Joe Chase (2020)

Braving temperatures in the high 80s, former Sun Prairie mayor Joe Chase used a wheelbarrow and several 30-gallon trash bags to pull garlic mustard, an invasive plant, near the Shonas Highlands bike path (above) and along Broadway Drive this week.

A former Sun Prairie mayor is aiming to rid Sun Prairie’s bike paths of an invasive species he added to the city’s noxious weeds list a decade ago by pulling them — one 30 gallon bag at a time.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources has labeled garlic mustard as invasive. It takes over high quality upland and floodplain forests and savannas, as well as disturbed areas, such as yards, roadsides (and Sun Prairie’s bike paths).

It is sometimes found in full sun, though most often grows in areas with some shade, and does not do well in acidic soils. Native herbaceous cover has been shown to decline at sites invaded by garlic mustard. Garlic mustard exudes anti-fungal chemicals into the soil that disrupt associations between mycorrhizal fungi and native plants, suppressing native plant growth.

That’s where Joe Chase came in.

“So my wife said to me, ‘you know, every time you go through here, you’re pointing out the garlic mustard. What are you going to do about it?’ So I said, ‘I’ll work with the parks department. See if I can get a permit.’ So this new manager they have, Jolene Stinson, I contacted her and immediately she got back to me saying, ‘yeah, I work with people that want to do weed pulling.’ I said, ‘great, tell me when I can start.’

“So I started to on Monday after talking to her, emailing her back and forth on Thursday and Friday, she gave me a good pair of gloves and said, ‘go for it.’,” Chase said on Tuesday, just off the bike path near Stonehaven Drive in the Shonas Highlands Park.

Chase was also just off the bike path along Broadway Drive on Monday, but cut his work day short on Tuesday because of the near 90 degree temperatures.

But the former mayor has a great familiarity with plants in Sun Prairie and because he’s already seen what’s possible at Patrick Marsh, he has a goal of what the wooded areas around the bike paths could look like.

“Now, I’m working with Groundswell at Patrick Marsh. We’re trying to renovate spaces out there and take the weeds out and put in beneficial plants. We planted out on the west side of Patrick Marsh, this winter on top of the snow all kinds of savannah plants. They had a contractor come in and cut down all the junk wood and we burned that.

“And then we came in right across the snow and threw all kinds of seed that they had collected. I’m talking about bushel baskets or something of seed. And it’ll be like the Patrick Marsh area off of Derby Drive. It’s all actually savannah because we wanted to protect the Burr Oaks over at Patrick Marsh. So the Burr Oaks are coming along just nicely now that you get all that under foliage out underneath.”

But Chase, who classified himself as a woodland wildlife naturalist for 20 years as is a steward at the UW Arboretum in Madison, said he put the garlic mustard on the city’s noxious weed list over 10 years ago. The plant is also a big problem in Sheehan Park, where it is very overgrown, Chase said.

And as he’s been pulling the weeds — already more than 20 30-gallon bags of the garlic mustard that have been hauled away by the Sun Prairie Parks, Recreation and Forestry Department — people are appreciating the effort.

“I have many people stop here and thank me. It’s because they know what I’m doing,” Chase said. “They could see this as garlic mustard and they say they know that this is not a good plant.”

Classifying garlic mustard as a noxious weed, Chase said, sort of obligates him to do something about it — before it invades wooded areas and progresses via streams and animal trails, according to the UW-Extension.

“[Garlic mustard then] was not the problem it is today. And now it is a huge problem,” Chase said. “I see some benefit in trying to knock it down. That’s what I keep doing.”

To volunteer to pull weeds in any of the city parks, call Stinson at the SPPRF Department at 608-837-3449.

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