New survey tracks invasive species along Clinton River Trail

This article is part of Inside Our Outdoors, a series about Southeast Michigan's connected parks, greenways, and trails and how they affect residents' quality of life. It is made possible with funding from the Michigan Trails and Greenways Alliance.

Understanding the invasive plant life that can be found along the Clinton River Trail has become a whole lot easier, thanks to a newly completed survey by an Oakland County organization.

The survey was conducted by the Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (CISMA), a nonprofit collaborative that works with county agencies, localA Blanding's turtle at the CRT municipalities, watershed councils, and other organizations to raise awareness about and prevent the spread of invasive species. The research, which started in 2019 and wrapped up this June, identified and located non-native plant species over the entirety of the Clinton River Trail, a 16-mile rail trail that runs through five communities in central Oakland County.

Phragmites, swallow-worts and Japanese knotweed were all highlighted as high priority invasives, due to their ability to spread quickly and have greater negative impacts on local ecosystems. Other invasive plants observed on the Clinton Trail include autumn olive, common buckthorn, glossy buckthorn, callery pear, crown vetch, dame’s rocket, garlic mustard, invasive honeysuckles, Japanese barberry, jetbead, multiflora rose, invasive bittersweet, reed canary grass, spotted knapweed, and wild parsnip. Of all the non-native species found there, Erica Clites of Oakland County CISMA thinks wild parsnip was the most eyebrow-raising.

"It's definitely present in the county, but it's not super common," she says. "We A callery pearfound it in the Rochester Hills stretch of the trail. It looks like it might have been spread by mowing."

Clites cautions trail-goers to keep away from wild parsnips, which resemble celery stalks with clustered yellow flowers, as their sap can cause skin to blister and burn.

After the survey was completed, its results were shared with local communities, county agencies, and other relevant organizations to help them with their efforts to prevent, contain, and eradicate invasive plants. In addition to its work on the Clinton River Trail, Oakland County CISMA has also conducted surveys on several other area non-motorized paths, including the Paint Creek and Polly Ann trails. 

Because trails draw people from many areas, they can often play a role in spreading non-native species throughout a region. Those who want to help prevent this from happening can help out by reporting unusual plants via the iNaturalist app or volunteering at local invasive plant clearing events. At a bare minimum, though, Clites urges trail users to heed signs telling them to stay on the paths they are traveling and to brush off their boots or tires, if they do happen to stray outside suggested areas. 

"I know people are enjoying the trail systems, whether they're walking, biking, or however else they use them," says Clites. "But I hope we can also [be mindful about] invasives, so we can keep them being nice, beautiful areas."

To learn more about identifying  invasive plant species, check out the Oakland County CISMA website.
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Read more articles by David Sands.