Kneeling in the middle of a wet walking trail at Milltown State Park, Megan Marolf used a hand trowel to dig up shoots of knapweed.
“It’s like the poster child of invasive species,” Marolf said. “Each plant can have up to 500,000 seeds in it.”
Marolf, an AmeriCorps volunteer, and park manager Mike Kustudia from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks, led a walking tour and weed pull at the park on Saturday.
Milltown State Park is one of the newest in Montana, with a total of 535 acres of wetlands and floodplains, and an overlook of the place where the Blackfoot and Clark Fork rivers join.
The park is open, however, work continues to finish some of the paths, and to put up directional and interpretive signs along the overlook and floodplain trails. Marolf said members of the Montana Conservation Corps finished work on a pair of trails in June, all part of the roughly three miles' worth of trails and walking paths planned for the park.
Currently, parking is available at a paved lot off Deer Creek Road up the hill from the Deer Creek Shooting Range, past the Canyon River Golf Course in East Missoula. Kustudia said the hope is to someday add another trailhead lower down on the road, and possibly reopen the old railway tunnel that runs beneath the Milltown State Park overlook.
The local branch of the Montana Native Plant Society holds several educational weed pulls every year, said member Clare Beelman, who was helping out at Milltown State Park on Saturday. The goal of this event was to use the new park to teach the public how to identify invasive plant species.
Beelman said that knapweed is easy to recognize right now because it is drought-resistant.
“It’s actually one of the few things that’s green, with how dry it’s been,” she said.
As important as learning about invasive species and how to deal with them, it’s equally important to know what not to pull, Beelman said. On Waterworks Hill in Missoula, she said there have been issues with people uprooting some of the native Missoula phlox.
“If your disperse it, toadflax and leafy spurge and cheatgrass come in and then its game over,” she said.
Because steady rain kept many potential participants away, the park will schedule another tour in the coming weeks, Marolf said. An updated date and time will be available online at the Montana Native Plant Society's Facebook page.