Weed Out History

A Volunteer Effort to Control Invasive Weeds in Milwaukee County Parks

Today, our Weed Out concept, once a revolutionary approach to natural areas management, has become a national model for invasive species control.

Weed Out got its start in 1995 when The Park People President Margarete Harvey met dedicated amateur naturalist Dr. Ken Solis, who had surveyed 25 area parks to publish an educational brochure about invasive plants and trees.

Ken asked The Park People to help him convince the County Parks Department that aggressive non-native, invasive plants and trees were rapidly overrunning and degrading natural areas in our parks.

To support his case, Ken planted garlic mustard in Margarete’s yard to study its life cycle… and has not been able to eliminate it since then!

In October 1995, Ken became the Chair of our newly-created Environmental Committee and immediately created our Weed Out program. The Park People established an agreement with AFSCME Local 882 to allow our volunteer “Weed Out Warriors” to take the maintenance of high-quality natural areas in the parks into their own hands!

Funding for the first three years was received from the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (WDNR) Urban Forestry grant as a new effort to preserve urban forests. Since then, major funds have been received from The Jane Bradley Pettit Foundation, Masterlock, Milwaukee Park Enhancement Fund and others. Donors have also stepped forward with gloves, loppers and printed materials.

In 2001, another milestone was reached: only Union employees has been allowed to apply the necessary herbicides and their wages came from the Weed Out budget. Union leadership agreed to allow 10 volunteers to apply herbicides for each certified Union employee present at a Weed Out event. This wonderful cooperation has allowed the program to grow!

By Spring 2003, nine parks benefited from the Weed Out program. Volunteers from schools, neighborhood associations, scout troops and inmates from the Milwaukee House of Corrections have joined our efforts. Now, more than 750 volunteers turn out for Weed Out events each season!

From the beginning, The Park People recognized that recruiting and organizing volunteers was only part of the solution. We also had to educate the public, media and public officials. Major efforts have included:

Publicity and informative literature, designed by Matt Groshek, have helped thousands of homeowners recognize and effectively tackle their own invasive weed problems.

Educational slide presentations shown at conferences and schools.

An educational video co-produced with Outdoor Wisconsin.

Placing feature articles in the media.

Funding a school curriculum, “Invaders of the Forest,” and Invasive Plants of the Upper Midwest, an informative, illustrated guide that has become the “invasive plant bible.”

Believing that natural areas deserve professional management, the Environmental Committee encouraged the Parks Department to employ a Natural Areas Manager. Dan Spuhler was hired through the UW-Extension in 2000. We also succeeded in getting money in the County budget to actively manage its natural areas for the first time in 2002.

Unfortunately, the Weed Out program will need to go on indefinitely. Garlic mustard and buckthorn return for many years, even after mature plants have been removed, due to the extensive and long-lived seed bank in the soil. Seeds from invasive plants and trees are carried to other areas by wildlife, shoes, bikes and water. We are currently working on an educational campaign to reduce seed spread.

Despite the daunting task, The Park People will continue to promote the Weed Out program to preserve and maintain high-quality natural areas in our parks for present and future generations!