The Weed Warriors

October 27 was a big day for the Friends of Mt. Tabor Park Weed Warriors, the band of volunteers who pull invasive plants from the slopes of Mt. Tabor Park.

Having cleared a 2.25 acre section, warriors will for the first time be doing planting of their own with native shrubs like thimbleberry, snowberry and trailing blackberry.

On October 29, the Weed Warriors were honored with a coveted Sandy Diedrich Environmental Stewardship Spirit of Portland award during a ceremony at the downtown Double Tree Hotel. The awards are considered the city’s Oscars, recognizing community groups  for their contributions to civic life.

Mary Kinnick, a retired professor of education at Portland State University, accepted the award on behalf of the group. Kinnick has been a driving force behind the Warriors and also chairs the Friends of Mt. Tabor Park, of which the group is a part.

Every last Saturday of the month from March through October, Weed Warrior volunteers met at the kiosk at the park’s main parking lot at 9 am for three hours of digging out invasive growth which must be removed by hand to preserve existing native plants.

In the March through September period this year,  225 volunteers spent 685 hours on the job (not including additional volunteer work parties specially organized for groups), according to Alexa Todd,  the part-time volunteer services coordinator and the Warriors’ only paid staffer.

“The volunteer groups range from about 10 to 60 people,” Todd says.  “I’d say on average we have about 25 volunteers (per outing). Our larger groups tend to coincide with the school year when we receive many students volunteering for class credit.  I’m guessing that the groups shrink during summer because people are off on vacation and away on weekends.”

Todd, in her third “season” as volunteer services coordinator, is responsible for planning each of the monthly forays, including such details as the location, activity and tools. She is expected to fill leadership, education and training functions, including briefing volunteers at the scheduled events and training crew leaders. There has been a three-fold increase in volunteer hours since Todd was retained.

The city clearly appreciates the help.

“The Friends of Mt. Tabor Weed Warriors are a very well-organized and effective group that works closely with PP&R (Portland Parks & Recreation) and BES (Bureau of Environmental Services) to implement restoration projects at Mt. Tabor Park,” said Susan Hawes , a Stewardship Coordinator for Portland Parks & Rec .

“Weed Warriors are willing to tackle any kind of job: pulling English ivy, removing Himalayan blackberry, planting native species – even working in areas with poison oak. They are intrepid volunteers who are incredibly dedicated to the betterment of the Park, and they are a joy to work with.”

The Warriors also are credited with raising cross-cultural awareness by bringing diverse groups of volunteers together for their Saturday outings.

Among the sources of volunteers are middle and high schools, Warner Pacific College (bordering the park). Portland City College, businesses, and organizations that recruit volunteers such as Hands of Greater Portland  and SOLVE. Old and young  participate, although  helpers must be at least 7 years old.

The Warriors were founded about 13 years ago by Tony Cole, now in his 70s and a part-time English language tutor, who had experience supervising crews weeding and cutting out English Ivy in city parks.

“It was a natural extension for me to apply that experience to our volunteer efforts in the park,” he says. “Parks and Rec staff did not seek us out initially, but were delighted to cooperate, and provide guidance and tools and equipment, once they saw we were able to act responsibly safeguarding native flora while setting back invasives in target locations.”

The Warriors have flourished under the leadership of Kinnick and Todd, he says; Kinnick for her organizational skills, including running interference with the city bureaucracies, and Todd, for the on-the-ground coordination she provides.

Here’s what a couple of regular volunteers have to say:

 

Darvel Lloyd:

“I am astonished and dismayed by the relentless invasion of non-native plants, smothering out our beloved natives! But since I’m “part-owner” of this splendid 200-acre parcel, I feel a strong desire to help improve its ecological health and restore its natural landscape. Besides learning so much about our invasive and non-native plants, I am able to meet a bunch of fine, like-minded people while we get ourselves tired and dirty in the park during our work season.”

 

Gayle Marechal:

“Being  part of the Weed Warriors is another way for me to help Mt. Tabor Park and to return through a bit of sweat equity some of my good fortune to live in such a lovely place.  The park is in some ways the spiritual center of where I live in Portland and I want to help it remain such.  Being a Weed Warrior helps me help the park.”

 

At the Spirit of Portland ceremony, the Weed Warriors will receive the Sandy Diedrich Award for Environmental Stewardship, an award established in 2010 to honor the founder of the No Ivy League.

To learn more about the Weed Warriors go to www.taborfriends.org