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Hands on Exotics

Sandy Bivens - Director, Warner Park Nature Center, Nashville, Tennessee.

From: Exotic Pests of Eastern Forests, Conference Proceedings - April 8-10, 1997, Nashville, TN, Edited by: Kerry O. Britton, USDA Forest Service & TN Exotic Pest Plant Council

Abstract. To lead, teach, rear, bring up, instruct, train, show, inform, guide, direct, inspire, and foster expansion of knowledge-that is education. Environmental education has been defined (Disinger 1993) as the interdisciplinary process of developing a citizenry that is knowledgeable about the total environment, including both its natural and built aspects, that has the capacity and the commitment to engage in inquiry, problem-solving, decision-making, and action that will assure environmental quality. Goals of environmental education include awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills, and participation. This background will build a foundation for making decisions-and this can make the difference.

This session will present some history and background on "hands on" exotic environmental education programming and volunteer projects in the urban forest of the Warner Parks. Examples of specific educational programs, projects and strategies-including volunteer projects, brochures, grants, school programs, adopt programs, workshops, an active citizen support group and more-will be highlighted. Learning through participation and direct experience is a focus of these programs. Some future exotic projects (like videos and inner city programming) will be discussed.


I am happy to be here today to talk to you about a local approach to hands-on exotics. My presentation will focus on people and environmental education-especially people directly experiencing exotics. One definition of environmental education ((EE) Desinger 1993) is the interdisciplinary process of developing a citizenry that is knowledgeable about the total environment-including both its natural and built aspects-that has the capacity and the commitment to engage in inquiry, problem-solving, decision-making, and action that will assure environmental quality. Goals of EE include awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills, and participation. I will also discuss the Warner Park Exotic Plant Removal and Restoration Program, including history, strategies, programs, projects, our educational campaign, Friends of Warner Parks, and volunteers, partnerships, and future plans.

The Warner Parks and the Nature Center

The Warner Parks, one of eighty parks owned and operated by the Nashville Metropolitan Board of Parks and Recreation, are located in southwest Davidson County in the Harpeth Hills. Established in 1927, and named after two brothers, Percy and Edwin Warner, who were active Park Board Members, its 2681 acres make it one of the largest city parks in the country. The Warner Parks reside in the outer basin section of the Central Basin of the Interior Low Plateau Physiographic Province. This results in an interfacing of plant communities common to the Basin and plant communities common to the Highland Rim, which surrounds the Basin (many of the park's knobs are outliers of the Rim). The remnant forest ecosystem is a second growth forest that has retained much of its original species composition and some areas of the park are now considered moderate growth with a number of large, old trees. Braun (Braun 1950) describes this area as in the Western Mesophytic Region, which is transitional between the Oak-Hickory and the Mixed-Mesophytic Regions.

In 1980, the Warner Parks received recognition from the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation's Division of Natural Heritage, and were listed as a Registered State Natural Area. The park was recognized in part for its excellent representation of Nashville Basin forest community types and outstanding examples of large specimen trees. Today, one of the worst resource management problems in the park is the explosion of exotic pest plants and the loss of biodiversity.

The Warner Park Nature Center was established in 1973, in part with a Youth Conservation Corps Grant administered by the U.S. Forest Service, with a mission to:

  • provide quality environmental education and responsible recreation
  • help protect, preserve, restore, and manage the park ecosystem and all natural resources
  • raise awareness, foster respect, and share enthusiasm for the natural environment

We try to achieve this mission with our programs, facilities, and staff as well as research projects, and park management projects. The nature center also serves as a regional resource center for a wide variety of information.

Program History

The Warner Park staff identified exotic pest plants as a serious problem in the 1980s (thanks in part to Vanderbilt Botanist Dr. Robert Kral, who has regularly brought his students here for years). In 1987, the Warner Park Master Plan was published and was the first written documentation of exotics as a problem. It also listed action recommendations. This plan also called for a Park Superintendent position to be created, which occurred in 1988. In 1989, the superintendent asked the Nature Center to come up with a plan for dealing with exotics. Brian Bowen researched the problem and came up with a plan of attack for Bush Honeysuckle (Lonicera maacki, the main pest plant we had decided to focus on). Friends of Warner Parks (FOWP), our 2000-member wonderful citizen support group, supported this project from the beginning. We collected journals, books, and literature, and we built notebooks with articles for the library (with FOWP funds). The staff tried various methods in the park and came up with a plan to "capture a hill" that was in relatively good condition in the park's interior and then work out from there. The pilot project included using volunteers on special "Volunteer Exotic Removal Days" to clear this area. During the first year, 225 volunteers removed 40,000 shrubs. Education was a major part of our program and we tried to get the word out as much as possible. In 1990, we developed a successful exotic partnership with the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Association (TRPA). A responsible landscaping resolution, suggesting landscaping with natives and listing specific invasives not to use, was passed by the TRPA and FOWP boards, and later by 20 other groups (some national). The Resource Management Section of TRPA, with FOWP and the Nature Center, received a grant from the Tennessee Recreation and Parks Education Foundation (matched by FOWP). As a result, we published an educational brochure entitled "Invasive Exotic Plants Threaten Biodiversity", which has been reprinted three times.

Warner Park Exotic Strategies

Management strategies include: creation of a management oversight committee to plan out and review strategies (includes park superintendent, resource management specialist, nature center director, FOWP director and volunteer coordinator, maintenance supervisor, FOWP stewardship chair); removal plan of removing the exotics from the interior and also from a 100-meter buffer zone to separate the most degraded area of the park; training of park staff on identification and removal techniques; mowing schedules (to keep exotics out) and development of a field management notebook; staff removal of plants in sensitive areas; working with neighbors on prevention, and more. A main way we are removing exotics today is through Friends of Warner Parks, paying park maintenance staff to work on weekends to cut and treat.

Education has been our most important and successful strategy for dealing with exotics. Our educational campaign has included: school progams (10,000 students per year), other group programs (Sierra Club, Garden Clubs, over 120 programs per year, etc.), public programs (landscaping with natives, honeysuckle wreath-making, wildflowers, etc.), public volunteer days, special volunteer projects (clubs, alternative spring break, etc.), high school naturalist intern program, summer work-earn-learn programs for teenagers, urban nature programs, nature center native landscaping projects (show and tell, setting an example, trying new plants, etc.), restoration area and removal areas on the nature center grounds for demonstration purposes, and more.

Other methods of "spreading the word" have included: Warner Watch and many other newsletters, newspaper articles, radio, our library, literature, magazine articles, native landscaping brochure and accompanying list of local nurseries that sell natives, Tree Trust, exhibits, conferences, workshops, inservices, and awards.

Friends of Warner Parks and Volunteers

FOWP has played a tremendous part in the success of the Warner Park Program. FOWP is a volunteer organization dedicated to the preservation, protection, and stewardship of the Warner Parks. They advocate:

  • protection of the natural integrity of the parks
  • a wide range of recreational programs and activities which are consistent with the parks' natural and historical integrity
  • maintenance and enhancement of the beauty of the parks and their historical structures
  • promotion of educational programs which inspire appreciation and stewardship of this unique resource

FOWP has expanded the volunteer removal days (November-March), developed crewleader training inservices and manuals, recruited and supervised loads of volunteers, created an "Adopt a Part of the Park" program to keep areas clear after they have been cleared initially, established a successful removal partnership with prisoners, and much more.

In 1991, Warner Park was listed as case study #1 in a document prepared by the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE), or the U.S. Office of Technological Assessment, titled Public Education Efforts in the U.S. Regarding Prevention and Management of Non-Indigenous Species. Friends of Warner Parks successes are documented. The NAAEE has a project to encourage a master plan for environmental education and networking for each state. Exotics training and education could be an important part of these plans.


Partnerships have made our program possible. From the very beginning, when we were reaching the problem, we have found enthusiastic partners everywhere. We made many successful contacts with the Landscaping Resolution (TRPA and 20 groups). Some of the many partners include: TNEPPC, Natural Heritage Division of the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, Sierra Club, Tennessee Ornithological Society, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, Tennessee Division of Forestry, USDA Forest Service, Metro Nashville Beautification and Environment Commission, TN Native Plant Society, private landscaping companies, and many, many more. One current partner is our neighbor, Cheekwood Botanic Garden. We are working with them annually on a joint landscaping-with- natives program. They donate leftover wildflowers for our demonstration garden, and this year in an innovative swap, they are paying to remove exotics from the park in exchange for use of some park greenhouses while their greenhouses are being refurbished.

Current and Future Projects

One recent success story involves a new park neighbor-an apartment development called The Grove at Devon Hills. In an effort to prevent more introductions, the park superintendent and the FOWP director met with the owner of this new neighbor and explained the problems with invasive exotics. The owner allowed us to review their landscaping plans and they deleted several species from the plan due to our recommendations. Some new projects we are working on involve expanding our resource management plans to other metro parks, using video to get the word out, continuing to expand our inner city nature program (we have hired a full-time urban naturalist and established a satellite nature program in an inner city park). Two other ways we hope to make a difference are the creation of a new position, resource management specialist (grant-funded), to lead us ahead in our hands on exotic program and to open a field station facility to house our resource management program (underway now).


Although the problems with invasive exotics are complex, overwhelming, and often seem impossible, our park motto is tied to the wonderful beech trees found in the Warner Parks-"We are going to 'keep on fighting' for our valuable natural resources." Hands on education and learning directly from nature are the keys to success. Awareness, knowledge, attitudes, skills, and participation, are our goals.

USDA Forest ServiceUSDA APHIS PPQ The Bugwood Network University of Georgia is a joint project of The Bugwood Network, USDA Forest Service and USDA APHIS PPQ.
The University of Georgia - Warnell School of Forest Resources and
College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences - Dept. of Entomology
Last updated on Tuesday, March 19, 2002 at 02:37 PM
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