In 2019, Ijams Nature Center has declared war…on weeds.
With support from the Aslan Foundation, the Tennessee Department of Agriculture Division of Forestry, and Grayson Subaru, Ijams’ new Weed Warriors program focuses on eradicating invasive, nonnative species and restoring East Tennessee’s native landscape.
“Preserving the native plants, trees and grasses of this region provides a healthy habitat for native animals, birds, insects and fish to thrive,” Ijams Executive Director Amber Parker said. “Bush honeysuckle, English ivy and other fast-growing, nonnative species choke out the rich diversity of plants native to this area.
“Our native species are what make this region so special,” she said. “If we don’t protect them, we could lose them—and the wildlife that relies on them for habitat and food—forever.”
During the first year of the program, funding from the three partners is helping with start-up costs, from developing an education program and training volunteer Weed Warriors to building a bank of tools and gear to conduct the work. Over the course of their training, volunteers will learn about invasive plant identification, treatment and removal, how to use tools properly and methods to work safely in an outdoor setting. The initial cadre of Weed Warriors will lead their own volunteer groups to cover even more ground on the property.
The second year of the project will move beyond Ijams’ borders and into the community. Weed Warriors will teach individuals, neighborhood groups and businesses to identify invasives, promote the benefits of native plantings and encourage them to choose natives when landscaping their homes and offices.
The Weed Warriors project started with a mass eradication of invasive species on three acres of property that is the future home of the Grayson Subaru Preserve. Using the bulk of the first year’s funding, Ijams hired Invasive Plant Control, a Nashville-based company that specializes in treating large areas in a short amount of time. A team of six IPC staff cleared and treated three acres in only three days.
Parker said this approach, while expensive at $5,000 per acre, has the potential to become a best practice in how nature centers, parks and other protected natural areas are managed. It would take many months to accomplish the same result with staff and volunteers.
“This initial investment in expert eradication followed with maintenance by trained volunteers may be the best way to effect meaningful, long-term landscape change,” Parker said. “We’re studying how this approach affects the restoration of native landscapes, how it impacts the diversity of flora and fauna, and how human perception of the landscape changes.”
Aslan Foundation’s Executive Director, Andrea Bailey, agrees.
“The Aslan Foundation is committed to protecting Knoxville’s natural resources,” Bailey said. “What we learn during this partnership with Ijams has the potential to be a model for one of the area’s most valued treasures, Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness.”
Aslan plays a key role in developing parks within Knoxville’s Urban Wilderness, specifically within the Battlefield Loop. The Foundation recently restored Loghaven, a South Knoxville property it purchased in 2008 to save it from redevelopment. The property will be home to the Loghaven Artist Residency, a program designed to nurture artists of excellence from around the world while preserving 100 acres of natural and built environments. The Foundation preserves beauty, advances livability and supports cultural assets through its grantmaking, public-private partnerships and projects.
Ijams Nature Center is a nonprofit, 315-acre educational nature center for all ages, abilities and walks of life. Ijams’ mission is to encourage stewardship of the natural world by providing an urban greenspace for people to learn about and enjoy the outdoors through engaging experiences. Located just three miles from downtown Knoxville, Ijams features 12 miles of hiking and mixed-use trails, a public access river dock, swimming, boating, biking and more. The center offers hundreds of educational programs annually, from day camps and school field trips to outdoor and classroom education programs on beginner birding and hiking to wildflower walks and family adventures. The Ijams grounds and trails are open every day from 8 a.m. until dusk. The Visitor Center is open Monday through Saturday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sunday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, visit Ijams.org or call 865-577-4717.