Keuka College grant will help Outlet Trail

Staff Writer
The Chronicle Express
Dr. Bill Brown and Emily Bower ’18 of Keuka College to replace invasive plant species along the Keuka Outlet trail with flowering plants.

From Penn Yan to Dresden, the 7-mile Outlet Trail beckons anyone wishing to enjoy the beauty of nature while walking, riding horseback, bicycling, hiking, or traversing mid-winter on snowshoes or cross-country skis. The scenic trail now popular with artists and photographers once served as an old right-of-way for a former railroad connecting Keuka and Seneca Lakes.

Despite its natural beauty, the trail harbors something unpleasant —an infestation of wild parsnip, which can blister human skin when sap from its leaves, stems, flowers or fruit is exposed to sunlight. So it’s ideal that Keuka College recently won a $4,999 grant to remove large patches of wild parsnip along the trail and replace it with two native flowering plant species —turtlehead and joe-pye weed.

The project, which was funded through the Finger Lakes Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (PRISM), headquartered at the Finger Lakes Institute at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, will begin June 1 and will serve a dual purpose as a Keuka College Field Period™ research project for rising sophomore Emily Bower ’18. Under the guidance of Dr. Bill Brown, assistant professor of biology and environmental science at Keuka College and Emily Staychock, an invasive species educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Yates County, Bower will dig out large sections of wild parsnip at the roots and then replant the same areas with the two native flowering species. To protect the new plants from disturbance by deer, they will be fenced with 6-foot high “page wire,” Brown said.

Digital learning is a new objective for Keuka College and is being woven into the curriculum and its signature Field Period™ program. As such, Bower’s Field Period™ will also contain a digital component: assisting Staychock in creation of a GPS-based map and database documenting locations of many invasive plant species along the trail including honeysuckle, Japanese knotweed, spotted knapweed, Tree of Heaven, and common buckthorn. Bower and Staychock will use iMap to plot locations of the invasive plants for further monitoring or later removal by others.

“All my friends walk the trail and visit the waterfalls, so having the opportunity to help something we use all the time is wonderful and it’s also great to give back to the community,” Bower said. “I’ve always been interested in doing research and having a research project. My family has a small farm and they’ve had to deal with invasive plant species so gaining more experience in that area will help.”

Bower said she was eager to conduct her second Field Period™ this summer because she plans to conduct most within the medical field, to reach her goal of becoming a pediatrician. Since she plans to submit applications to grad schools such as UNC-Charlotte and Syracuse Upstate Medical University in her junior year, she wants to finish as many of her four required Field Period™ experiences before then as she can.

“This [one] was different,” she described, adding that the outdoor setting, summer housing and financial stipend to complete the Field Period™ project added to its appeal. “I couldn’t say no.”

Bower added that she’s hoping to glean as much as she can from working with Dr. Brown and also to confirm her choice to focus on a bio-medical concentration during her undergraduate years, versus going into research or another area, such as botany.

“The hands-on experience is really what interests me, and it’s where I learn the best,” Bower said. “110 percent of the reason why I came to Keuka is for the Field Period™ [program] and the small school atmosphere.”

As the wild parsnip is removed during the project, the three scientists will be studying whether the new plantings of turtlehead and joe-pye weed will “suppress future growth of wild parsnip, and we’ll see if they attract more pollinators, and therefore increase local butterfly populations,” Brown said.

“I chose the turtlehead on purpose because the Baltimore Checkerspot butterfly requires it for part of its life cycle. The adults will nectar on the flowers, eggs will hatch on the leaves, then the caterpillars will eat the leaves as they develop on the plant,” Brown said. Other butterflies that could be attracted to the new plants also include the Great Spangled Fritillary and the Silver-spotted Skipper, he said.

After Bower’s Field Period™ concludes, Brown and volunteer members of the Friends of the Outlet Trail organization will continue to monitor the new plantings to assess the long-term effect on the trail’s plant life and butterfly populations, “probably for the next few years,” he said.