Becoming an Eagle Scout is no walk in the park. Well, not entirely.
To receive scouting’s highest honor, a scout has to show planning and organizational skills, smarts, teamwork, leadership, and, as John Newman found out, muscle.
Newman, who will become an Eagle Scout in a ceremony May 11, found it took a lot of strength, endurance and determination to complete his project last July. The 17-year-old Port Richmond resident’s project was to remove Japanese knotweed from Lorimer Park in Montgomery County.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said, standing in a hole in the ground where some of the invasive plant had been growing.
He likened the plant to bamboo. The roots grow well into the ground and removing the plant “was labor-intensive,” he said.
Newman, who has been a scout for nine years, needed lots of help and got it from his troop, No. 367 based at St. Christopher’s on Proctor Road, and from his 14-year-old sister Haley’s Girl Scout Troop 91671 from St. Albert the Great in Huntingdon Valley. Newman’s mom, Georgeann, the GSA troop leader, rounded out the family members on Newman’s project team. Northeast residents Bill Gibson Sr. and Joseph Picozzi Sr. also helped, Newman said.
The knotweed grew in a few areas of the county park in Abington, said Newman. He used to live nearby in the Northeast’s Pine Valley section and knew the park well, he said. He had noticed the 7-foot-high stands of knotweed, did some research, talked to the park’s ranger, Scott Morgan, and proposed eradicating it from Lorimer as his Eagle Scout project.
“It was something new, something I’m interested in,” he said. “I’m always interested in ecology.”
The plant likes water, Newman said. The Pennypack flows through the park for a mile or so before entering Philadelphia.
Lorimer’s knotweed grew thickly in spots, Newman said.
“Are we going to Vietnam,” Newman said one of his friends joked when he got his first look. Knotweed’s root system is invasive and can damage foundations and paving. It also crowds out other plants and it survives being cut back. It has to be completely pulled out of the ground, Newman said. And the plant, roots and all, must be destroyed.
The plant has some positive elements, said Molly Finch, education and outreach assistant at the Tookany/Tacony Frankford-Watershed Partnership. It can reduce some erosion and take up some water, she said. But, because its root structures are very deep, she said, Japanese knotweed doesn’t do the job native plants can do in taking up water.
Finch said the weed can grow thickly and as high as 10 feet. With its creamy white flowers, it can be seen in many Philadelphia vacant lots. But, because Japanese knotweed grows so readily at the expense of other plants around it, it reduces an area’s suitability as a wildlife habitat. Removing Japanese knotweed is a benefit to the park, Newman said, because it helps other plant species survive by eliminating a threat to them.
Knotweed is, indeed, from Japan, although it probably came to the United States through Great Britain, where it was marketed in the early 1800s as a new and unique plant, said Marilyn Romenesko, a Pennsylvania Horticultural Society horticulturalist. It’s particularly dangerous to native American species, she said. Native shrubs, perennials, even grass can be overtaken, she said.
“It’s a threat as long as it’s around,” she said.
And it sticks around, Romenesko said in a phone interview April 11. If any of it survives, it will have to be continually cut back, she said.
Yanking out knotweed had its comic moments last July, said Georgeann Newman, who supervised her troop’s work on the side of a small slope.
“The girls would pull at the weed so hard they would fall over and roll down the hill,” she said.
Funny images aside, removing the weed was tough work, Newman said, “but we did not give up.” ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org