Whackin’ Weeds and Having Fun in the Raggeds
By Dan Gray, North Fork Chapter
This past summer, the Paonia Ranger District on Colorado’s Gunnison National Forest and RMEF’s newly formed North Fork Chapter hosted “Whack’n the Weeds,” a day-long weed education and identification project in the Raggeds Wilderness, home to hundreds of elk. Twenty-seven volunteers—including youth and their adult sponsors from the Hotchkiss Grange—and Forest Service staff spent a Saturday hiking into the wilderness to learn more about noxious weeds, how to control and/or remove them, and to get their hands dirty eradicating them.
At the top of the “Hit List” was houndstongue, which produces flowers and seeds during its second season of growth and can cause organ failure in elk and livestock if eaten in sufficient quantities, and decrease forage quantity and quality for wildlife. After the group hiked a few miles into the wilderness, they spent the day chopping and bundling houndstongue from a nearly 4-acre meadow.
A surprise, and very welcome, partner on the project was the Rocky Mountain Mule Pack String, which is a working pack string that assists with trail, wilderness and backcountry projects across the Rocky Mountain region. The pack string just happened to be in town that weekend for the Paonia Cherry Days parade. When it was all said and done, each mule hauled out about 300 pounds of noxious weeds in it's panniers.
Paonia District Ranger Levi Broyles says, “A lot of great things happened through this project. A lot of people got excited about the work and were eager to lend a hand. Citizens stopped to ask what was going on and applaud the groups’ efforts. And of course, the pack string was a great addition.”
After their hard work, the volunteers hiked out and were rewarded with sandwiches, chips, drinks and some cold watermelon prepared by Forest Service staff.
Weed Day was a great success, and both the North Fork Chapter and Paonia Ranger District hope to continue this effort next year, encouraging more volunteers, youths and groups to help, learn and have fun!