March 18, 2008

Pritchard Park's buckthorn meets its match

The fog lay heavy and damp over Pritchard Park this morning. Underfoot, some snow and ice, but mostly mud. Leaves and lawn mixed with melted snow make walking anywhere off the pavement a treacherous experience, marked by soggy footprints.

Still, a peaceful place for a solitary stroll ... but what's that sound? Chainsaws!

The saws shouldn't come as a surprise. Around the park's perimeter, especially visible around the picnic area, are huge piles of brush, some of them eight to ten feet tall, 30 to 40 feet long.


Is this a major Parks Department cleanup? Not hardly. It's all being accomplished by volunteer labor: two retirees who saw a problem and brought a solution. Dick Ehlert, a retired Unified guidance counselor, started the job on his own last year. Then Bernie Mann, a Case retiree, spotted him, and brought his own chainsaw. Now they work together, for two or three hours a morning, cutting and hauling and stacking.

Buckthorn is a Eurasian tree/bush that came over to the U.S. in the 1880s, an invasive species clearly capable of taking over the woods. "Some of them get pretty-good sized -- 8" to 10" in diameter, 30 feet tall," said Bernie. "It can take over." But not at Pritchard Park, if the two men have anything to say about it.

Occasionally, people will come by and see what the two are doing and question their right to attack Pritchard Park's "trees" with chainsaws. But Dick is ready for them. "I have a letter in my car from the County, giving us permission," he said, "and as soon as I show them that, everything's OK."

Once they've cut down the buckthorn, Dick paints the stumps with Roundup, a pesticide. "If you don't do that, then one stump becomes eight more buckthorn trees," he said. County crews come by and haul off, and burn, the brush they cut and stack.

The two started cutting in the section of Pritchard Park at the corner of Ohio and Durand last fall. "Bernie's optimistic that we'll be through this section by the end of Spring," Dick said. Then they'll start on another section of the park. No rest for the chainsaws.

Bernie Mann, left, and Dick Ehlert


  1. I admire these guys. Actually putting some effort forth.

    If you put out some way to contact them, I'm sure some of us would volunteer to help out...with actual effort.

  2. Dick Ehlert would be happy to have more helpers. You can reach him at 598-0350.