About two dozen folks volunteered to cut down and haul away invasive bush honeysuckle plants Saturday in a newly opened trail area behind the amphitheater in Chesterfield's Central Park.
But they were doing it as part of a bigger effort by those who are determined to give a hoot about land and water conservation in the St. Louis region.
The event was a partnership with the city of Chesterfield hosting the event and the non-profit Operation Wild Lands (OWL) organization acting as a partner.
OWL's mission is to prepare volunteers of all ages to restore and maintain public lands throughout the St. Louis region, said Katherine Dockery, director of development and programs with the Open Space Council of the St. Louis Region.
She oversees OWL and other programs of the Council.
"OWL solicits volunteers through various sources, including schools, Boy and Girl Scouts, religious groups and the general public," Dockery said.
The OWL program was founded by the Open Space Council in 2006 with funds from the Missouri Department of Conservation's Community Stewardship Program.
Its purpose is to develop a volunteer stewardship program to enhance and protect the natural qualities of public lands, Dockery said.
"The program also seeks to connect communities with natural areas in their neighborhood," she said.
Since 2006, several organizations have provided funding and support, including the Employees Community Fund of Boeing, Monsanto Fund, Missouri Conservation Heritage Foundation, the Missouri Department of Conservation and parks and recreation departments throughout the area.
Chesterfield found its affiliation with OWL beneficial in obtaining a grant, Mindy Mohrman, Chesterfield's city arborist and urban forester, said
"We had wanted to get a Missouri Department of Conservation community stewardship grant of $5,000 to fund purchase of tools and native Missouri plants and, to get it, we were required to partner with other organizations and get volunteers," Mohrman said.
"We knew OWL does stewardship and uses volunteers, and we asked them if they wanted to do some stewardship days with us," she said. "They've helped us do three of those days since last fall. While we've struggled to find a base of volunteers, OWL has a great ability to get volunteers out here who want to get their hands dirty."
The trail area being worked on Saturday had a big bush honeysuckle problem, Mohrman said.
"We wanted to get rid of that invasive species and showcase natural Missouri woodlands," she said.
Dockery said honeysuckle removal is a big OWL effort.
"Once the honeysuckle is cleared, we'll be able to replant these areas with native Missouri understory plants such as redbud, dogwood and small woodland wildflowers like wild geranium and Dutchman's breeches," she said.
OWL tries to help hard-working city parks and recreation department staffs, who often struggle to get help on projects like this, Dockery said.
"The weekend before, we did a similar honeysuckle removal project at Bluebird Park in Ellisville," she said. "We want to do this kind of project management to help prevent cities from having to overextend their own staffs."
Another upcoming OWL event will be from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, Dec. 1, at the Young Conservation Area near Eureka. Those who want to volunteer can register for the event by visiting http://youngconservationarea.eventbrite.com .
Many of the volunteers helping out Saturday were local Scouts.
Wanda Hoehne, of West County, is troop leader of Junior Girl Scout Troop 1493 based at Barretts Elementary School in Manchester. Nine fourth-grade Girl Scouts were lending a hand that day, she said.
"OWL sounded like a wonderful group for us to be part of," Hoehne said. "This project also will tie into our plans to work on our animal habitat badge in the spring. At the same time, the girls are learning how to clean up their own back yards and neighborhoods."
The Girl Scouts dutifully used clippers to cut out the plants and then hauled giant armfuls of branches up a hill to a pickup site, where the weeds would be mulched.
"This will help the animals, to clear out their habitat, because the honeysuckle keeps out other good plants, that animals eat, from growing," said Jenna Prince, 10, of Des Peres.
Marshal Morrow of Chesterfield, Joshua Secraw of Ballwin, and David Wang of St. Louis, all students at Logan College of Chiropractic in Chesterfield, were at the event doing community service for a college class.
"I figured being outside would be a fun and relaxing way to do community service," Secraw said.
"It's huge instant gratification, seeing all that honeysuckle disappear, to help protect native birds and plants," Secraw said. "So it's possible we'll be back in December with that OWL event in Eureka."
The Operation Wild Lands website is http://openspacestl.org/programs/operation-wild-lands.