Belle Isle Conservancy and SCA Detroit lead the way
On the Saturday before Earth Day, a group of students and nature lovers took to Belle Isle, chopping down trees instead of putting them up.
Their target was honeysuckle, the popular plant that’s actually an invasive species, sprouting all over the island into massive bushes with thick, striated branches. Armed with saws, hedge clippers and garden gloves, the 100 or so volunteers worked with the Belle Isle Conservancy and the Student Conservation Association to hack away at a plant that keeps native trees and shrubs from taking root.
“It’s nice if you have it in your yard, but in the forest, it prevents trees from germinating,” said Mebby Pearson of the Belle Isle Conservancy.
So, along Oakway Road, the volunteers clipped branches off bushes much taller than they, dragging them to the curb for pick up. They sawed at the thick limbs and tried to cut them as close to the ground as possible. When they were done, an adult applied an herbicide to the freshly exposed stems in the hopes that the plant would not return.
While better known as a spot for picnics and bike rides, Belle Isle is also home to old-growth forest, with diverse ecosystems that have established in trees and brush that have rarely been disturbed. Outside of controlled burns and park development, the island hasn’t been clear cut. Pearson said the goal is to keep it that way.
Among the volunteers were high schoolers like Mia Favors, 16, a student at Michigan Collegiate High School in Warren, and Tatyana Greene, 16, as student at Detroit Community High School. The two girls were in a team of five that tackled several honeysuckle bushes in a wooded area off a parking lot.
Favors said she chose the project to earn hours required to work with Greening of Detroit, a group that approaches neighborhood development through horticulture development of its green spaces, whether parks or vacant land.
As the students prepared for their day, Amit Weitzer of the Detroit Conservation Leadership Corps reminded them that they could take the principles behind cleaning up Belle Isle to their own neighborhoods. Greene, who lives on the west side, said she would think about it but would rather spend her time on the island.
“There’s more people,” she said, cleaning a pair of hedge clippers with oil. “It’s a great environment.”