Town looks to root out bamboo that’s invaded park

CORNELIUS – There’s a bamboo problem in Cornelius, and the town Parks and Recreation department is looking to keep the invasive species under control.

Starting this month, the department is taking action to eradicate bamboo from Robbins Park in an effort to restore the natural habitat and improve wildlife habitat. Over the last five years, town-led efforts have worked to remove the bamboo; however, the rapid growth has far outpaced those efforts.

“It’s too large, the area it grows in, for a group to take it all out,” said John DeKemper, assistant director for Cornelius Parks and Recreation. “We want to keep it from encroaching.”

Numerous volunteer groups, including Boy Scouts, have helped in the effort so far, but the bamboo has begun to penetrate the Robbins pollinator garden.

Like kudzu, bamboo grows very rapidly. The sprouts that shoot up from the ground each spring can grow 12 inches per day, and its underground roots can travel 20 feet or more from the original clump. The grass prevents small trees from getting sunlight, and the natural growth of the forest is stunted.

After cutting down the stalks, mulch will be placed in its place to warm the ground as it decays. The warmth will negatively impact the bamboo root system.

“You have to know up front that it’s a long-term battle,” DeKemper said. “Just mowing it one time isn’t going to do the job. It makes it more manageable. We can go in as the grass shoots go up, as opposed to saws for each individual stalk.”

He said the department tries to avoid using herbicides, especially around the pond, where the bamboo is most prevalent. That’s when a natural product is used to keep the water safe for wildlife and humans alike.

The enhanced preventative efforts come as the 100-acre park’s new master plan was finalized in October. Though several amenities, like soccer fields, will be added over the next 10 years, there will be an area of preserved forest on the property’s south side.

“We consider it a nature preserve and it won’t be impacted by future phases of development,” DeKemper said, noting he and Director Troy Fitzsimmons have backgrounds in conservation. “The birds have to have a place to live.” 

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