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Volunteers Remove Poison Oak From City Park To Avoid Spraying

Photo by Becky Riley
Photo by Becky Riley

Just off River Road, a 10-acre Eugene park boasting ponderosa pines, camas lilies and other native species is also full of another native plant — poison oak. Longtime park volunteer Becky Riley is leading the charge to remove poison oak from Rasor Park to prevent the city from needing to use herbicides to eradicate the plant. 

Last year, when Riley found out the city was planning to spray Rasor Park with an herbicide because of its health risk to off-leash dogs and off-trail people, she says she wrote a letter asking that the city consider alternative methods instead. With Rasor Park being right next to the Willamette River, Riley says, she wanted to avoid chemical use.

“They listened and stopped the plan to spray,” she says. “They said they’d work with me if I could come up with a plan to eradicate the poison oak using nonchemical methods. So they’ve agreed to let me try for a couple of years, and it’s going to take at least that long — there’s a lot of it out there.”

Lorna Baldwin, the city of Eugene’s west region volunteer coordinator who worked with Riley to arrange the agreement, says the city typically can’t afford workers to remove the poison oak by hand, and Riley’s volunteer work makes it possible to use a nonchemical approach. “Her commitment is totally remarkable,” Baldwin says.

Riley, who lives off River Road and once worked for the Northwest Coalition for Alternatives to Pesticides, says that she and a group of volunteers known as Friends of Rasor Park will start by trying to reduce the amount of poison oak directly next to the mowed paths. 

The volunteer group signed a formal agreement with the city, and Riley says the city is currently growing plants in its native plant nursery to place in Rasor Park next fall and fill in spots where poison oak and nonnative grasses once grew. 

 “Over the next five years, we’re hoping to establish some patches of wildflowers and native grasses,” Riley says. “The goal that we set for now is just to make some good progress in the first two years, and I’m hoping the city and our neighbors will be patient with us.”

A work party orientation to learn how to remove poison oak will take place at 6 pm Thursday, May 14, at Countryside Pizza, 645 River Road, followed by a work party at 9 am Saturday, May 16, at Rasor Park. See the Friends of Rasor Park Facebook page for more info.