By ARDEN BASTIA Standing on the rocky causeway of Salter Grove Memorial Park, you'd never imagine busy Warwick is just down Narragansett Parkway. The saltwater spray from incoming tides mixes with the lush aroma of greenery that shades hiking trails.
Standing on the rocky causeway of Salter Grove Memorial Park, you’d never imagine busy Warwick is just down Narragansett Parkway. The saltwater spray from incoming tides mixes with the lush aroma of greenery that shades hiking trails. Parents watch as kids play on the new playground, while not all that far away fisherman cast lines in hopes for a bite.
The idyllic slice of life at Salter Grove couldn’t be possible without the hard work and dedication of Friends of Salter Grove and community volunteers.
Friends of Salter Grove, an advocacy group that aims to preserve the habitats at Salter Grove, includes coordinator Peter Becker, landscape architect Matt Dickinson, Louise Jakobson and Michael Jarvis who spearhead fundraising, cleanup leader Andy Lohmeier, Jason Major, who manages communications, and Marina Wong, who directs education outreach.
Each Saturday, Wong leads a group of Friends of Salter Grove volunteers on park cleanups.
Wong and other volunteers spent this past Saturday morning clearing out invasive knotweed, a plant native to Japan, China, and Korea. Wong describes it as an “aggressive” plant, with roots that can extend down 10 feet and expand over 20 feet horizontally. The knotweed can grow up to 13 feet tall, although none of the knotweed at Salter Grove has had the chance to reach those heights. Wong and her team of volunteers makes sure to pull the weed once it starts sprouting.
“Once it gets established,” said Wong, “you can’t get rid of it.”
Salter Grove volunteers have been pulling out knotweed for several weeks, but the plant has a mind of its own and has sprouted again and again.
The knotweed was originally grown as an ornamental plant. With sturdy, and edible, stalks of red and green stripes, soft leaves, and delicate white flowers, knotweed may look pretty, but it’s deadly to native species.
“If we keep doing this season after season, we’ll deplete the all the nutrients in the root systems,” explained Wong. “It’ll give up after a time. I mean, we’ll never really get rid of it, I suspect, but we can keep it under control to maintain the bottom land habitat.”
Wong worked as a tropical biologist in Southeast Asia as well as Central and South America for over 20 years. She received her doctorate from the University of Michigan for research on Malaysian rainforest birds.
Wong is amazed a place like Salter Grove exists just a short distance from where she lives. “It’s special because it’s such a small area, and because of its location and topography. It has really varied habitats in such a tiny space,” Wong said in an interview on Saturday. “It’s possible to really experience what it would feel like in these different spaces. And best of all, it’s possible to find species that like that type of habitat.”
Wong has been compiling data—both from her own observations over the course of hundreds of hours of field research and by combing through the established data gathered by others—and has catalogued 215 different species of plants, half of which are native, in addition to 136 species of birds, 40 species of which are aquatic.
As Wong wanders through Salter Grove, she stops every few yards or so to point out a new tree, like the large black oak that she believes has been growing on the shoreline since the HMS Gaspee sailed Narragansett Bay, or to count Brant Geese that flew overhead and landed in the waves with loud squawks.
Salter Grove can thrive thanks to volunteers like Nancy, Alex, Carolyn, and Patricia. Wong is currently searching for more volunteers to join the ranks and help with park upkeep.
The Friends of Salter Grove volunteers range from 82-year-old Nancy Sumrall, who has been volunteering for the past year, to 17-year-old Alex Stepanov, a junior at Bishop Hendricken High School who biked over from West Warwick to help last Saturday, to Carolyn Hardie, who has logged an impressive 360 hours of volunteer work, and Patricia Bastia, a sixth grade teacher at Warwick Veterans Middle School who met Wong on a walk down Narragansett Parkway and volunteered for the first time this past weekend.
For Sumrall, Salter Grove has become a special place. “I don’t know how to describe it, but I like the solitude and the nature,” she said in a brief interview on Monday. “I’m always lauding the place. To have a 12-acre park right across the street from my house is unbelievably special.”
While Sumrall helped with the knotweed removal, she prefers to help maintain the trails. “I don’t know anyone else in my age group that does what I do.”
Wong sees Salter Grove’s great potential for environmental education, and wants to develop activities that illustrate the scientific topics covered in local classrooms. She also hopes to work with area Scouts to enhance and maintain the existing trail system.
To volunteer with Friends of Salter Grove, visit www.friendsofsaltergrove.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.