Wake County

Raleigh considers counterattack on vegetation invasion

Kudzu and other invasive species are not a recent scourge at the N.C. Museum of Art park as this 2012 photo shows.
Kudzu and other invasive species are not a recent scourge at the N.C. Museum of Art park as this 2012 photo shows. <capitals>News & Observer file photo</capitals>

Sandy Page has lived near Five Points all her life, long enough to watch wisteria vines and ivy overtake parts of Cowper Drive Park.

About five years ago, she decided she’d fight back. She gathered $1,200 from her neighbors and hired a team of landscapers to rip the thick undergrowth from the four-acre park.

When they were done, she had four large truckloads of dead plants – and a letter from the city. It turns out you’re not supposed to do that.

“I wasn’t furious – but I just felt like we were helping the park,” said Page, 64.

That’s how she began a long journey, which could end in the chambers of the Raleigh City Council in the coming months.

Thanks in large part to her and her friends’ advocacy, the city may spend $125,000 to study, and perhaps fight, the “invasive” species that have crowded into many of its parks, in some cases obstructing paths and views while choking other species.

‘Growth can be overwhelming’

The city does some maintenance of its small wooded parks, with mowing, herbicidal treatments and mulching at least monthly in the parks near Five Points.

The city also allows resident groups to “adopt a park,” which largely entails coming out twice a year to pull weeds, including wisteria and other species that aren’t native to the area, Page said.

Page and her neighbors have volunteered several times, but they say spring and summertime blooms erase their efforts.

“The growth can be overwhelming,” said Neill McLeod, who lives near Cowper Drive Park. “Even the trails that we have, they don’t get taken care of. The roots come up, people fall over them.”

In 2012 and 2013, Page and her neighbors asked the state and the city to allow her neighborhood to graze goats in Cowper, but Raleigh didn’t bite.

Rebuffed, they went to the Raleigh City Council last summer for help, along with adopt-a-park representatives from three other inside-the-Beltline neighborhood parks: Fallon, Cooleemee and Marshall Street.

The matter fell to the council’s budget and economic development committee, where staff and several council members recommended the city take action.

If approved by the full council, the study would include about a dozen parks and greenway sections, including the parks identified by Page and company.

With the help of a consultant, budgeted to cost $125,000, the city would inventory invasive plants and develop management plans.

Page, however, would like more-immediate action.

“I’m really exasperated,” she said. “I’d rather use that money to have a staff person down there to cut these things out and put them in a truck.”

A common nuisance

So, what does it take to tackle invasive species? A lot of hard work, said Dan Gottlieb at the N.C. Museum of Art.

Gottlieb and his team have worked for years to clear kudzu from several acres of woods in the museum’s Art Park off Blue Ridge Road. A combination of herbicidal treatment and employees with Bush Hogs has beat back the plant.

“The magic formula seems to be you have to hit it heavy and hit it hard in year one, and then you have to do followup with maintenance in years two or three,” he said.

Invasive species are a common nuisance in the Southeast. Wake County tallies about 280 types within its borders, and people across the state share information through a plant-tracking database.

“We’re just hoping that we can get more help, and I guess that has to mean more staff,” McLeod said.

The City Council has yet to set a date to vote on the new study.