If you google the plant “Euonymus fortunei,” or “wintercreeper,” you’ll get two different kinds of results. The first kind will detail a plant that has won the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit, has cultivars named “Emerald Gaiety” and “Emerald Surprise,” and may be on sale at your local garden center for $39.99. The second kind details a plant that is listed on the Invasive Plant Atlas of the United States, was named an “alien plant invader” by the Plant Conservation Alliance, and often is accompanied by the words: “DO NOT PLANT.”
We sure got an “Emerald Surprise” when we realized this plant was growing rampantly at our Smart Property this summer. The Smart Property, one of our newest acquisitions, is a 3-acre floodplain forest on the banks of the Androscoggin River, filled with towering silver maples and green ashes and home to warblers and waterfowl alike. We first noticed the mysterious emerald evergreen vine climbing nearly to the tops of some of these trees, and saw that where it touches the forest floor, it transforms into a blanket of dense groundcover growth. We can’t know for certain how or when wintercreeper first appeared at this property, but its proximity to the riverbank indicates that it hitched a ride on the Androscoggin River, likely after getting washed out of somebody’s garden upstream, and was deposited during a spring flood.
As stewards of our conserved lands, it is our responsibility to protect our properties from invasive species—which reduce biodiversity, threaten rare species, and choke out native trees and herbs. But there are many occasions and circumstances where the battle against invasive species feels futile—that you could spend your whole life cutting brush and yanking weeds, and you’d hardly put a dent in the waves of bittersweet, knotweed, honeysuckle, and barberry that seem fated to overtake our native landscape.
However, this time is different: because this is only the second known wild population of wintercreeper in the state, treating this infestation means that we have a real chance to prevent this plant from creeping into the rest of the state and strangling floodplain forests from Salmon Falls to the St. John. And we weren’t about to let that chance pass us by!
So we spent a few days with our Regional Field Team yanking the vines down last week—they come off the tree with a satisfying zzzzzip!—and digging the roots out of the ground, but it will likely take a few years of active management to fully remove wintercreeper from the Smart floodplain forest.
So if you’re looking for new plants to put in your garden, don’t just go with what’s on sale at your local garden store, because it may have ulterior motives for world domination. Please consider buying New England natives! The Native Plant Trust has published a database of great garden plants that also support our native biodiversity—learn more by visiting their website.
By Lily McVetty, Summer Intern
On Monday, I attend an educational program hosted by the Androscoggin Valley Soil and Water Conservation District (SWCD) along with the University of Maine Cooperative Extension. The goal of this program was to help educate community members about invasive species, their various forms throughout Maine’s four seasons, and their associated prevention techniques. The program placed an emphasis on several types of moths: Winter, Browntail, and Gypsy. The Emerald Ash Borer, Asian Longhorned Beetle, and Hemlock Woolly Adelgid were also central topics.
The key message that I gleaned from this workshop was to purchase camp wood and landscaping materials from the area in which they will be used rather than using imported ones. By doing so, you are helping prevent the spreading of invasive insects, plants, and bacteria—and supporting local businesses!
Over time, imported invasives will extinguish Maine’s native biotas, degrade property values, and negatively impact the state’s industries. For example, logging and maple syrup industries are at risk from invasives killing vast quantities of their stocks and resources. Tourism could also be dramatically affected when Maine’s native characteristics become depleted and when physically irritating species like Browntail Moth cause visitors great discomfort and worry (see images below). As anthropogenic activities continue to cause native species to disappear, the state will become a more unfamiliar place to those who have lived here for decades.
There seems to be a disconnect between ecologists and members of the general public. I would argue that both campers who bring their own camp wood from home and homeowners who choose to do business with companies that import landscaping materials have good intentions. Rather than intending the state any harm, I believe these people and companies are unaware of the impact of their choices. Although organizations like the Androscoggin Valley SWCD and University of Maine Cooperative Extension are doing their best to spread awareness on invasive species and prevention practices, there is still a significant knowledge gap. Creating effective and far reaching dialogue will be critical to combating this growing issue in Maine.
By Lily McVetty, Summer Intern
This week I had the pleasure of working with a volunteer trail monitor, Sue Pinette. At a 121-acre property in Topsham, currently referred to as Tardiff, we constructed a bog bridge and began blazing a new trail. I was introduced to Tardiff during the scouting phase. Just two months later, the property’s old logging roads have been mapped for a cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trail network, a loop trail—with several crushed stone and wooden bridges—has been developed and blazed, and the parking area is under preparation for official signage. It has been neat to witness the property’s progress and to have participated in each step.
On Tuesday and Thursday, I assisted the Tom Settlemire Community Garden Coordinator, Lisa Martin, and three frequent volunteers: Dev, Claudia, and Hope. We completed a diverse set of tasks from weeding, removing pests, aerating compost, and harvesting produce—cucumbers (round and yellow!), peas, onions, carrots, and peppers. It was wonderful to learn about uncommon vegetable types, planting and harvesting dos-and-don’ts, composting methods and vertical farming experiments. As our landscapes and seascapes continue to change, it will be critical for the agriculture industry to consider alternative farming practices. I enjoyed discussing the role that conservation plays in bringing about more sustainable systems. Within two days and with the help from volunteers, Lisa delivered 242.5 pounds of produce to Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program!
Our volunteers are incredible. Without them, a lot of the work BTLT does would not be possible.
A very special Thank You to each and every BTLT volunteer for your time and support.
By Alex Lear
July 23, 2019
Head of Tide Park is Topsham’s first waterfront park. The Park is located at the Cathance River’s head of tide, or the furthest upstream that the tide impacts the river and is home to a 15-foot waterfall, trail head, picnic pavilions, and hand-carry boat launch to access the lower, or tidal section of the river. The town of Topsham is hoping to improve this space, though, with better parking and a hand-carry boat launch.
The Portland Press Herald recently covered these proposed improvements in a story by Alex Lear.
The town is seeking $55,000 in grants from the state to improve parking and build a hand-carry boat launch at Head of Tide Park.
The Board of Selectmen on July 18 unanimously authorized Town Manager Rich Roedner to apply for the funding, which is available through the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands’ Boating Facilities Fund.
The total project would cost $73,000; $18,000, or 25%, would be provided by the town – $10,000 from the current budget and $8,000 from in-kind work by Public Works, according to Town Planner Rod Melanson.
The 12-acre Cathance River park, at 235 Cathance Road, is owned by the town and stewarded by the Brunswick-Topsham Land Trust. It offers a 15-foot waterfall at the river’s highest tidal reach, hand-carry boat access on either side of the falls, a trailhead that connects to more than 7 miles of trails, and picnic and parking areas.
By Lily McVetty, Summer Intern
Before my internship with BTLT, I could count the number of times I had been paddling on my fingers. Last week, I was invit ed to accompany my colleagues on not only one, but two work-related paddling trips. I was pleased to be presented with the opportunity to get on the water and to familiarize myself with two more properties within the area.
The first property we paddled to was Cow Island, a property located on the Androscoggin River. I had been aware of this island for a while, having passed it many times on Route 1 and on the Androscoggin River Bicycle Path. I was excited to explore this property up close. On Monday, we hopped into a canoe at the Town of Brunswick’s Water Street Boat Landing. We paddled to Cow Island and around its perimeter to locate a section that BTLT monitors for an invasive plant called yellow Iris. We hauled two large, contractor bags of yellow iris (if left behind, it will spread to other parts of the island) and trash, which had washed up onto its shores.
The next day, we geared up with a canoe and two kayaks and headed to a property in Topsham, which runs parallel to another section of the Androscoggin River. The objective of the trip was to prospect the property from a water-level vantage point for future projects. It felt good to collectively get out of the office and onto the water. We were fortunate enough to encounter a Bald Eagle resting on a branch in the river, a few patches of native blue iris happily blowing with the breeze, and a significant scattering of mussels growing along the banks.
Although paddling twice within one week is a benefit of working for a land trust, I’d argue the real perk is learning about the various roles, responsibilities, procedures, and logistics that can be easily deemed cumbersome. Nonetheless, they are critical to achieving the land trust’s goals. One of the major reasons why I wanted to be an intern at BTLT was to learn what exactly a land trust does and HOW. Within just five weeks, I have done a significant amount of learning by doing. Now, I have more gratitude towards land stewards and their labor intensive dedication, towards farmers’ market vendors and managers – especially their passion for localization and attention to detail – , towards development associates and their ability to effectively convey the land trust’s mission (which enables BTLT to continue protecting the area’s natural resources and serving its peoples), and towards volunteers who take time out of their busy schedules and donate their personal materials to further projects. Being exposed to the not-so-glamourous, day-to-day work and connecting with people from all walks of life are the real perks to working for a land trust.
By Lily McVetty, 2019 Summer Intern
Lots of excitement is happening at Cathance River Nature Preserve and Tardiff!
Cathance River Nature Preserve is a 230-acre property, located at the Highland Green Retirement Community in Topsham. Within the past two years, there has been a significant amount of residential development at Highland Green. A meadow that locals call the Rabbit Ear, which once hosted an intersection for several trails, is now under construction to become home to five new homes. To ensure continued trail usage, the trail network within the Rabbit Ear area is being re-routed. This week, a handful of well-versed volunteers from Cathance River Education Alliance (CREA) came out to assist with establishing a new trail. I appreciated not only their prior knowledge and experience, but also their company. As a student who anticipates on studying abroad in Amsterdam, Netherlands, I enjoyed conversing with a volunteer about the city. Ron informed me that he was recently in Amsterdam and enjoyed his time there so much that he hopes to return to the city in the near future. It was thoughtful of Ron to share his favorite spots and recommendations with me while we worked to develop a new trail section.
Tardiff is a 121-acre property located between the Cathance and Muddy Rivers. The property is divided into two major parcels by Middlesex Road in Topsham. Although there are no official parking spots and trails yet, BTLT is in the process of planning and putting those into place. Margaret and I scouted the northwest parcel for seasonal trails. After a couple trips around the perimeter, several loops through the woods and tall grass sections, and many tick-checks later, we flagged a relatively direct route to a serene outlook on the Cathance River. Next week, we will be teaming up with the Regional Field Team to clear the anticipated trail. Additionally, Margaret and I flagged a loop trail for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing during the winter. Fun things are coming!
By Lily McVetty, 2019 Summer Intern
June 20, 2019
This past week, land stewards from the Regional Field Team helped Margaret and I complete various projects at several properties in Brunswick and in Topsham. It is true that a little help goes a long way. With the assistance from the Regional Field Team, we were able to accomplish a lot of important tasks that would otherwise be daunting. Thanks to their hard work and upbeat demeanors, the trails at Woodward Cove are in better condition and are waiting to be explored and enjoyed!
We dedicated a significant part of the week to working on improvements at Woodward Cove, a property located on Gurnet Road in Brunswick. The water access trail was re-routed to create a direct path to the water and to protect and conserve the marshes. In the near future, BTLT anticipates installing stone steps to ensure its users a safer transition from the land to the water. Additionally, this will aid in protecting the shore from further erosion. On the loop trail, invasive plant species were removed and bog bridges were installed.
These projects presented us with the opportunity to learn and fine-tune valuable stewardship skills and techniques. We learned how to properly use a chain saw to cut down hazardous trees. I learned how to identify and remove several invasives. Woodward Cove is home to a non-native plant called Bittersweet. It is characterized by its bright orange roots, which should be hung off the ground in nearby trees to prevent further spreading. The Regional Field Team and I had a fun time testing each other’s invasive plant knowledge. How many invasives can you identify on the Woodward Cove trails?