Prospect Park Needs Your Help Battling 18-Foot Weeds

By Amy Zimmer on August 7, 2014 7:26am 

BROOKLYN — An invasive weed that can grow up to 18 feet tall is taking over the shoreline of Prospect Park's lake — and the park needs your help getting rid of it.

Towering phragmites are blocking scenic views of Brooklyn's only lake and hurting the important wildlife habitat, according to officials from the Prospect Park Alliance who launched their "Fight the Phrag" campaign this month.

The alliance is enlisting volunteers on Aug. 16 and 23 for the labor-intensive work of destroying the hardy species. The phragmites have been a problem for several years, officials said, but the reeds have only recently begun reaching their maximum height.

"They're all around the lake," alliance spokeswoman Corinne Martin said. "They obstruct the views and inhibit some of the birds and different species from nesting in the park because they're too dense to get past."

During four-hour sessions, volunteers — outfitted in full-body rubber waders provided by the alliance — will get their hands dirty, using massive planks of plywood to flatten down the phrag, section by section, then smother it with a layer of heavy-duty black plastic.

"It's hard to get rid of them," Martin said. "The only way is by cutting them down and covering them with black plastic so no light can get to them. That forces [the phrag] to use up its energy reserves and die."

The tarp is kept in place for a year to kill the weeds. Then the alliance will install new, native plants to create a renewed habitat for wildlife, she said.

Phragmites, which can be found throughout the world, have become particularly invasive — taking over other species' habitats, according to the city Parks Department website.

The Parks Department used goats two years ago to kill phrag in Staten Island's Fresh Kills park, according to the New York Times.

While the department no longer employs goats, it also has volunteer phrag-fighting events through its Natural Areas Volunteers program at various parks where the weeds encircle marshes and ponds, a spokeswoman said.

While the weeds do have a few positive qualities, such as serving as a temporary refuge for some animals like birds, in general phragmites knock out desirable native plants, block sunlight for aquatic plants and can change the lake itself by trapping sediment and making the water more shallow.

"This becomes an issue with organisms living in the intertidal zones," Martin said. "Many native animals do not feed on phragmites so it makes the reed virtually useless and a nuisance."

For Prospect Park Alliance's first phrag-chopping session, 100 volunteers from Goldman Sachs tackled the invasive species. The conservancy is hoping to sign up 25 volunteers for each of its sessions later this month.

To sign up to Fight the Phrag initiative on Aug. 16 or 23, visit the Prospect Park Alliance website here.

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