Howard Watson Nature Trail between Exmouth Street and Michigan Avenue to be closed Monday and Tuesday

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A section of the Howard Watson Nature Trail is being closed off to users early next week as parks and forestry officials aim to eradicate invasive reeds.

Phragmites along the trail section between Exmouth Street and Michigan Avenue are, with the Ministry of Natural Resources’ blessing, scheduled to be hit with pesticides Monday and Tuesday.

“By my estimation, I think this is the most concentrated area,” said Patti Ross, parks, forestry and horticulture manager with the City of Sarnia.

“There are others,” she said.

Plans are to tackle them incrementally, she said, moving to wipe out the Eurasia-native reeds – that grow as tall as five metres and as dense as 200 stems per square metre – along other parts of the trail in the years to come.

Phragmites are commonplace in ditches and catch basins, choking out other species and releasing toxins into the soil that impede and kill some other plants.

“Birds won’t rest in it; it takes out our native plants,” Ross said. “We want to get that taken care of before it eats up the whole trail really.”

Working with phragmites eradication expert Frank Letourneau of Dover Agri-Serve, she said, the city already had growth along the trail section cut and ground back in the spring – step one.

“We got rid of the dead stuff so we could get to the green stuff,” Ross said.

Now that it’s reached a certain height and is about to start flowering, it’s a good time to attack, she said, noting expectations are the chemicals will take out about 90 per cent of the infestation.

More cutting away dead mass is then expected, followed by spot pesticide spraying, and then seeding with an area-appropriate mix, she said, noting the city is consulting with its environmental committees on what species to spread.

The move also gets rid of a fire hazard, she said, explaining vandals have been behind some starting in the past.

The city, meanwhile, is also targetting Canatara Park, where phragmites have sprung up around Lake Chipican, meadowlands that are home to butler snakes, and another small area away from sections the public typically uses, she said.

Plans are to spray in September.

“We’ll have spotters to make sure no people enter where (Letourneau) is spraying, but most of it is away from the public,” she said.

The city is also working on eradicating garlic mustard in the park, she said, and targetted it in the early spring.

Sarnia has a budget of $30,000 to fight invasive species in parks and natural areas.

People are asked to keep out of the trail area where spraying is happening – weather dependent – starting July 31. Signs are being posted and a spotter placed on site to alert those who inadvertently enter near the work zone.

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