TRAIL — A hike up the Rogue River Trail from Peyton Bridge brings with it picturesque vistas of the Rogue River Gorge and five waterfalls cascading into Lost Creek Lake, but the last 50 yards of the path back to reality are loaded with invaders looking for a free ride to new territories.
Swaths of invasive purple loosestrife and medusahead line the trail, ready to hitchhike out on the legs or boots of hikers or the fur of their four-legged companions, spreading to new lands for infestation. "It's an easy vector for people to walk the trail and carry away nasty stuff that we don't want to see elsewhere," says Chad Stuart, natural resources program manager for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the lake.
That's why the Corps recently has taken measures to help ensure that trail visitors aren't taking home more than photos and memories of the lands around Lost Creek Lake.
Agency technicians have installed boot-cleaning stations at its two most popular hiking trails to provide another tool in the arsenal against the spread of invasive species that overrun area habitats by outcompeting native species for food and space.
The stations contain metal bars to scrape seed-carrying mud from boot soles and coarse brushes to rid boot sides, pant legs and dog hides of any possible organic matter.
And just as important, Stuart says, are the large signs informing hikers about the perils of invasive plant species and how a little self-cleaning on their part can curb these banes of wild habitats.
"It's as much a centerpiece for education as it is functional," Stuart says.
The other cleaning station is at the trailhead at the Corps' Takelma Park near Lost Creek dam.
Installed about a month ago, the boot-cleaning stations eventually could become more of the norm elsewhere. Other public-lands managers are mulling whether to add the stations along trails in and out of areas already polluted by these plants in hopes that visitors won't carry seeds to new locales.
Valley of the Rogue State Park is considering adding a cleaning station at its campground where garlic mustard — a particularly nasty and fast-growing invader that kills native plants around it — first was discovered two years ago.
The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Oregon State Marine Board have deployed cleaning crews to rid aquatic plants and animals from boats and trailers to help boaters comply with state laws banning the launching of any boat in any water with any plant or animal material on it.
Similarly, the ODFW also is discussing whether to install stations where anglers can clean waders and wading boots to rid them of aquatic plants and animals, says Rick Boatner, the ODFW's invasive species program manager.
Boatner says his agency now is telling anglers to put their waders in the freezer overnight — unless manufacturers say otherwise — after fishing trips.
"That will kill everything," Boatner says.
The Corps manages more than 9,000 acres of land in Jackson County, and non-native invasive species have been confirmed in 80 percent of them, Stuart says.
The Corps spends about $100 million annually nationwide combating invasive species, Stuart says. Locally, Corps employees regularly pull, mow, cut and spray invasive plants, he says.
But invasive species program managers say hikers and others entering infected wildlands need to make cleaning their boots and clothing part of their recreational routines.
"If everybody just carried a scrub brush with them, that would help," Boatner says.
Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.