Friday morning June 24, 2016, was the first day of the third annual Back Country Horsemen Kid’s Weekend. While ten or twelve adults looked on, the kids sorted through plant samples (not gathered in the Park) to find those described and diagrammed on a list they were given. (see photo below) Terms such as simple, compound, lobed, pinnately, palmately or parallel veined leaves were used, as well as opposite and alternate, to describe leaves and twigs. Several common nonnative invasive species found in the Park were also observed such as Johnson Grass, Serecia Lespedeza, Japanese Stilt Grass, and Ailanthus (Tree of Heaven).
Problems of nonnative invasive species were discussed. They crowd out native species. They are harmful to birds and other wildlife which feed on insects, as our native insects are unable to digest most alien plants. Nearly all birds feed their young insects, even those birds which feed on seeds and berries as adults. For example, a pair of chickadees require 6000 to 10,000 caterpillars to raise a set of nestlings! Frogs, toads, fish and many others also require insect protein. Nonnative invasive species have been identified as one of the major causes of extinctions now being recorded around the world.
After reviewing the plant samples everyone mounted up. On crossing the Buffalo, the trail became fairly overgrown. In several places the trail was blocked where flood waters had deposited large masses of debris, and in other areas thorny Green Briar and Honey Locust impeded the way. Branches had to be cut to open the trail. The Buffalo River Back Country Horseman do trail maintenance as they ride. All the common nonnative invasive plant species that had been observed earlier, were seen, many in large masses. Johnson Grass grew so tall my horse, Fox, could chow down as we rode, not missing a step!
After crossing the Buffalo a second time, pausing while the horses drank, we followed the meandering trail across beds of rocks rounded by water over the ages, through scrubby willows, eventually passing into meadows and woodland.. As we turned into a low area and passed through a stand of River Cane, Arkansas’ only native Bamboo, I was told to close my eyes and be prepared for a surprise. The surprise was Rock House, also known as The Barns, a huge concave bluff area, where there is evidence that farmers once used the overhang to protect hay and farm equipment. After stretching, resting and eating our snacks in the cool of Rock House, we continued up the forested trail to a dirt road which led back to the Woolum Campground road. The entire ride was about four hours.
The day was a great experience for me. I had a chance to see how the Buffalo River Back Country Horsemen operate by following and clearing trails. All helped when thorns snagged one of us, and all enjoyed the scenery and simply being outside. The kids were treated as full members of the crew and contributed fully. The day was perfect! After a week of temperatures in the upper 90s, morning clouds shielded us from the sun, and temperatures remained below 90 degrees. While it is sad to see the extent to which nonnative invasive plants have spread in the Buffalo River Valley, it is good to know that groups like the BRBCH are interested in identifying them and, when possible, helping the BNR to eliminate them.