water Conservation District, about the grant, the mounting problems at Woodland Trails Park and a proposal for an ecological management plan.

Anderson, Hugo and Michael Hecker, the parks and recreation director, met recently to discuss the need for a plan.

Hecker stated in a memo to the commission the plan would be a first step in initiating an ecological management plan that would have a primary, long-term objective of controlling the buckthorn, maintaining forest cover and in time restoring native herbs, shrubs and trees as needed.

The plan would be funded through the DNR grant if it can be landed. The city would not be required to match or financially contribute to the grant. Hugo needs letters of support from the commission and the council and an Request for Proposals for an overall plan for things to proceed.

The RFP will request a grant to implement an ecologically sensitive biomass harvest that will clean up the downed timber and selectively harvest potential hazards and “noncontributing” trees as well as buckthorn.

Hugo said the harvest is necessary to implement a forest management plan that addresses everything from oak wilt, blowdown and woody debris.

Buckthorn is easily the most insidious problem.  Hugo described it as tenacious and evil.

“It grows fast and out-competes native vegetation,” she said. “It prohibits (positive growth), it’s bad for song birds and it grows 30 days longer than the native species.”

And if you don’t keep fighting it?

“It sprouts back with a vengeance, like Medusa,” Hugo said.

It is during this 30 days of dormancy that buckthorn can be most easily addressed.

“Once the harvest is done, we can manage the forest,” Hugo said, referring in part to the annual dormant over spray. “We can take advantage of the strength of buckthorn and make it a weakness.

“It’s a lot of work, admittedly, but it works.”