The group that has been battling water chestnuts in the Esopus Creek across from the village beach has added a new weapon to its arsenal — a mechanical weed cutter.
The machine resembles a giant rake, with a motor that moves the blades back and forth to cut the weeds. It mounts on the front of a small boat.
Esopus Creek Conservancy board members Jason Novak and Susan Bolitzer demonstrated the machine last Saturday for about half a dozen volunteers, some of whom went out in kayaks to remove the weeds the old-fashioned way — pulling or cutting them by hand.
The water chestnuts that clog waterways throughout the Northeast United States are not related to the water chestnuts used in Chinese cooking, which resemble the land variety. In its native habitat, the plant is kept under control by an insect parasite that does not exist in the United States.
“The plants have not yet produced nuts, so they can’t reproduce when we cut them,” Bolitzer explained. Within a few days, they will begin to form the sharply-pointed shells that will make them harder to handle and require that cut weeds be moved to the shore so they can’t drop their seeds and create future growth.
The machine, which belongs to the village, had been in storage for many years. Shortly after a group of volunteers bought a similar machine, the old one was discovered in the storage unit at the village beach. The new machine has since been returned, saving the cost.
Removal of the plants over the next few weeks will be crucial for establishing permanent corridors through the weeds to allow boaters to reach the Esopus Bend Preserve side of the creek and to free up habitat for local fish and plant life, Bolitzer said.
Bolitzer noted that weed growth was sparse in areas that were culled late last season. “We won’t be able to remove all the plants, but we can keep them from covering the whole area if we keep at it,” she said.
The weeds in the Esopus Creek are mainly confined to the widened area above the dam because the creek flows too fast for them to take hold further upstream, Spider Barbour, a naturalist and plant expert, said. On the other hand, the Hudson has developed a serious water chestnut problem.
Volunteers may join the next effort, Saturday, June 14 at 10 a.m. at the village beach.