Crews slaying invasive plants along Licking River trail

COVINGTON, Ky. – Hikers along the Licking River Greenway & Trail should be alert for chain saws and chemicals as work crews begin eradicating invasive and unwanted bushes and plants. 

A contractor hired by the City of Covington, Groundwork Cincinnati, began work today, May 1, on the southernmost end of the trail near Holmes High School and will slowly move north. The periodic work will be done in phases through the end of the year. 

Workers will be wearing bright vests and wielding saws, gasoline-power weed trimmers and other weed-removal tools, said Urban Forester Crystal Courtney of Covington’s Urban Forestry Division. 

On the days they spray pesticide, they’ll mark the affected areas with brightly colored orange or red flags with “Caution” written on them. Hikers should stay on the trail and avoid the sprayed areas and should keep their dogs away from those areas as well. 

“Hikers might also notice a chemical smell, but the odor itself isn’t dangerous and should quickly dissipate,” Courtney said. 

The crews will be targeting three invasive plant species – Amur honeysuckle, Japanese honeysuckle and wintercreeper – among others. 

The plants aren’t wanted because they are not native to the United States and grow so rapidly that they “drown out” and destroy native plants. The wintercreeper strangles trees as well, and the Amur honeysuckle grows so tall and thick that it blocks views of the landscape and woods. 

“We want hikers to be able to see the Licking River, and we want to create a healthy landscape, ecologically speaking, that not only is beautiful but also can serve as a classroom for students,” Courtney said. 

Workers from the Forestry Division will later seed the cleared areas with native plants. 

Up to now, the bulk of the invasive species eradication work has been done by volunteer trail stewards during special events several times a year, Courtney said. “You wouldn’t believe how much bush honeysuckle these volunteers removed over the last half dozen years – that’s why we called them ‘Honeysuckle Warriors,’ ” she said. 

But at this stage of the trail’s development, it needs regular, comprehensive treatment to be most effective, she said. In addition, the contractor’s crew is trained to use large amounts of pesticides and are experts in plant identification. 

Groundwork is experienced in so-called green sector work and partners with several City of Cincinnati youth work programs to employ young adults as part of its Green Team, which will be handling Covington’s project. 

“The trail looks a thousand times better than it did when we started, but I can’t wait to see it a few years from now,” Courtney said. 

The Licking River Greenway was originally designed to run for more than 12 miles, connecting the cities of Covington and Taylor Mill and Newport and Wilder along both sides of the Licking River. 

Covington, where the trail is furthest along, boasts 1.5 miles of nature trail, 0.75 miles of paved trail and 2.5 miles of trail utilizing sidewalk and road infrastructure. Hikers can access the trail at multiple locations, including Levassor Place at Eastern Avenue, Clayton Meyer Park at the end of Thomas Street and East 16th Street. There will also be access points at Randolph Park and Austinburg Neighborhood Park when phases 2 and 3 of the paved trail are completed later this year.  

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