About 35 people turned out Saturday to rumble with the bamboo jungle at the south end of Glover Archbold National Park, sawing and lopping their way through tall swaths marked for eradication.
In late summer heat and humidity, the assembly worked like a line of ants, hauling felled bamboo along the trail, under the suspended steel monkey bars of the abandoned streetcar trestle and out to the clearing beside Canal Road.
The invasive common bamboo makes an impenetrable monoculture that crowds out native species of trees, says the National Park Service.
NPS botanist Ana Chuquin says bamboo infestations exists in many places amid the 3,000 acres of Rock Creek Park in Washington, D.C., mainly the result of escapes from nearby residential planting for ornamental or screening purposes.
She said the park service cannot afford to take on all infestations at once.
“We’re taking the battles one by one. This is going to be our concentration until we get this done,” she said of the trestle site job, where volunteers had already turned out earlier in the summer to cut back bamboo. “That doesn’t mean we’re going to get it done really quickly.” NPS workers will return later to apply herbicide to suppress regrowth.
Chuquin and John Maleri of the Rock Creek Conservancy briefed volunteers before they got started. “It’s a natural landscape. Let people know if you see holes that can produce a fall. Cut as close to the ground as you can – not like Zorro,” Chuquin said, waving her arm. She also cautioned people not to linger under the trestle, noting the possibility of debris to fall.
The trail under the trestle has been closed for more than year due to safety concerns. The fate of the trestle is uncertain, with some proposing restoration to allow for use as a pedestrian or bike pathway that would follow the old streetcar right-of-way.
Jacqueline Drayer, outreach and grants manager for the DC Preservation League, was on hand to cut bamboo. “It’s attractive and interesting and it speaks to this bygone transit history,” she said of the trestle, adding that it should be stabilized and preserved and not simply studied. “A lot of projects get assessed and nothing ever follows. We want to see the entire process unfold.” (See, Glover Archbold Bridge And Sewer Limbo, August 29, 2017, PotomacTimes)
Sara Eshleman, 35, a recent graduate of U.S. Navy boot camp and now based in Maryland at Fort Meade, was among those who took a saw in hand.
“It was a great opportunity to do something for a treasure like this park,” said Eshleman, who grew up in Virginia and worked as a teacher and actor before joining the Navy, just beating the enlistment age requirement that you complete boot camp before turning 35. “It’s helping the environment.”
She was joined in the bamboo by fellow recent Navy entrants and mass communication trainees George Fotopoulos, 18, Jalen Walton, 19, and Kaleb Sarten, 24.
The sweat flowed during the two-hour project. “I feel like I’m about to have a heart attack,” huffed Charles Rice, 35, dumping a load of severed bamboo stalks on a rising stack in a clearing. “It’s very pretty if you can keep it in check,” he said. “It makes a nice sound when the wind blows through it, but it is aggressive.”
Anti-bamboo tactics change, depending on the circumstances. A few years ago, NPS cut down a small flat patch in Battery Kemble Park, covering it with mulch and landscape fabric, and suppressing regrowth with herbicide.
The action wasn’t universally popular among area residents. But it became urgent after an unknown renegade unilaterally chopped down the stand over a weekend and left a dangerous tableau of bamboo spears that needed to be dulled, according to Chuquin. The site is now ready for replanting with native tree species.
At the trestle site, fabric doesn’t make sense because of the steep and uneven terrain. Roots won’t be dug out either. “We have to respect any archaeological remains if there are any,” Chuquin said, adding that digging also might worsen erosion.
Chuquin said she understands people might want to plant bamboo at home. But she urged consideration of using native species to achieve the same ends.
Bamboo can be controlled by growing it in trenches sided with plastic barriers and vigilant pruning of rhizomes, the lateral shoots it deploys to spread itself, according to Anna Foleen of Bamboo Garden in North Plains, Oregon.
“Quite honestly, the law should be: if it gets out of your property, then you are responsible legally and financially for removing it,” said Foleen, who handles commercial business and serves as secretary of the local American Bamboo Society chapter. “If people would just pass that law, life would be a lot easier.”
People’s quest for privacy in the face of denser residential development can drive them to bamboo.
“A lot of places, in old days, had one- or two-story homes. Suddenly, people are stepping out into their backyards and finding a three- and four-story condo complex looking over their backyard and they get to live in a fishbowl,” Foleen said, noting that a tree might not fit in the yard or grow quickly enough. “People go with bamboo because it’s narrow, upright and grows fast.”