INFOGRAPHIC Volunteers help check spread of pond-choking invasive plants in Northampton's Fitzgerald Lake

Last modified: Wednesday, July 23, 2014
NORTHAMPTON — Seven volunteers climbed into kayaks and canoes and floated onto Fitzgerald Lake this weekend to launch a counteroffensive against an invasion of water chestnuts.

Their efforts yielded 16 30-gallon trash bags full of the invasive plant, which the volunteers pulled up to prevent it from choking out other native plants that live in the 40-acre lake.

“We usually go out twice a year, once in July and once in August. We just have to keep after them,” said Robert Zimmermann, president of the Broad Brook Coalition, which oversees the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area off North Farms Road. “It can completely cover a lake if you let it go. It can out-compete other native pond species.”

Zimmermann said he and the other volunteers found more of the plants than they expected, especially at the western end of the lake, but he said that may have been because they had focused more on the eastern end in recent years.

“The eastern end was the worst infested about five or six years ago,” when Broad Brook Coalition started the semiannual harvest of the water chestnuts.

“Going out in a kayak or a canoe on a nice day isn’t too bad,” he said. “We have fun.”

These water chestnuts are not the kind one might find in stir fry. The invasive species from Europe — the only invasive affecting the pond — puts down shallow roots in the bottoms of ponds and lakes and then has leaves that float on the surface, making them fairly easy to pull up, Zimmermann said.

That means the pesky plants are much easier to deal with compared to some others, such as phragmites. After determining that it would be impractical to uproot, cut or burn the reedy phragmites that had infested a remote area of the Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area, the Broad Brook Coalition earlier this month received $2,500 in Community Preservation Funds from the City Council to apply a herbicide called Rodeo to the phragmites.

Opposed to the decision was Bernadette Giblin, owner of Safeground Organic Landcare in Northampton, who argued that it was too risky to use the herbicide that could presumably get into water and affect other plants.

But when she heard about the water chestnut removal at one of the City Council meetings, she decided to join in on Sunday.

“It was a good day,” she said. “It was wonderful to support that organization and be out there doing the manual removal of the plants, which is what I’ve been advocating for.”

She said she has been researching the effectiveness of volunteer efforts to manually remove invasive species, and some have been very successful. “You’re not going to spray it once and have it go away. It’s an ongoing effort,” she said.

In the case of the water chestnuts in Fitzgerald Lake, the next effort will be Aug. 9 from 1 to 4 p.m. Anyone interested in volunteering to pull the plants should bring a life preserver and a canoe or kayak and meet at the conservation area entrance on North Farms Road.

For more information, visit www.broadbrookcoalition.org.

Rebecca Everett can be reached at reverett@gazettenet.com.