Volunteers help clean Muscatatuck for Earth Day

We have one planet, and it’s up to us to take care of it.

Today is Earth Day, an annual event since 1970 where leaders shift attention to the importance of protecting and cleaning our environment.

About 20 volunteers recently did their part at Muscatatuck National Wildlife Refuge to help clean the area.

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Volunteers spent time removing invasive plants, picking up trash, cleaning the visitor center and trails, helping refuge staff with other efforts and more.

Park ranger Donna Stanley said the volunteers help in such a big way because they do tasks staff may never get around to.

“Public lands are so important, and they’re always understaffed and short on funds, so this helps us out so much,” she said. “It’s wonderful to have people help, and it truly helps us with things we would hardly every have time to get around to.”

Some of the most important work volunteers did was assist with the removal of invasive plants.

Stanley said invasive plants cause a lot of issues at the refuge because they overtake the native plants, which could harm the native wildlife the refuge works to preserve.

“It’s something you have to keep up with or the invasive plants will outcompete the native plants,” she said. “The birds and insects that feed off the native plants will leave if they cannot find what they eat.”

All of that work is difficult to pull off at a place the size of the refuge, which lies on a 7,724-acre site east of Seymour. With the help of volunteers, Stanley said the presence of invasive plants can be limited.

“We have to chip away at it, and having volunteer help keeps us up with it,” she said.

Rose Bishop said she loves the refuge and frequently visits it, and she is part of the Muscatatuck Wildlife Society. She spent time washing signs, picking up trash and helping remove invasive plants.

“I appreciate this place, and I want to help take care of it,” she said.

Volunteers also planted native plants for pollinators. The event included a pollination program to help educate the public about the importance of pollination.

“We’ve had folks working on garlic mustard and planting native wildflowers,” Stanley said.

Bishop said as she helped, she thought about how she was helping do her part to keep the Earth clean.

“We don’t think it’s important, but everything is interlocked, and everything depends on everything else,” she said as she cleaned a sign. “If this goes away, then we eventually go away.”

Mark Ellis of Greenwood volunteered during the event. He helped with a variety of tasks, including helping construct a walking path to make it easier for refuge staff to feed birds outside the watching room at the visitor center.

“I love being involved,” he said, nothing he is completing a master naturalist course and needed volunteer hours.

He said he has been through the refuge before and has come to enjoy it.

“I think people come and enjoy these kinds of places, and you need to give back,” he said. “I’m retired, and what I wanted to do is volunteer at a park or refuge to help.”

Keeping the nation’s parks and environment clean should be a priority, he said, and people should take it seriously for the future and for the betterment of the planet.

“We have to keep these places around so other people can enjoy it and save it for the next generation,” he said. “I think it’s important for people to take the responsibility of keeping these places clean.”