The following was written by volunteer intern Jason Sears, who attended his first volunteer workday for The Nature Conservancy at Cedar Bluffs in Monroe County.
Our volunteer day at Cedar Bluffs got off to a beautiful start. The skies were bright and sunny, the air was warm with a mild breeze, and we could hear the flowing waters of Clear Creek throughout the preserve.Wildflowers were starting to bloom, and the soil beneath our feet was just damp enough to cushion our steps as we walked through meadows, trails, and bluffs in search of invasive garlic mustard.
The twelve of us gathered in the small parking area by The Nature Conservancy’s preserve sign. We each met with Ellen Jacquart, our workday leader, who had us sign release-forms and then introduced us to the preserve and the work we’d be doing there. Several volunteers were IU students working to fulfill project requirements, and at least one other volunteer had worked in association with The Nature Conservancy in the past. Some were there to simply enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of Cedar Bluffs, and to work to rid the preserve of garlic mustard.
Before we began, Ellen passed around a garlic mustard specimen so we could identify it as we searched the preserve. Garlic mustard has purple, bristly stems; it is a single plant, not attached to a vine, with large serrations on its leaves and the pungent smell of garlic when its leaves are crushed. Ellen also showed us some deceptive garlic mustard look-alikes. Once we had a good idea of what to look for, we started searching the preserve.
We began our garlic mustard hunt in a meadow just past the entrance trail to Cedar Bluffs. A small creek cut through the trail, and Ellen had a couple of volunteers remove a dead tree that had fallen across the path. We also picked up trash that had collected in the area. Clear Creek had recently flooded, and debris had collected near its edges and along the trail. Any hazard we found - trash and garlic mustard alike - we removed and placed in bags.
The first garlic mustard plant I found was hiding among its imposters near the small creek by the entrance trail. When you pull garlic mustard, you really have to dig around the base of the plant to get ahold of the root. Garlic mustard has quite a grip in the soil, and if you break the plant off without removing the root, it will quickly grow back. I smelled the plant from a short distance even before I crushed its leaves. The smell was definitely strong, and especially noticeable once its leaves were crushed.
We looked and found more garlic mustard along Clear Creek and on the trail that leads up to the bluff-top forest. We all sat down for a scenic lunch at the top of the preserve, looking out over Clear Creek nearly 70 feet below. Ellen was happy to answer our questions about garlic mustard, the preserve, and botany in general, and once we were finished with our meal, we continued around the bluff-top forest and followed the trail back down the way we entered. We found even more garlic mustard on the way back to the entrance! We also spotted three snakes along the trail - two water snakes, and one garter snake barely noticeable amid the surrounding grasses, branches, and flowers.
I had a great time working at Cedar Bluffs. The weather was perfect, and our volunteer group worked to the sounds of birds and flowing water amid incredible scenery. I look forward to volunteering at Cedar Bluffs and other preserves in the very near future!