For Eagle Scout Henry Aistis, removing invasive plants started off as a way to earn service points during his freshman year of high school. But after three years of monthly morning projects at Magruder Park, Aistis has become somewhat of an expert on the subject.
The 17-year-old senior from DeMatha Catholic High School earned recognition from the Hyattsville City Council Monday for leading the scouts of Troop 224 on a project that removed nearly 80 percent of all the bamboo and one-tenth of an acre of English ivy from Magruder Park.
According to park ranger and conservation biologist Marc Imlay from the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission, the 30-acre park is currently the remaining natural area in the city. But because foreign plants lack organisms that use it as a food source, they have overtaken much of the native plant species.
Imlay, who supervised the project, stressed the importance of preserving not only the diverse native plant species but also the variety of native animals and insects that depend on them. “[The park] is the only place in Hyattsville that still has native species,” he said “It’s our natural heritage.”
The project began in the summer when Aistis led his troop of 20 scouts to the park on June 16 to physically cut and dig up the plants. To ensure safety and efficiency, he briefed them earlier that week on the procedures and precautions of working in the woods. The key, Imlay said as he praised Aistis’s leadership, was instructing them to pull out the right parts of the plants within the first 20 minutes.
After breaking off into small groups, the troop spent the next eight hours strenuously cutting and digging. While some went off with small handsaws to clear the bamboo near the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission parking lot, others went near the Trumbule Trail and into Magruder Woods to dig up the English ivy from their roots. In October, Imlay will return to treat the previously bamboo-infested area with Roundup Pro, an herbicide that kills weed at its root.
“Helping [the scouts] work is one of my favorite parts,” Aistis said, adding that he felt proud to hear that the scouts had fun while making such a big difference. “I was very proud of myself and I felt very accomplished knowing that the scouts and my troop had as much pride in working as I did.”
Aistis also added that the project was beneficial in that it will attract more residents. “It’s important to do a project like this to open the park up....” he said, “Not just for the natural plants but also for the public, [because] it limits the ability for crime.”
But his activism doesn’t just end here. Aistis continues to work with Imlay on various invasive-plant removal projects, including one on Sept. 15, during which he helped lead a group of 70 volunteers to remove plants like Japanese stilt grass, periwinkles and multiflora rose from the park.