“It’s everywhere! I realized it was a big problem and damaging our trees. I saw that it was taking over in Selvoski Park, and I knew something had to be done about it.”
Gabriel Deml, an Eagle Scout from Bedford, is talking about oriental bittersweet. A deciduous, woody, perennial vine native to China, Japan and Korea, oriental bittersweet (Celastrus orbiculatus) was brought to the U.S. in the mid-1800s as an ornamental plant. Bittersweet is now considered a serious invasive species because it poses a significant threat to native plants.
To achieve the rank of Eagle Scout, Deml had to complete a service project. He chose to organize volunteer workdays in 2018 to remove bittersweet from Selvoski Park in Bedford. Photos from before the workday show bittersweet strangling trees and covering up sponsorship banners along the home run fences—a problem Deml knew would only get worse with time and without action.
“Organizing a project like this is harder than it looks,” Deml says. “It requires significant time and effort to research, plan and find funding to support the project.”
During the planning stages of the Selvoski Park project, Deml discovered the Nature Groupie Seacoast Stewardship Tool Library, which lends items like shovels, gloves, pruning saws and pry bars to volunteers for use in trail maintenance, invasive weed pulling and habitat improvement. Deml coordinated with UNH Extension staff to secure the most appropriate tools for the job.
More than 15 volunteers, including Deml’s fellow Scouts and people from his friend circle, family, church and FIRST Robotics team, cleared Selvoski Park of oriental bittersweet in two days. Root wrenches from the tool library made quick work of removing the challenging plant. Deml distributed educational handouts from Extension to educate volunteers about invasive species in New Hampshire and how they can help. After the workdays, volunteers celebrated the accomplishment with a bittersweet bonfire.
“Before it felt like: ‘What is all of this stuff? It looks terrible!’ After, we all felt good about how nice the park looked,” Deml says.
After successfully completing his project, Deml was awarded his Eagle Scout rank in November 2018. Now he’s on to another big project this fall: college. “If I didn’t have access to the tool library, I would have had to fundraise to buy tools or would have needed to ask volunteers to bring their own, and who knows what they would have had?” he says. “I would still be fundraising for my project now!”
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