Year of Invasive Hiking

November 01, 2021
Thea Landesberg, Ecological Stewardship Volunteer
New York-New Jersey Trail Conference


Year of Invasive Hiking


This article originally appeared in the fall 2021 issue of The Oak Leaf, the newsletter of the TriState Ramblers.

One of my retirement goals was to volunteer more with the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference. I have always felt that this organization did fantastic work to “build, maintain, and protect trails” — the ones we use and love. With more free time, I set out to increase my volunteer efforts.

First, I became a trail maintainer. My assigned section is a 2-mile stretch of the Hoeferlin Trail in Ramapo State Park. Several times a year, my husband and I walk the trail: clipping and lopping, fixing blazes, occasionally cutting down broken branches that block the trail, collecting trash, and reporting any major damage. Bending and reaching provide a great workout in addition to the hike itself. More importantly, though, I feel a sense of pride that I am contributing to the well-being of the forest.

My next step was to become an invasive species monitor. Without the faintest idea what this was all about, I took the plunge and watched Brent Boscarino’s two webinars, where I learned to identify 14 of the most common invasive plants in New Jersey. For those who might not know, invasives spread quickly and outcompete native species, often causing their extinction and displacing the food chain among wildlife. It is a worldwide problem.

At first, I had a very difficult time differentiating one species from another, but Brent’s non-stop encouragement made me think that, eventually, I could do this work. Last fall, on a 4-hour trek at High Tor State Park in Rockland County, New York, I teamed with a young man who had invasive species experience. He patiently showed me how to identify the various species (I used Seek, a nifty plant ID app) and how to record them using Avenza and data charts. Could I identify all 14 species afterward? No, but it was a positive start. And over the winter, I took the webinar again and looked at tons of online photos, trying to store information for the next season’s work.

This past summer, I worked with another experienced invasive tracker on three different trails in Norvin Green State Park. Little by little, I could recognize these plants. Wineberry vines have short, spiky red hairs; the long Oriental bittersweet vines wind around themselves and tree limbs; and Japanese barberry leaves are spatulate (broad, rounded ends). The first time I correctly identified Japanese angelica, I yelped in delight. My partner, Claudia, and I had so much fun during our hours on the trails and felt great satisfaction in contributing to the health of our environment. We also loved being outdoors, exploring new trails, and learning about our New Jersey flora. I’m proud to say that I can now readily recognize the mile-a-minute plant, which can grow six inches a day!

This season’s invasive plant identification work is over. As the cold weather comes, most flora die, and identification for most species it becomes impossible. For a few weeks, though, I helped out with monitoring the spotted lanternfly in Orange County, New York. This dangerous insect has become a scourge in eastern states including New York, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey. Through Brent’s coaching, I’m doing my very small part to curb its invasion.

I encourage those of you with time and energy to help out with the Trail Conference. It is powerfully rewarding work on many levels.