Passing in or out of Norwich this fall one could see that the rolling meadow and apple orchard and the edges of the woods east of Main Street between the school property and I-91 were being pruned, raked, mowed, cut down so that when the job was completed, the entire area had been cleared and opened. A long metal fence, impacted with invasive growth, was dug out and removed. To some, it appeared as if the area had been permanently changed. We will, in fact, have to keep this area mowed until the invasive seeds and viable root systems that are still present have stopped resprouting. When this has happened, we will be able to replant native trees and shrubs.
This project, undertaken for the town by The Department of Public Works under the leadership of Andy Hodgdon with tractor, mower, backhoe and saw, had two main purposes: to reduce the devastating impact of invasive species and to bring the old orchard back to life. The endeavor greatly augmented the efforts of the Milton Frye Nature Area Committee. The committee had held a number of workdays to pull out old fencing and barbed wire and to pull up glossy and common buckthorn, oriental bittersweet vine, Japanese Barberry, and honeysuckle in several key areas of the Nature Center Area. Local resident volunteers joined the committee. Students from Marion Cross School worked with their environmental science teacher, Lindsey Putnam, to help with uprooting and drying out the roots of large patches of buckthorn.
A great deal was accomplished by the town fall project; however, much more remains to be done. Many of the invasives reform from roots or seeds and must be again pulled out. Others, such as wild parsnip and chervil, and poison ivy must be cleared to prevent rashes and burning. Invasive plants along the access and exit of I-91 are spreading rapidly into the Nature Area, and infiltrating properties along Route 5 and Main Street. The threat of invasive trees and plants reduces the available room for native trees and plants. The number of wildflowers is gradually diminishing as invasive ground plants take over their habitats. A growing colony of Norway Maples threatens to crowd out pines, ash, and beech trees.
To keep this spread under control, new invasive growth must be uprooted, cut down, or, in some cases, treated with chemicals. The Milton Frye Nature Area Committee has consulted several experts on removing invasive plants, and is examining possible ways to fund their work.
The 36 acres of the Milton Frye Nature Area are a treasured resource for the town of Norwich. The Marion Cross School uses the area for environmental science projects of many kinds. Dog walkers, runners, and hikers frequent the three major paths that wind through the woods and the two stone ridges that divide the area. Spring bird walks are held each year. Mink, fox, deer, raccoon, porcupine, bobcat, bear, mice and vole tracks testify to the diversity of wild life that lives in or visits the area. A Barred Owl nests in one of the hollow trees and sometimes upsets a community of crows who roost in the tall pines. Hawks and vultures soar over the woods and field. Bluebirds, Tree Swallows, Indigo Buntings, Scarlet Tanagers, Goldfinches, and at least a dozen kinds of warblers visit the apple orchard and its environs.
We are fortunate to live in a community that recognizes the value of the Milton Frye Nature Area and acknowledges the importance of controlling invasive species there. How can YOU help? Join the committee on a weekend workday project. Encourage your children to help as well. The committee hopes to create an identification chart to post at the trailhead. Visit the websites listed below to inform yourself further about these invasives and be able to recognize them. Help Norwich to keep this wonderful resource alive and flourishing. It belongs to all of us.