Volunteers from U.S. Army Environmental Command, Joint Base San Antonio and Parks and Recreation employees gathered recently at San Antonio's John James Park to cool down some trees as they combined forces with local volunteers to mulch trees and take on the tough mission of removing invasive plant species.

"We mulched around 100 trees, including the tree the Army and community leaders planted for Earth Day last April," said Gabriela Tello, volunteer services coordinator for San Antonio's Parks and Recreation. "Having a layer of mulch around the trees helps retain water in drought conditions."

Over 50 volunteers helped park officials and local community members distribute mulch around both established and newer trees to help protect them and beautify the entire area.

"The tree we planted together for Earth Day last year is a Thornless Retama and it's doing quite well," said Tello. "Our relationship with the Army is important to Parks and Recreation as well as our community."

"This event is helping to build on a relationship started last April during the Earth Day celebration held at John James Park and hosted by USAEC," said Julie Jeter, fish and wildlife biologist. "This is incredibly important work and imperative we work together with the community to help support and preserve land that is here for all to enjoy now and for future generations."

According to Mark Lawson, assistant manager of San Antonio's Parks and Recreation, volunteers are a tremendous help in removing invasive plant species like Chinaberry and Ligustrum.

"We have a volunteer crew in San Antonio that removes around 1,500 invasive species a year," said Lawson. "It's a problem that is spread by birds and is very serious. We try to educate people that Ligustrum and Chinaberry, while offered and sold locally, are really detrimental to native species and tough to get rid of once planted."

According to the Center for Aquatic and Native plants, Ligustrum is a fast growing, dense and upright evergreen shrub with large dark shiny green leaves and quickly takes over for native species of plants and trees. Chinaberry is a native of Asia and was introduced in the United States by a French botanist in the late 1700s. It is known to form dense thickets in forests and marshes, able to grow to a height of 50 feet and is also known to push out native vegetation, plants and trees.

"These two species grow very thick and dominate native species by blocking sunlight and taking important nutrients," said Tello. "By removing and thinning out the Ligustrum and Chinaberry here at John James Park, we are saving trees lives today."

Col. Scott Kimmell, commander of USAEC, said he felt this mission at John James Park was fun and important at the same time.

"We helped the environment today but building a relationship with our local community was very important also," said Kimmell. "Taking care of the environment on Army installations worldwide is what we do at USAEC, but giving back to help our local environment and joining the San Antonio team was great."

"We made a tremendous difference and great strides in our ongoing battle with invasive plant species," said Tello. "Thanks to all for their time and effort to make John James Park a better place for us all to enjoy."

John James Park is located on the east bank of Salado Creek, very close to Joint Base San Antonio, the home of USAEC. The park consists of almost 90 acres with rentable softball and soccer fields, and a half mile of soft and hard walking trails, fitness stations and restrooms facilities.

The park began as a gift from the federal government with 43 acres in 1973 under the Federal Land Surplus program. Originally known as Fort Sam Houston Park, it was renamed for John James in 1974. James became Bexar County chief surveyor and surveyed and established San Antonio boundaries in 1846. He is said to have surveyed more land in Texas than any other individual surveyor.

U.S. Army Environmental Command is the Army's premier environmental organization sustaining military readiness and communities worldwide.

For more information on John James Park, please call Ms. Gabriela Tello, 210-207-2899. For more information on USAEC, visit http://aec.army.mil/usaec/.