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Nashua;43.0;http://forecast.weather.gov/images/wtf/small/novc.png;2014-10-31 05:05:43
Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Volunteers uproot an invasive weed from Nashua River – and do it very carefully

NASHUA – John Fisher vacillated between being optimistic and alarming Saturday morning when he prepped volunteers getting ready to help uproot invasive weeds known as water chestnut from the Nashua River.

“Be very careful if you pull up the seeds, careful of these barbs,” he said, holding up a seed pod as example. ...

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NASHUA – John Fisher vacillated between being optimistic and alarming Saturday morning when he prepped volunteers getting ready to help uproot invasive weeds known as water chestnut from the Nashua River.

“Be very careful if you pull up the seeds, careful of these barbs,” he said, holding up a seed pod as example.

He warned that the pointed barbs can puncture your skin and break off, leaving bits so small they are virtually impossible to remove. If that happens, he said, “leave them in there until they fester and the pus pushes them out.”

Judging from expressions on the face of the two dozen volunteers gathered at the boat launch behind Stellos Stadium, that was definitely alarming.

The optimistic part? The big picture.

“We are this close to eradicating it from this part of the river,” he said excitedly – not bad for a man who in 2011 was quoted in The Telegraph as warning that the fast-spreading weed was en route to choking Nashua’s namesake waterway just upstream from Mine Falls Dam.

At the time, more than 30 acres of floating water chestnuts existed there, visible from his house – huge mats of vegetation so thick you couldn’t canoe through them. On Saturday, the mats were nowhere to be seen.

“Don’t be disappointed if you don’t find that many plants,” cautioned Kathryn Nelson, of the Nashua Regional Watershed Association, which sponsored the event.

As it turned out, when volunteers fanned out in 17 kayaks and canoes, they found plenty of the floating plants, which are no relation to the Chinese restaurant delicacy. Roughly 500 pounds of floating leaves, stems and dangerously spiked seeds were gathered when all was said and done.

But the invaders had to be hunted down, one or two plants at a time.

Among those doing the hunting was 86-year-old Marion Stoddart, of Groton, Mass., who can lay claim to being the reason that the Nashua River is in pretty good shape, invasive weeds notwithstanding.

Stoddart’s work to clean up the Nashua began in the 1960s, when many New England rivers were still used as sewers by towns and industry.

“The sludge was so thick on the river that birds and little animals could walk across it without getting their feet wet,” Stoddart said.

She has been successful in cleaning up the Nashua River that a movie was made about her efforts, titled “The Work of 1000.” But she didn’t mind doing a little more.

“The job is never done,” she said. “Nothing is so good that it can’t be made better.”

Not everybody on the river Saturday had Stoddart’s experience: Close to half the volunteers had rarely, if ever, seen a water chestnut before, and many were boating novices.

“I’ve only been in the water with it once or twice,” said Jim Keydel of Groton, Mass., gesturing to his canoe. His aquatic inexperience got balanced out, however: Stoddart rode in the front.

Canoes were made available for free by Nashoba Paddlers, of Groton, Mass.

The city’s reduction in water chestnut growth has been largely accomplished by mechanical harvesters, floating machines that gather up plants literally by the ton. Nashua has rented them several times over the past few years, experimenting with harvests at different parts of the growing season, at about $30,000 per year.

Fisher said he didn’t think harvesters would be needed this year, as long as boaters kept plucking up newly grown plants. The city has placed a couple of plastic trash cans alongside the boat ramp for boaters to dispose of any water chestnuts they find.

This search isn’t going to end any time soon. As volunteers discovered Saturday, it’s hard to dislodge the seed beds from the muck in the bottom of the river by pulling on the floating leaves, no matter how carefully; more than half the time, the plant stems snapped, leaving the pod in the river to grow again.

Of equal concern are populations upriver. Huge mats of water chestnut plants still exist in the Pepperell Ponds in Pepperell, Mass. Seeds will continue to float downstream until those populations are eradicated – a process that will take decades, at best.

“We really need to work on the Massachusetts side (of the river) to prevent them from spreading,” Stoddart said.

David Brooks can be reached at 594-6531 or dbrooks@nashua
telegraph.com. Also, follow Brooks on Twitter (@GraniteGeek).