The wood ducks will be happy.
Same goes for the Lewis’ woodpeckers, turtles and any living thing that hates that nasty noxious weed houndstongue.
It would be hard to find any creature that wouldn’t be thrilled with the hard work the 150-plus volunteers from Hamilton’s GlaxoSmithKline accomplished Monday at Steve Powell Park.
The volunteers braved an unusually hot June day to pull hundreds of weeds, tear down an unsightly fence, shape a new trail and build and strategically place numerous nesting boxes for ducks and woodpeckers around the 22-acre park on the western edge of Hamilton.
They even went so far as to create new habitat for the turtles that live in the park’s pond.
“It was an amazing effort,” said Bitter Root Land Trust executive director Gavin Ricklefs. “Even with it being so hot, they got so much work done. It was unbelievable.”
GSK gives its employees one paid day off a year to volunteer for a local community project of their choice. They call the event Orange Day.
This year, a small group of employees spent the first few hours cleaning up along Highway 93 through Hamilton.
Most converged at Steve Powell Park to throw their support behind the good work being accomplished by the Bitter Root Land Trust in the Bitterroot Valley.
Named for the land trust’s founder, the park was purchased from the Taber family by the land trust with a great deal of support from the community. The land trust has since turned the park along the Bitterroot River just north of Hamilton’s Main Street Bridge over to the city.
Ricklefs said the trust remains committed to doing the right thing for its first-ever public park project and everyone was excited when GSK employees offered to help in that regard.
Some projects that needed to be accomplished at the park needed a lot of helping hands.
A good example was an old rickety rail fence that ran along the river’s edge and then across the property. It wasn’t only an eyesore. It created a challenge for both walkers and wildlife to move freely across the parkland.
“We had promised the city that we would take care of the fence removal, but the project was bigger than we could do ourselves,” he said.
By the time Monday was done, the rails of the old fence were piled in record time as a crew of more than 25 GSK volunteers went to work. Members of the Hamilton Volunteer Fire Department will burn the pile sometime in the near future.
As important as that project was to complete, the efforts of the weed-pulling crew literally put a new face on the public park. Many areas in the park had been overrun by houndstongue.
“We’ve had groups of volunteers working for the last few years to try to get a handle on the houndstongue,” Ricklefs said. “We’ve never had that many volunteers working side by side in one place. It’s remarkable to see the difference that they made.”
The effort was led by Ravalli County noxious weed coordinator Kellieann Morris. She provided lunch, water, lots of shovels and nearly 200 garbage bags.
“These weren’t your average household garbage bags either,” she said. “They were contractor grade. They were big bags.”
The volunteers only bagged the plants that were either producing seeds or the skeletons from last year. This year’s rosettes were pulled and left on the ground.
“They probably reduced the number of plants by the thousands,” she said. “It was amazing watching them work. It was so hot, and yet not one person complained. I think they were in awe. They couldn’t believe how bad the weeds were.”
“Next year, we’re really going to see the difference they’ve made by reducing that seed bank,” Morris said. “We’ll always be battling houndstongue, but what we want is to get to the point where you can say: ‘Oh, there’s a houndstongue plant,’ instead of there’s a patch.”
Each houndstongue plant can produce 500 seeds or more. The weed is toxic to animals.
“It causes liver damage,” she said. “Most of the time, they will only eat it if that’s all there is to eat. We have had sick animals before.”
Some people call the plant houndstooth or beggar’s lice.
Ricklefs said Monday’s effort was just another piece in the long story of GSK support in the community.
Many of the same GSK employees who volunteered had also donated money toward the purchase of the park.
“The work that we are able to accomplish up and down the valley wouldn’t happen without the strong support from our local community,” Ricklefs said. “GSK has been a great partner. Its employees have been extremely generous in helping us create some great amenities for this community.”