It’s hard to believe that we have been CVA’s for roughly 5 months. It feels like just yesterday we were in OL training or in Las Vegas learning about what the next 12 months would have in store for us. Since we began our Centennial Volunteer Ambassador position at Cuyahoga Valley National Park, Ryan and I have worked daily with volunteer groups, many of them summer programs, corporate groups, or school groups.
When groups plan a day of service and recreation with us in CVNP, one of the volunteer projects that we do most often is invasive plant removal (IPR). There are large sections of invasive plants along our most popular trail, the Towpath Trail, that follows the route of the historic Ohio and Erie Canal. Privet, Autumn Olive, and Multiflora Rose are just a few of the invasive plants that grow quite thick and menacingly along this path.
Autumn Olive leaves (image from One Acre Farm)
National Inventors Hall of Fame STEM Middle School National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) – Center for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics Learning (STEM) Middle School is one of the many groups that have joined us to tackle the job of removing invasive plant species. This middle school is located just south of the park in Akron, the rubber capital of the world and home of Lebron James (go Cavs!). As a school unit, they have created numerous unique goals to work towards. One of their goals was to develop innovative teaching and learning techniques that challenge the students and make use of each partner’s expertise. The faculty and students challenged themselves to thinking outside the box by taking their quest outside of their school walls and into Cuyahoga Valley National Park, something they have been doing for years.
NIHF First Invasive Plant Removal (Park staff lead) On October 7th, NIHF students and teachers joined us in an IPR project between the Towpath and the Cuyahoga River, a section that has been worked on for quite a while. They arrived excited and eager to learn about this issue plaguing our park and how they would be able to help. We taught them about our National Park System, Cuyahoga Valley National Park, why we have invasive plants, how to safely and properly remove them, and the myriad of reasons why we do not want invasive plants. They took their experiences and new knowledge back to school with them that day to create innovative teaching and learning techniques.
NIHF Second Invasive Plant Removal (Students lead) The same students and teachers returned to join us in an IPR project on Tuesday, October 25th. This time, the middle school students took the lead while we (park staff) stepped back to learn and observe. All we had to do was supply the tools for the day and supervise. The students invited their families to join us in the IPR project, and quite a few of them showed up despite the brisk 40 degree temperature. Since their first visit, the students had created different roles that utilized each others strengths. Some students acted as volunteer coordinators, passing out volunteer agreements to parents as they arrived. Other students acted as speakers, who were broken into six different groups: Physical Group, Biological Group, Chemical Group, Mechanical Group, Technology Group, and Public Relations Group. In turn, each of these groups discussed in depth our National Park System, what invasive plants are and how they arrived in CVNP, their impact on the environment, and our process for removing them and why it is done in a certain way. They also did a thorough safety talk on Towpath etiquette, PPE, and the tools they would be using (loppers).
Once we arrived at the project site, the students engaged with the families to clear invasive plants. Quite a large section of Privet, Multiflora Rose, and Autumn Olive were removed! At the end of the project, the students gathered all PPE and tools while the Public Relations Group gathered their pamphlets and posters together. The Public Relations Group discussed how they wanted to raise awareness about the invasive plants in our park that were not only taking nutrients away from native trees and shrubs, but also blocking the visitor view from the heart of our park, the Cuyahoga River.
Students Program: Pokemon Go & Invasive Plants
The students created a program that we could use to raise awareness about the invasive plants in our park. Their idea was to utilize a roving ranger and the extremely popular game for smart phones, Pokemon Go. A lure (something that can be “dropped” in a certain location that attracts Pokemon) would be placed in areas where the invasive plants are highly visible. The students explained that their peers, the public, and Pokemon enthusiasts would be attracted to the area. A ranger would be roving around in the area where the lure was dropped, engaging with the public discussing our invasive plants and how they can become stewards of the park. The ranger would also be passing out pamphlets that have a list of IPR drop-in dates so the public can stay informed on when they can get involved.
These students showed us and their families how much they love Cuyahoga Valley National Park and we are proud to have them as supportive stewards!