Greenway caution: Watch out for the poison ivy!

Poison Ivy that hangs over a portion of the Neponset Greenway near Mattapan Square is a hazard to walkers and bicyclists. Lee Toma photo.

Poison Ivy that hangs over a portion of the Neponset Greenway near Mattapan Square is a hazard to walkers and bicyclists. Lee Toma photo.

Earlier this month, neighbors exploring the new Neponset River Greenway extension in Mattapan and Milton encountered an unexpected hazard— poison ivy, hanging right at eye level.

Lee Toma, an avid bicyclist and Greenway advocate, first alerted folks to the issue on Mon., July 17, when he posted two photos on Twitter showing a sign he’d made the day before with an upward-pointing arrow and the words “WARNING! POISON IVY.” Five days later, he tweeted again, pointing out that his homemade sign in Milton near the Hyde Park border was still there: “Do I have to do this myself, @MassDCR?”

The Department of Conservation and Recreation replied on Twitter later that day, directing Toma to contact the community relations hotline.

As far as the eye-level poison ivy goes, DCR spokesman Mark Steffan said this week that the clean-up process has just begun. On Monday, in an email to the Reporter, he said that DCR officials and a licensed contractor had “cut the base of as many vines as possible.” Once the plants wilt, crews will remove the dead foliage. Steffan added that given the right permits, the DCR plans to treat the poison ivy with a herbicide next month.

“Poison ivy is growing all around the outside of the trail, and sometimes it starts creeping inside to where people actually walk, so it’s becoming more of a problem,” Toma said in a phone interview on Monday.

Toma, who has been active with the Neponset River Greenway Council for years, sees trail maintenance and signage as priorities now that the one-mile extension from Central Avenue to Blue Hill Avenue is open and heavily used. At the council’s last meeting on July 5, his agenda items included wayfaring signs at trailheads, pictograms for non-English speakers, and potential trail cleaning and maintenance sponsorships. Poison ivy is the latest issue.

“I reported it to them on July 5, and I think I put the sign up on the 16th when I hadn’t seen anything,” Toma said. “I was on the trail, and I saw that some of the vines are hanging from the tree right in front of people’s faces. … I sure wouldn’t want to get poison ivy on my face, so that’s why I put up the sign.”

Toma said the problem is not just a DCR issue. The state agency, which built and maintains the trail, has faced budget cuts that have resulted in understaffing, bringing the DCR to “a point where things aren’t working as they should be.”

Vivian Ortiz of Mattapan Food and Fitness agrees. Also a member of the Neponset River Greenway Council, she said she does her part to support the department by conducting neighborhood education. She also sends pictures of any problems she sees— like poison ivy— directly to a DCR project manager.

“[We’re] letting as many of our neighbors know, even if they’re not walking on the trail,” Ortiz said. “The path isn’t lit at night, so make sure that if you’re going to go out there, you go earlier in the day. Bugs come out after 7:30 or 8 o’clock at night. So it’s just sharing information about this new, beautiful highlight in our neighborhood [with those] who maybe weren’t so involved in the planning process.” Ortiz said she walks or bikes on the Greenway every day, talking to visitors along the way.

The Neponset River Greenway Council will next meet on Wed., Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. at Mattapan’s Foley Senior Residences.

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