GOOSE ISLAND STATE PARK – A retired Rockport couple got down on their hands and knees to pull up as much Guinea grass swaying in the coastal breeze as they could.

After stuffing a 55-gallon trash bag, Mathalie Woolfrey sat on top of it to catch her breath.

“No, we cannot bring that home and use it as a bean bag,” her husband, Fred, said, jokingly.

Eventually, the couple moved on to pulling up silverleaf sunflowers as tall as them.

The Wolfreys are among thousands who volunteer at Texas’ state parks each year.

Carolyn Gonzales, who coordinates this effort, said the volunteers save the state close to $10 million and from hiring 220 more full-time employees.

Goose Island has 16 employees, Assistant Park Superintendent TJ Hinojosa said.

“If we didn’t have volunteers coming out and doing this, it would be solely up to the park to maintain, but with customer service and other maintenance in the park, it sometimes loses its footing on the priority list,” he said of eradicating invasive species such as Guinea grass.

Hinojosa feared Guinea grass along with silverleaf sunflowers would choke an oak mott most famous for protecting an oak that had grown over the centuries to be 35 feet around. He said the park does not spray chemicals there.

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On Texas’ Gulf Coast, there are 11 other invasive species of plants, including giant salvinia, Chinese tallow tree, salt cedar, deep-rooted sedge, Brazilian peppertree, Chinaberry tree, Japanese honeysuckle, Chinese privet, common water hyacinth, alligatorweed and trifoliate orange.

Hinojosa said Guinea grass seeds are viable for up to seven years and wind, animals and people spread them. It can grow up to 6 feet tall and thrives in moist environments.

As Texas Master Naturalists, the Woolfreys must spend 40 hours volunteering annually. They said that is no problem, especially when it is in their own backyard.

“After Harvey, there’s lots of stuff in Rockport that still needs work,” said Fred Woolfrey.

This was a sentiment that transcended the ages.

Corrine Johnston and Yvonne Sheasby said they were happy the internship they were doing this summer as students at Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi brought them to Rockport. They encouraged more people to grab a shovel.

“We definitely need more volunteers because invasive species are very hard to control. It’s like every time you pull it, you have to keep coming back,” Sheasby said.

“And it’s actually more important that people think because once it chokes out pollinator plants then the butterflies and bees don’t come as often and they die,” Johnston added.

Hinojosa hopes people won’t be discouraged by the heat. He said volunteering is usually in the morning and only for a couple of hours. Plus, it’s a good workout.

“And you don’t have to pay for a membership out here,” he said.

Jessica Priest reports on the environment and Calhoun County for the Victoria Advocate. She may be reached at jpriest@vicad.com or 361-580-6521.

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Former Environment/Investigations Reporter

Jessica Priest worked for the Victoria Advocate from August 2012-September 2019, first as the courts reporter and then as the environment/investigations reporter. Read her work now at www.jessicapriest.me.

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