Inner City Teenagers Take a Whack at Invasive Plants

First Coast News
Friday, July 10, 2009

In the heavy humidity Wednesday, crews in a park near Crescent Beach ripped out tallow trees...

In the heavy humidity Wednesday, crews in a park near Crescent Beach ripped out Chinese tallow trees and Brazilian pepper plants.

“Brazilian pepper is one of the worst plant species in the entire state of Florida,” Forrest Penny explained. Penny is with the Guana Tolomato Matanzas National Estuarine Research Reserve.

Jacksonville Crew

The GTM Research Reserve teamed up with St. Johns County to rid the barrier islands of the non-native plants. Those plants kill off native plants. Eventually, invasive plants can also affect animals.

“Brazilian pepper can grow on beach dunes and actually take away sea turtle nesting habitat and gopher tortoise nesting habitat,” Penny explained.

Penny estimated that 80% of the vegetation at Windswept Acres Park on A1A had been taken over by invasive plants.

Once all that is left of the plants are just stumps, a team leader will treat each stump with an herbicide to kill the invasive plants.

The crews doing the work at St. Johns County parks this week are not just professionals. Some inner-city teenagers from Duval County are helping as well.

Some of the students, like 17-year-old D’juana Stripling, have never been to St. Johns County.

“It’s different,” Stripling said. “It’s actually very pretty out here. It’s really different from Jacksonville.”

“I live in Jax,” 16-year-old Orlando Smith said. “It’s different [in Jacksonville] because there are more buildings.”

The teenagers are from the Student Conservation Association.

Penny couldn’t be more pleased with them. “They have done an awesome job! They’ve worked so hard out here. They’ve done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Penny said with a smile.

Myrt Hales is a team leader with the Student Conservation Association. He said, “It’s a six-week program. Every week we’re trying to do something new and different for the kids. We want to expose them to things that maybe they wouldn’t see in school.”

The students apply for the program and are paid a stipend for the summer.

Stripling said she’d rather be working outside than spending the summer inside at home. She also said she’s learned a lot.

“I’ve learned about plants that are not supposed to be in Jacksonville or in Florida at all,” Stripling said.

For teenagers like Stripling, the program gets them off the streets and into the woods — to tackle environmental problems one plant at a time.

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