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CHICO — There”s a patch of green near the entrance to upper Bidwell Park that”s a different kind of green.

Rather than the blue-green tint of yellow starthistle, it”s the true green tint of native grasses studded with bright California poppies coming back after the prickly nemesis has been squelched.

In a small but important victory, two and a half acres of parkland just beyond the diversion channel and before the sharp right turn of the road to upper park are nearly void of starthistle.

That”s a sweet victory to people like Dan Efseaff and David Wood.

Efseaff is the park and natural resources manager of Bidwell Park. Wood, a runner and mountain-biker, is a former Bidwell Park and Playground commissioner who volunteers his time battling starthistle.

For years, park staff and users have tried to challenge the perennial that makes park use uncomfortable, sucks water out of the ground and edges out once-well-established natives.

Over the years, the Park Department has tried a cornucopia of strategies. It has poured boiling water on patches. Vitriolic herbicides have been sprayed. Mechanical mowing and munching by goats has been included in the campaign, and park lovers have been urged to tug out a plant or two by hand.

But little has worked, until now.

Efseaff isn”t claiming total victory, saying the patch still has evidence of a thistle sprig here and there, but he”s very encouraged. Once established, native grasses like purple needle grass, blue wild rye and California onion grass are inching forward.

The process to get the patch to its current greenness has been a year in length and started with an application of herbicide, Telar, then a controlled burn in November, and then another chemical attack in the spring using Milestone.

Native grass seeds were planted in December and the area was mowed several more times.

As much as Efseaff would like to see the true green covering most of Bidwell Park, the likely goal is a little smaller: high-use corridors and roadsides for now.

A patch closer to Horseshoe Lake is another target, and a prescribed burn is slated in a few weeks. Efseaff will try a similar campaign there.

Park users have complained for years about scratches and pokes by yellow starthistle, and Wood is one of them.

For Wood, the contribution of several hundred dollars for herbicide was easily made. A runner and mountain-biker, Wood has suffered, but it”s what starthistle does to trails that irritates him.

“Starthistle moves the trails,” he said. “People avoid starthistle and that creates a wider trail. Getting rid of starthistle along the trails goes along way to stopping the spread.”

As much as people love the park, their clothing, shoes, dogs and horses are the culprits that spread the seeds around the park.

Apparently from Europe, the non-native plant probably traveled to Butte County on clothing, animal fur or merchandise. In addition, there”s a theory that seeds came across in imported alfalfa seed around the time of the gold rush.

There are expanses of upper Bidwell Park where little other vegetation is seen.

Years ago, widespread compartmental burning was among the controls used, but nothing that aggressive is planned, Efseaff said. Public outcry over burning halted that practice.

But Efseaff said the public seems more aware now that burning in small amounts is an effective tool.

Staff writer Laura Urseny can be reached at 896-7756 or lurseny@chicoer.com.

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