Volunteers from U.S. Army Environmental Command (USAEC) recently celebrated the command's 40th year of service to Soldiers, Families and the Army as they combined forces with the City of San Antonio Parks and Recreation Department to clear and remove invasive plants such as Chinaberry, Ragweed and other non-native species in San Antonio's Brackenridge Park.

"The drought and high summer temperatures impacted many of our native plants and trees, so we are making every effort to help them thrive," said Meredith Ruiz, Program Manager. "Chinaberry is an invasive, non-native species that is crowding out native species and preventing nutrients from reaching native species and blocking growth, so we needed to thin out the Chinaberry."

Approximately 40 USAEC volunteers helped Parks and Recreation staff and local community members distribute mulch around both established and newer trees to help protect them and beautify the hiking and biking trails around Joske's Pavilion. The unit's last organization day was held at the Brackenridge Park Joske Pavilion so they were familiar with the ground.

"We always appreciate the Army and USAEC's help," said Ruiz. "Our relationship with them is growing very quickly and is important to the Parks and Recreation Department as well as to the entire community that uses and enjoys our city parks."

"This event is helping to build on a relationship started a couple of years ago during annual Earth Day activities held at John James Park and hosted by USAEC," said Julie Jeter, one of USAEC's fish and wildlife biologists. "This is incredibly important work and it's imperative we work together with the community to help support and preserve land here for all to enjoy now as well as for future generations."

According to Justin Krobot, a horticulturist with Urban Forestry for the Parks and Recreation Department, it's tremendously helpful for the Army and local community volunteers to pick up trash, clear out invasive plant and tree species and support the overall planning of future park events.

"Chinaberry trees were brought in to landscape homes but they've taken over, so with the Army's help we'll knock some of those trees out," he said. "The last group that helped us thought some of the Chinaberry trees were too big to remove by hand but the folks from USAEC have proven them wrong today. Nothing is too big for these guys."

"Hundreds of Chinaberry trees and ragweed plants met their match today here in the park," said Col. Mark Lee, commander of USAEC. "We pulled the trees and plants out of the ground and when that didn't work we used heavy rocks to break up roots. No tree was so big that we couldn't take it down when we worked together as a team."

According to Ruiz, next spring they hope to do more with Army volunteers like re-mulching, xeriscaping and adding benches for the trails. The U.S. Army Environmental Command usually does work at John James Park as part of the city's Adopt-A-Park program, but construction in the John James Park area shifted the volunteer work to Brackenridge Park this fall.

Brackenridge Park is comprised of almost 344 acres, located just below the headwaters of the San Antonio river and very close to Fort Sam Houston, home of USAEC. The park consists of three rentable pavilions, the Japanese Tea Garden, the San Antonio Zoo, Lambert Beach and the sunken Garden Theatre. A golf course, soft and hard walking trails and restrooms are also on-site amenities.

The park began as a gift of 199 acres to the city of San Antonio in 1899 by businessman George Brackenridge for use as a public park. He continued to donate land to enlarge the park and others followed suit as well. The only major changes to Brackenridge Park since the 1940's are those brought about by the alignment of Highway 281 during the 1960's. The park remains remarkably unchanged in layout and design, and retains much of its history for all to enjoy for generations to come.

U.S. Army Environmental Command is the Armed Forces premier environmental organization sustaining military readiness and communities' world-wide. The headquarters organization is located on Fort Sam Houston, Texas and has the mission of helping Army installations sustain valuable resources and land to maximize soldier training.

For more information on John James Park and Brackenridge Park, please call Ms. Meredith Ruiz, 207-8603. For more information on USAEC, visit http://aec.army.mil.