Local Stewardship: Rona Fried

Invasive Ivy
English Ivy Killing Some Oaks

This is a good news story about love and restoration of nature at one of our local parks, West Hills County Park in Huntington. But first, the backstory:

In every community, our parks are flooded with invasive plants. Plants from other countries like China, Japan and England have no competitors here, so they flourish, smothering our native plants. Our local wildlife survive only on native plants. In the past few years, deer have returned to West Hills County Park. They nibble only on native plants, making it even easier for invasive plants to take over.

The challenge we face is enormous. Long Island is losing badly in a war it doesn’t even know it’s fighting. These plants are in the process of consuming what’s left of Nature here. Only a strategy of local stewardship will allow us to meet that challenge. It’s too much otherwise.

A Mountain of Invasive Vines With A Little Bit of Seaside Goldenrod

We need the local garden club and our schools, our churches, the local civic associations and Chambers of Commerce, our libraries to become models of local stewardship. We need our municipalities to be ready to change their approach to how they steward our park lands and public spaces. They need to choose Nature, and remove that which does not belong here.

Such large scale change often begins with one determined individual. In the case of West Hills County Park, it has been Rona Fried, who over the past 15 years has been doing the hard work of removing invasive plants threatening to take over her beloved park.

“I’ve been walking my dog at West Hills County Park for over 15 years. My dog was so patient, lying next to me as I spent hours removing invasive plants,”  she says. “I’ve cleared out huge areas, but the work is never done. I can now walk many trails without seeing many invasive plants, but I always walk with gardening gloves on. I go to the woods to relax with nature. Walking through endless invaded areas is very depressing, and I’m so tired of pulling them out by myself.”

Rona Fried, West Hills County Park’s Benefactor

Rona is donating to Long Island Conservancy – which supports local stewardship – to address the invasive plant problem at larger scale. The first project covers about 72000 square feet or 1.65 acres at one of the park entrances. Her grant will fund restoration of that area as Spadefoot Design and Construction, a nature-based landscaping company, removes English Ivy, Japanese Pachysandra, Periwinkle, Wineberry, Oriental Bittersweet, Japanese Wisteria, Burning Bush, Mugwort and other plants that have smothered the native landscape. See below for examples.

Local Stewardship will remove this English Ivy
Don’t Let This Happen To Your Trees!
Japanese pachysandra. Since It Is Invasive, Why Can We Still Buy It?
Vinca minor or lesser periwinkle. It is highly invasive, driving out native species. Another “garden escapee” that shouldn’t be bought or sold.
Wine Berry
Tall maple trees overgrown with dense invasive wild grape vines, bittersweet and grape
Wisteria – A Nightmare to Dig Out. They Smother Everything. Birds Carry Their Seeds.
Once You Know How Invasive Burning Bush Is, This Looks Hideous.
We Have Only The Best Mugwort

Besides doing the removal, Spadefoot will donate  an American Chestnut “Mother Orchard,” to be planted in the restored area. Spadefoot will provide hand-pollinated American Chestnut saplings grown from local remnant trees. American Chestnuts were once the dominant tree along the eastern seaboard, until most of the 3 billion trees were wiped out by Chestnut Blight disease. Scientists are now trying to bring them back. 

An American Chestnut Tree Sprout

Spadefoot will also construct a small seasonal wetland to address stormwater erosion issues and trail washout, while creating a natural habitat. It will serve as a small example of how to use nature-based solutions rather than over-engineered solutions for runoff and flooding problems.

Rebuilding native habitat is the best way to create resilience and mitigate flooding. It’s also the best way to protect wildlife and address climate change.

In Rona Fried, we have a fellow warrior, a fighter for local nature, a model for local stewardship. How did she get here?

Her journey began long ago in graduate school. One of her classmates made an innocent comment: “There are so many great organizations to donate to, it’s hard to choose,” she said. When Rona asked for an example, her classmate gave her a copy of Sierra Magazine .. and that was it!  “I found myself reading about environmental issues at 3AM every night, I couldn’t put it down.” 

That reading has never stopped to this day, some 40 years later, she says. “Until then, I was completely ignorant about nature and what was happening to it in so many ways. It awakened me to a completely different way of viewing the world. The choices we make matter.”

Rona got her Ph.D. in Social/Organizational Psychology and pursued that career for about 8 years as she learned more and more about environmental issues. Then, she switched fields. She opened a retail store in Chapel Hill, North Carolina that sold Green Goods of all kinds, and had a blast doing it. Then she got divorced and moved back to Long Island.

After trying out a few business ideas, she founded SustainableBusiness.com in 1996, one of the first “portals” that covered Green Business on the Internet. Until recently, she wrote 3-5 news stories every day, published a green investing newsletter called Progressive Investor, and founded the first green job service, Green Dream Jobs. She has a broad understanding of sustainability that few can match, which she combines with a commitment and love for the natural world. This has turned into local stewardship, leading by doing.

The Long Island Conservancy is proud to support her local stewardship efforts, and grateful for her lifetime of passionate commitment. 

“Maybe someday I can take my work gloves off!, “exclaims Rona. For now, she enjoys listening to owls in the early evening, and marveling as the Mountain Laurels burst into flowers around June 1 every year. Don’t miss it!!

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