Doctoring trails at Windsor Castle Park

Published 12:06 pm Friday, August 23, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

As Steve Senkovich bumped along the trails at Windsor Castle Park in a four-wheeler, he pointed to a barely noticeable dip in the moon dust surface.

“There’s another one,” he said of the spot, which would eventually wash away to form a hazardous area of erosion if it wasn’t for the vigilance of Senkovich and his small group of “Trail Doctors.” 

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For the volunteer Trail Doctors, spotting and fixing erosion is “job one,” said Senkovich. 

Beyond erosion, the Trail Doctors are waging a long-running battle against a pesky army of invasive plants — English ivy, Japanese stiltgrass, Chinese privet, tree of Heaven, and most recently, porcelain berry. 

The Trail Doctors have been cutting away the lower branches of cedar trees bordering Jericho Estates, where porcelain berry has taken hold and threatens to strangle the trees. 

Once the lower branches are cut away, the Trail Doctors can get at the original vine and coat surfaces with herbicide. 

In recent years, the Trail Doctors have removed all the female tree of heaven trees and are now marking the male plants. It seems that the spotted lantern fly likes to make its headquarters in the tree of heaven and the insect is headed this way from further north, said Senkovich. 

The bug feeds on woody and non-woody plants and the way it does encourages mold growth, which attracts other insects and can eventually kill the plant. 

Park visitors are probably most familiar with the herd of goats brought in to eat away at vegetation in the wooded thicket next to the kayak launch. 

With areas cleared away, the Trail Doctors can more easily get in there and get rid of the English ivy, which can also suffocate a tree. 

Clearing invasive plants has its risks. 

“I’ve had poison ivy six times,” said Senkovich. 

Senkovich said his top priorities are “manpower and machines” as he figures he’s devoted 300-400 volunteer hours to the park a year. He recalls one situation where a professional tree pruner estimated it would cost $22,000 to prune the 300 trees planted before the park opened in 2010. The Trail Doctors did it instead, said Sekovich. 

The Town of Smithfield has two full-time parks employees, and the Town Council recently approved two more positions. 

The Trail Doctors are also scheduled to get a tractor, which will help with maintaining the trails, said Senkovich.

 “The Trail Doctors have been an amazing asset for the town.  We have been building our parks staff numbers over the last two years and we would not have been able to keep the park looking as amazing as it does without these volunteers,” said Smithfield Director of Parks and Recreation Amy Novak. 

Novak said the two new staffers are expected to begin by the end of August, freeing up the Trail Doctors to devote their time to projects they are particularly interested in, such as removing invasive species. 

 Meanwhile, the Trail Doctors are always eager to add new volunteers to its roster. 

As a retired Army officer, Senkovich approaches the work as if he were still in the military. 

“When you see a problem, you fix it,” he said.