When I was on the Niskayuna rowing team in high school, we always had spring regattas at Saratoga’s Fish Creek, a 13-mile rivulet connecting Saratoga Lake to the Hudson River. The hardest part of racing there wasn’t the two-kilometer race itself, but the journey to the starting docks. To get from the shore to the starting line, my teammates and I had to maneuver our boat through a thick covering of lily-pad like plants without getting the boating shell’s rudder caught. We all thought that the plants, whose spiny, nut-like fruits were painful to step on, were just an annoying but natural part of the Fish Creek ecosystem. It wasn’t until after my rowing career was over that I learned they were actually water chestnuts, or Trapa natans, an invasive species.
Native to Western Europe, Northeast Asia and Africa, T. natans isn’t the same as the flat, off-white water chestnuts you find in some Chinese dishes. This species was introduced to the northeast in the mid- to late-1870s when it was first planted in the Cambridge botanical garden at Harvard University and other surrounding areas, but eventually escaped cultivation. It was then introduced to Collins Lake in Scotia around 1884, possibly as an intentional introduction for waterfowl food, or as a water garden escapee. (Collins Lake is in the Hudson River-Mohawk River drainage basin, and since Fish Creek connects to the Hudson…you get the idea.)
T. natans forms floating mats on the surface of the water that not only impair boaters, but also block light penetration necessary for native aquatic plant growth, which results in low oxygen levels in the water and a decrease in fish population. Its one-inch fruits have four pointy spines that injure swimmers, animals and unsuspecting Niskayuna rowers alike.
On Saturday, June 29 from 8am-1pm, Saratoga PLAN, a nonprofit conservation and preservation organization, and Kayak Shak, a local canoe and kayak rental service, will take on the water chestnuts of Fish Creek at a hand-harvesting work day, at which community members are invited to launch a boat at Kayak Shak and help pull the invasive species from the creek. “Small craft are able to maneuver along the shoreline and clear out areas where the large mechanical harvesters cannot,” says Maria Trabka, Saratoga PLAN executive director. “Without the help of volunteer paddlers, Fish Creek, a favorite paddling spot and the best example of a floodplain forest community in Saratoga County, would be choked and ruined for boaters, fish and other wildlife species using this beautiful natural shoreline.”
The Capital-Mohawk Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management (CapMo PRISM) is also working in partnership with Saratoga PLAN to manage the T. natans infestation. Representatives from CapMo PRISM will be at Kayak Shak on harvesting day to lead a brief training and identification for harvesting water chestnuts.
Those interested in aiding in the hand-harvesting event should dress to get wet and muddy, and are being asked to bring their own kayak or canoe, life jacket, protective gloves, water, sunscreen and mosquito repellant. Boats, paddles and personal floatation devices will also be provided free of charge by Kayak Shak to those who pre-register. To sign up, call Saratoga PLAN at 518-587-5554 or email Michelle.