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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Noxious Neighbors Weeds Are Growing Like…You Know, Along The Centennial Trail

The Centennial Trail in the Valley, 17 long miles of it, has legions of unwanted neighbors, and no one knows how to make them go away.

They are weeds. Noxious weeds.

“I was just thinking that the noxious weeds are as bad as I’ve ever seen ‘em,” said Galen Chamberlain, a volunteer who spent an evening last week mowing weeds along the trail east of Boulder Beach.

Six feet from the swath Chamberlain was cutting, knapweed flourishes close to the river’s bank, along with irises, poison ivy and grasses.

Just east of Harvard Bridge, knapweed blooms bright purple along the edge of the trail, teetering way over the pavement, crowded by its yellow-, pink- and white-flowering neighbors.

The colorfully blooming weeds may appear pretty, but they choke out everything else in the area.

“Cut it, spray it, pull it, use volunteer crews - just keep banging away at it.” That’s how Gary Herron, superintendent of Riverside State Park, advocates fighting the weeds.

Or, pick them.

One evening last week, Sue Funk and Sandi Porta took a stroll along the trail near Boulder Beach with special intent in mind. Each gathered a handful of pretty plants, complete with roots, to transplant in their own gardens. Funk started out with St. John’s wort, a noxious weed that has been controlled for the past 35 years by biological control - bugs - and went on to gather Dalmatian toadflax and a few others for her back yard. Funk was unfazed at the news that she had gathered noxious weeds.

“Granny’s gathering a bunch of junk, that’s what my grandson would say, ” she said.

At the other end of the Valley’s stretch of trail, the news isn’t any better.

“Everything you can see from here to those houses is noxious weeds,” said Dave Mundt, coordinator for the Spokane County Noxious Weed Board, as he surveyed fields that stretch away from the trail near the Idaho state line.

But along the margins of the trail, the state Department of Transportation does a good job of controling weeds near the state line weigh station on Interstate 90, Mundt said. There, bunch grass and other grasses thrive.

“We wish it all looked like this,” Mundt said.

But the job of controling weeds is never done.

“It’s like washing the floor or washing the dishes. You do it once and then you have to do it again,” said Doug Pineo, shorelines specialist for the state Department of Ecology.

Spraying weeds is expensive, to boot.

In the Valley, Inland Empire Paper Company, a major landowner along the trail, spends as much as $10,000 a year on spraying noxious weeds, said Rich Campbell, who handles the company’s farm land.

Many landowners don’t know they have a problem until a weed inspector points out what needs doing. Mundt says he has eight weed inspectors and could use five times that many.

“It takes a lot of pushing and shoving,” said Mundt, to get most landowners to comply with weed control that’s required by state law. “It’s a thankless job.”

It’s the county’s responsibility to wage war on the noxious weeds that grow along the Centennial Trail in the Valley. The job falls to the cash-poor Parks and Recreation Department, headed by Wyn Birkenthal.

“No, there’s no budget line that says noxious weed spraying. It competes with the same fund that we buy soap, toilet paper and fertizilier out of,” Birkenthal said.

Spokane County Commissioner Kate McCaslin said she agrees, philosophically, that the county should take care of its own weed problem. The budget process for the next year is starting in the next few weeks.

“We’ll have to see what, if anything, is in our budget for that,” McCaslin said. Perhaps prisoners at Geiger Corrections Center could provide labor, she suggested.

“No one can afford the solution to the problem,” Birkenthal said. “The normal solution is to spray, but that’s extremely temporary. Everyone involved needs to go in over time and develop a concentrated effort to replace noxious weeds with native vegetation. We can’t just keep chucking poison by the river forever.”

Pineo, the shoreline specialist, said the spraying of herbicides near the river’s edge also damages the native plants that, under state law, must be protected within 50 feet of the river. He likens the task of controling noxious weeds in Spokane County to the decades of work that turned around the fate of the American peregrine falcon.

The Friends of the Centennial Trail has hoped that volunteer groups adopting a mile of the trail would keep noxious weeds as a priority. That hasn’t happened.

In part, it’s simply an education problem. Most people don’t recognize the virulence of the noxious weeds.

For many trail users, litter is still a bigger eyesore than spotted knapweed.

“Because it’s a more visible problem and because the person off the street notices that more and is disturbed by it more than noxious weeds, picking up trash is our No. 1 priority,” said Jon Rascoff, Friends of the Centennial Trail chairman. “Knapweed is a little further down on the list.”

More money? More volunteer work? Revegetating with native plants? All those community efforts are needed, Pineo and others said.

Pineo has a clear idea how those efforts could be be focused. People who want to help the trail “need to adapt all their efforts for the next several years strictly on weed control,” he said. “They need to get serious about it. It is a grown-up, serious problem across our community and we need to treat it like it is.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

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