Blogger Dave Gantz
January 11th, 2021
I have preferred exploring the world with my own two feet for as long as I can remember. In elementary school, I would walk to school in the morning then eagerly wait all day for the “walker bell” to release me to ramble home through a small farm town in Lancaster, PA. If I wasn’t playing in the backyard after school, I would be found running through the fields, streams, and woodlands nearby. I earned a B.S. in Biology and since then, my feet have led me well over 20,000 miles throughout the United States. Along the way I have taken notice of the changing ecosystems in the American landscape. Follow along with me now as I explore how we can collectively experience the impact of invasive and nonnative species and encourage our fellow humans to become a part of the solution.
Let’s Start At The Top
I have explored the forests of northern Pennsylvania for over three decades. I have noticed many changes in our ecosystem in this short period. Merely ten years ago, most of the hollows in northern PA were covered with native ferns, Jewelweed, and Nettle. Some of the hardest hikes required stomping through stream beds to avoid meadows of 4 foot tall native Laportea canadensis (Wood Nettle) and Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle) .
The ecosystem of the upper tributaries of the Susquehanna River has changed though. Now I frequently tear my skin and clothes while pushing through invasive Berberis thunbergii (Japanese Barberry), which is taking over these hollows. Birds and ticks thrive off of these plants, but otherwise they are detrimental to the forest habitat. Only glyphosate can clear a path through a sea of Barberry.
A hiker with a trained eye cannot enjoy the Allegheny Plateau without noticing Microstegium vimineum (Japanese Stiltgrass) and several other invasive species thriving in meadows and along utility corridors.
I’ve enjoyed watching species feed on Cirsium vulgare (Bull Thistle) in the logged forests of northern PA for years, just to recently learn that it is also an invasive species. It is very similar to some natives, such as Cirsium altissimum (Tall Thistle) which is also favored by the Great Spangled Fritillary butterfly. Can you identify which Thistle this is?
Moving South to Susquehanna Valley
I recently moved back to Lancaster and have noticed many changes since I first tramped here in my youth. Rosa multiflora (Multiflora Rose) thickets have been replaced with paths for human travel. Although these thickets, along with Hedera helix (English Ivy), Persicaria perfoliata (Mile-a-Minute Vine) and other invasive species are still rampant, it is now much easier to explore. Muddy and eroded streams are also being replaced with riparian buffer rehabilitation projects. These projects, supported by multiple volunteer and professional organizations and individuals (like you), help to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and provide access for locals to experience their natural surroundings.
I’m merely an interested explorer traipsing around in the woods, but I know enough to realize our current situation is not good. While so much good work has been completed, there is much more work needed. The situation, in fact, is daunting: The Chesapeake Bay Watershed needs more funding for projects, more understanding from local residents, and more help from all of us. How do we solve the overwhelming problems that we face? My solution: Take a walk and focus on the positive.
Engage With Your Neighbors
As we move forward as a community on planet earth, I implore you to physically reach out to those near you who do not know or appreciate your passion. Most folks believe I’m weird because I prefer to walk. But maybe, just maybe, my walking inspires my neighbors to get out and enjoy the natural world. When I gift a jar of pesto from sustainably harvested wild Allium tricoccum (Ramps), I also slip in some genuine enthusiasm for this native species and at times even a quick explanation on the importance of protecting species like these.
Engage with your local community. Go for a walk with your neighbor and point out impressive native plants, such as Arisaema triphyllum (Jack-in-the-pulpit). Take new friends to your local park; you will be amazed at not only how much you can teach them, but also how much they can teach you. Get to know your community on a personal level and allow them to get to know you as well.
Educate The Future
Teach our youth. This is the most important step of all. If we all do our best to educate future generations regarding the positive effects they can make, just imagine what they could do. I find that teaching edible plants is a magical way to introduce youth to the powers of the natural world. Below, I’m showing my nieces the root of Medeola virginiana (Indian Cucumber), as they munch on freshly picked wild blueberries.
The Future is The Solution
After the Pennsylvania logging boom ended roughly 100 years ago, most of the Chesapeake watershed was a desolate land void of trees and plants. With an immense amount of dedication and work from a core of dedicated conservationists like you, we’ve come a long way. Today it is better. Tomorrow, if we teach ourselves, our neighbors and our youth the positive aspects of our native species, maybe we can again live in harmony with our Mother Earth.
Dave Gantz Dave is the part-time PA Coordinator for the Chesapeake Bay Landscape Professional program. Dave’s passions include introducing and connecting enthusiasts with the natural world, so they will feel comfortable exploring and protecting these vital resources. You can find more information regarding Dave at his backpacking website: www.walkwithgantz.com