Guest Blog By Jordan R. Hildreth, City of Des Moines
UPCYCLE is a program aimed at removing invasive species from different parts of Des Moines and taking them to the zoo to be eaten by the animals there. This program is a partnership between Trees Forever, Iowa Natural Heritage Foundation, Des Moines Parks and Recreation, and Blank Park Zoo. The program itself has been around since 2014 and will be going into it’s 7th year. The first 4 years the event was held at Greenwood Park, and in the last two it has moved to Gray’s Lake. When the event moved to Gray’s Lake, Confluence, a local brewery, helped the effort by giving 30 free drink tickets to the volunteers that they can use after the event.
My name is Jordan Hildreth and I work for the City of Des Moines. This year (2019) was the first time I was part of this program. My position in the Volunteer Department is typically more administrative and special event focused, but I had the opportunity to assist coordinating the UPCYCLE program, not fully understanding the purpose of the event beforehand.
One of the first things I noticed was the knowledge that many of the volunteers had. I knew who had been with the program before and who hadn’t, and many of the new volunteers were talking about which plants needed to be removed and why. This immediately made me realize how much this event meant to these people. Even so, there were still a good number of folks who had showed up knowing nothing more than that they wanted to help.
To kick the event off, the staff from the partners involved introduce ourselves, give an explanation about our organization and go over safety items. Then Chris Eckles, from Blank Park Zoo, explains why invasive species removal is important for the natural area as well as why it is beneficial for the animals at the zoo. As a newbie, this was easily one of the coolest parts. I had no idea that invasive species grow out of control in these areas, which stymies the growth of the native species necessary to maintain a healthy ecosystem. On top of that, the fauna we take to the zoo gives the animals a “smorgasbord” of sorts that lets them eat new food to keep their diets diversified.
After the talk the work begins and let me tell you, it is work. We give the volunteers hand saws and a natural chemical treatment. Typically, they will work in pairs where one person will cut down the invasive species, and the other will treat the stump to ensure that plant doesn’t grow back in the future. When you are focused on the work you’re doing, it can seem slow because of the effort needed to cut some of the trees down. However, by the end of the night when you step back and look at where you started as a group, you see how much of a difference you’ve made. I feel a real sense of pride seeing how hard all the volunteers worked and how noticeable that work was.
I love almost all the events I get to be a part of in my day to day job but UPCYCLE is special. I won’t be as involved with coordinating the event this year, but you can bet I will be there as a volunteer getting after it.