Citizen Scientist Program

On June 22, 2014, The Friend of the Old Croton Aqueduct kicked off a new initiative - to use GPS devices to map the presence of invasive plants on the Old Croton Aqueduct Trail. The Friends partnered with Teatown Lake Reservation and the Invasives Strike Force of the NY-NJ Trail Conference to host a volunteer training, with support as always from the Black Cow Coffee Company. The 14 attendees included Friends’ and Teatown members and volunteers as well as our summer New York State Park intern. They spent the morning of the second day of summer learning how to identify 14 common widespread invasive plants. In the afternoon they learned how to document the presence of these plants on the Aqueduct trail, using a hand held GPS device or a smart phone. They walked the trails at Teatown, practicing their identification skills and trying out their abilities to use a combination of old fashioned clipboard documentation with technology to map the invasive plants.

At the end of the day our instructor, Linda Rohleder, PhD, from the Invasive Strike Force of the Trail Conference, presented us with 10 maps encompassing the entire Westchester section of the Old Croton Aqueduct. The attendees chose their desired sections of the trail and made the commitment to complete their documentation by the end of the summer. The Trail Conference will then create a color coded map, so we will be able see in great detail where there are invasive plants along the trail, and how extensive the invasion is. Once that map is completed, we can begin to develop a plan to appropriately deal with those plants.

So why are we doing this? What is the problem with invasive species? There are many definitions of an invasive species, but here is one: an invasive species is a non-native organism which is causing harm to the environment, human health or to the economy. Since these species have not evolved over the millennia with the local insects, fungi, birds and other animals, they cannot provide the appropriate nutrition to them (think about the food chain). Since they have no natural enemies (just think, the deer avoid them), there are no controls on their growth and they crowd out the native species on which our local insects and birds and other animals depend. They are so out of place that evolution cannot work its usual magic, even if we think very long time frame. Some say that they are the greatest threat to global biodiversity, second only to outright habitat destruction! Since human beings have put these plants in the environments to which they do not belong, it is our responsibility to do what we can to remove those that we can and make a reasonable attempt at restoration where possible.

If you want to become involved in the efforts to learn about and remove invasive plants, be aware that July 6 to 12 is the New York State’s Invasive Species Awareness Week (ISAW). You can find events in this area by going to http://lhprism.org/view/events. You will see that Teatown is sponsoring a walk on July 12 entitled Find out about Alien Invaders and that there is another surveyor training (learning to identify and map) being held on July 13 at Bedford Hills. In the meantime, give a big thank you to the Citizen Scientists you may this summer traversing the Aqueduct with clipboards and GPS units in hand, taking that first step in invasive species management by doing the mapping.

Diane Alden, Cortlandt, Board Member, Friends of the Old Croton Aqueduct