Your Guide to CA’s Weed Warriors
Guest Post by Natalie Yee, CA Environmental Program Manager
So, you want to be a Weed Warrior? You’re in luck — we’re always looking for more volunteers to join our mission to help keep Columbia’s ecosystem thriving! 🌎
Who are the Weed Warriors?
Dedicated Columbians who care about the environment! Certified volunteer leaders, who complete CA’s training program and meet specific requirements, may supervise and “lead” groups of volunteers onto the open space to perform designated invasive weed removal tasks. Weed Warriors may also work independently if that is their preference.
Check out some highlights from five of our wonderful Weed Warriors.
When did you join? 2014.
What do you love most about being a Weed Warrior? Nature is my happy place and I love being a part of something bigger than myself. When I free a tree that’s entangled in vines, it feels awesome to know that I just saved that tree’s life. Not only is the tree now able to grow and flourish, but I also helped caterpillars that will feed on its leaves, bees that will nectar on its spring blooms, birds and squirrels that will nest in its branches and on and on. To think that just a bit of my time can positively impact so many creatures is pretty inspiring and rewarding.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned? I learn something new almost every time I’m out there. I’ll find a plant I don’t recognize and have to research what it is. I love that sense of curiosity and discovering something new to me.
What’s your favorite Weed Warrior memory? There’s an incredibly strong sense of fellowship with some of the most genuinely kind and supportive people I’ve ever met. These people (who are now dear friends) mirror my passion for nature, which can be so comforting during these challenging times when climate change, habitat loss and species declines dominate the headlines. It gives me great hope to know that I’m not alone in this fight, and just encourages me to do more than I’m already doing! One of the most important things I’ve gained as a Weed Warrior is an entirely new community.
“Taking care of our local environment is a shared responsibility. We are all so fortunate to call a beautiful place like Columbia home, and it takes effort to keep our green space thriving. The saying is true: Many hands make light work. No matter your age or experience or even how much time you have available, every little bit helps!”
When did you join? 2020.
What do you love most about being a Weed Warrior? Being able to transform areas of open space from tangles of invasive vines and thorns into areas with blooms and plants that support birds and pollinators. I love to see people enjoy the paths and point at the Adopt-a-Spots, especially to their kids…I want these kids to grow up seeing bee balm and milkweed and spiderwort blooms!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned? I’m constantly learning about new plants, both native and invasive, throughout the seasons. It’s fun to now be able to identify more trees in winter by their buds, stems and bark.
What’s your favorite Weed Warrior memory? My favorite memories are all from working outside with friends, doing things that wouldn’t necessarily be fun alone but that are fun together — from bringing down a giant hedge of multiflora rose to removing honeysuckle from strangled spicebush shrubs, and then watching those areas recover.
“Being a Weed Warrior is incredibly rewarding — both immediately after an event when you can see the change you’ve brought about in the company of others, and over the following months and years. Every day, I go out to walk our paths and can watch our open space become more healthy and vibrant thanks to our efforts.”
When did you join? 2022.
What do you love most about being a Weed Warrior? Being outside learning about plants, especially with great people with similar interests who otherwise I would never have met. I love to see the before and after of areas that have been cleared of invasives.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned? An appreciation for and an understanding of native plants we have here in Maryland, and how detrimental invasive plants can be when left unchecked. 20-year-old me would be in disbelief that I love removing invasive plants and planting natives!
What’s your favorite Weed Warriors memory? Putting our first Adopt a Spot sign into the ground on Harper’s Farm Road! And when my three-year-old pointed at a person in a neon vest and said, “Look, a Weed Warrior!” I’ve also really enjoyed partnering with our community partners for events.
“Everyone is always welcome! Harper’s Choice would love to have more residents involved — more hands make everything seem more possible.”
Victoria Van Hyning
When did you join? 2022.
What do you love most about being a Weed Warrior? Having the support of fellow Columbia residents and the CA staff who coordinate with volunteers. Also, being able to tackle invasives in open space as I see them!
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned? When I first started to learn about invasives on my own, all I could see were the invasive plants and it quickly became depressing. Weed Warrior training helped me see the natives in the landscape and focus my efforts on helping them to thrive. Now I have a better understanding of what plants to focus on during the different seasons, and I’m more effective than I would have been without training.
What’s your favorite memory? Getting to know fellow Weed Warriors and members of our communities through training and events has been a lot of fun. I am most proud of an event Harper’s Choice CARES did with Wild Lake village CARES for Indigenous Peoples Day. There were over a dozen folks who gathered to weed an area where our villages meet. We opened the event with a land acknowledgement — a small way for communities to acknowledge past and present indigenous stewards and inhabitants of this land. I baked some pumpkin-cranberry- cornmeal dumplings based on a Native American recipe. I hope we will do more events like this in future!
“We can all do little things to improve the environment for the local plants and animals, for ourselves and the next generation. Just six hours of Weed Warrior training can help you learn how to focus your efforts and why advocacy matters.”
When did you join? 2021.
What do you love most about being a Weed Warrior? I like working outdoors as a member of a team committed to improving the local environment. John McCoy, Bob Marietta and Natalie Yee are all such great partners who make this program successful.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve learned? As a Master Gardener, I had a good grasp of how to identify native plants. But as a Weed Warrior, I learned about which invasive plants cause the most damage and which approach to use to remove different invasives, from vines to multiflora rose to garlic mustard.
What’s your favorite memory? I work at a number of Adopt-a-Spots in different parts of Columbia. What I like most is going back to each spot from time to time to examine progress and make future plans for improvements.
Become a certified Weed Warrior
Weed Warrior training is held each spring to teach volunteers about hand tool safety, personal protection against insects and toxic plants, non-native invasive plant identification and removal techniques, and native plant replacements.