Updated 11:05 A.M. ET
ITHACA (WSKG) – It is Invasive Species Awareness Week across New York state and a variety of educational events are happening in parks and other sites.
In Tompkins County, educational activities and games were organized by FORCES, Friends of Recreation, Conservation and Environmental Stewardship. It’s a program of the New York Parks and Recreation Department that gets college-aged people involved in state parks.
Carlin Wakefield, 25, is one of the coordinators. This week she was at Buttermilk Falls State Park with games design to teach contestants to identify invasive species.
A picnic table near the park entrance was covered with examples of invasive plants and insects. They also set up a fishing game using plastic fish, a corn hole game, and others. At each station, players would learn about invasive species.
Wakefield said there is one invasive plant blooming now she wants everyone in Tompkins County to know about.
“Wild parsnip.” She said, “It has a Queen Anne’s lace-like looking flower head. Instead of white flower it’ll be yellow and it’ll grow tall on the side of the road. “
Wild parsnip was not on the picnic table among the other samples. Like, hogweed it can be dangerous if handled improperly.
“The sap,” Wakefield explained, “if it contacts your skin and you’re in the sunlight, can cause chemical burns.”
She said it grows about five feet tall and it can be removed safely. Wear gloves, long sleeves, long pants, socks and shoes.
If safely dressed you can dig out the root or just pull it out. She suggested putting it in a bag to throw away.
At Robert H. Treman State Park, near Enfield, was FORCES organizer David Balcer. Balcer said one of the most important water species to know about is not an invasive species.* It is harmful algal blooms. They aren’t even algae. It is naturally-occurring bacteria often called blue-green algae that is causing serious problem in the Finger Lakes, including Cayuga Lake.**
“The blue-green algae,” Balcer said, “actually is like paint, it’s like oil on top of the water. And if you see it just stay away from it ‘cause if you actually get in contact with it, it can actually cause skin irritation and also if you ingest it, it can make you very, very sick.”
There have been several blooms reported on Cayuga Lake this week. At Taughannock Falls State Park, the algae prompted a temporary swimming ban.
If people think they see an algal bloom, Balcer said they should report it to the state Department of Environmental Conservation.
* This story has been updated to clarify that harmful algal blooms are not an invasive species.
** This is to clarify that the algal blooms are in fact a form of bacteria.