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Landscapers clear acres of overgrown, invasive plants to improve Thompson Park

in Enviroment/Place 225 views

WATERTOWN — Starting a more than weeklong project on Thursday, Brian R. Percy sat perched a couple of stories above the ground in Thompson Park operating a Prentice log loader.

The loader, fitted with a claw, grabbed pesky underbrush, picked it up and placed it in the back of a dump truck.

Back on the ground, another employee of B&R Tree Experts, Black River, maneuvered a Bobcat, equipped with a Fecon head on it, as it placed smaller debris in an industrial chipper. Two other employees with chain saws also helped out with the project.

Within three hours, the four B&R tree experts removed about an acre of European buckthorn, clearing out an area near the Gotham Street entrance that will be used by park-goers in the near future.

“We don’t mess around,” Mr. Percy said. “We get in and get out.”

Over the next week or so, the company will remove about 11 acres of buckthorn, an invasive species that has gobbled up lawns in the historic city park for decades.

It’s part of the city’s ongoing efforts to make the park “more accessible and more usable,” according to City Manager Kenneth A. Mix, the city’s resident Thompson Park expert.

After the work is done, Mr. Mix, who’s spearheading the improvements, envisions adding picnic tables to the cleared space or creating a disc golf course, an amenity that park enthusiasts have requested in recent years.

While the heavy equipment will remove gobs of buckthorn quickly, other park improvements began four years ago.

In 2018, volunteers and members of the Friends of Thompson Park, a group dedicated to the 355-acre park, started gathering one Saturday a month in the summer months and into the fall to work on Thompson Park’s trail system.

“They’ve done a lot of work,” Mr. Mix said.

Over the past 20 years, mountain bikers have created a series of trails around the park.

But many of the trails that snake around the park have been covered by the invasive species. Others have disappeared after years of neglect, Mr. Mix said.

The improvements began with volunteers using tools to remove brush by hand to widen trails, create new ones and reopen underutilized portions of the park.

They dragged out the debris, where it was picked up by public works crews and carted away.

Park enthusiasts were back at work on Saturday placing wood chips on some of those improved trails.

During the past few years, Walter Zabriskie, who has lived in Watertown for 40 years, has participated in about a half dozen of the Saturday volunteer efforts.

“We love the park,” he said. “We think it’s the best thing about Watertown.”

On a recent humid day, Mr. Mix took a reporter on a hike through a trail off West End Drive, near the Gotham Street entrance.

Across the road from the West End Drive Overlook, the trail entrance has been marked by logs on either side. The trail quickly narrows. Only one person can hike on it at a time.

It meanders past Goose Pond, a depressed water area on the left, and the Watertown Golf Club on the other side. It loops around and comes back out to the overlook.

“I know people who have lived here 30 years and don’t know this is here,” Mr. Mix said.

He’s hoping to change that with the ongoing improvements.

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Covering Crops in Red Plastic Can Boost Yields Up to 37 Percent

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For centuries, humans have used greenhouses to help plants grow outside of tolerable conditions. Now, as it turns out, it might be much better if instead of greenhouses, we built redhouses.

The red spectrum of light stimulates the leaves of plants to produce more chlorophyll, and an Australian ag-startup is wielding this basic science to create thick red films to cover existing greenhouses in order to boost plant production beyond what either the sun, or greenhouses are capable of.

Luminescent-Light Emitting Agriculture Films, or “LLEAF” was founded by scientists from a partnership between the Universities of New South Wales and Western Sydney.

They produce, and are now testing, several different films to increase crop yields, with each one tailored to a different kind of plant.

“Our luminescent light-emitting agricultural film, LLEAF, is designed to ‘supercharge’ natural sunlight by shifting the natural light into a light spectrum that is more beneficial for plant growth,” company co-founder Dr. Alex Soeriyadi tells Future Food Systems. “Our trials indicate potential to increase yield, improve plant cycle and harvest control.”

LLEAF 620 is a low-red spectrum color to boost photosynthesis and increase production in most plants, while for aquatic plants, LLEAF 590 is the best choice for applications where light penetration through water for increased growth rate is required.

Far-red spectrum light is better for fruiting trees and flowers, for which LLEAF sells two different films, one for production and another for growth, which climb to the 700 nanometer range of the light spectrum.

The films are made from special dyes that absorb and diffuse photons from the green spectrum of light, and emit it again as red light to increase plant photosynthesis.

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