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Battling a plant trying to take over the world

Wendy Havens spent the first day of spring dragging large honeysuckle branches away from a creek in the Port Royal neighborhood.

"We're getting rid of an exotic invasive that's trying to take over the world," said Havens, who is project coordinator for the Port Royal Neighborhood Association.

Now the Roanoke Greenway along Wolf Run Creek, which is near Alexandria Drive, is more open and inviting to people who live in the area.

And, as native plants put in the ground Saturday take root and grow, the creek itself will be cleaner.

The neighborhood association has been picking up trash in the greenway for several years. Two years ago, when residents started hacking at the honeysuckle — an Asian species now widespread in Central Kentucky — they found old mattresses and other evidence that homeless people had been living in the thickets.

Work in the greenway now has expanded to improving water quality in the creek through a better variety of greenery.

Last weekend, a dozen people gathered to cut down more honeysuckle bushes, quickly painting the stumps with herbicide to discourage the roots from sending up new sprouts.

On Saturday, 18 people planted native river cane, rough-leaf dogwood, plum trees and other species that are supposed to be growing along a Kentucky creek.

The honeysuckle had created such a dense canopy that there was nothing but bare ground beneath it, said Ken Cooke, the secretary for a group called the Friends of Wolf Run. That allowed rain water to run into the creek with whatever pollution it picked up along the way.

The native species will have some plants that grow close to the ground, some medium bushes and some tall trees.

"That shades the creek, filters the water going in and holds the bank stable," Cooke said.

The work along the creek is a joint effort of the Friends of Wolf Run, the Port Royal Neighborhood Association and the Down to Earth Garden Club. The city put in a $2,500 grant, and the other three groups matched it with plants, money and work.

Some of the native plants came from the Friends of Griffith Woods, a 735-acres tract that is being returned to its natural state in Harrison County.

Bruce Hutcheson, the president of the Friends of Wolf Run, said the project is just one that his group is working on to improve a polluted creek that winds its way through a large swatch of Lexington.

The city's 2008 settlement of a federal Environmental Protection Agency lawsuit against the city was a wake-up call that polluted creeks aren't acceptable, Henderson said. The EPA had charged that Lexington had allowed urban runoff and untreated sewage to foul creeks in violation of the Clean Water Act.

"Lexington has no major river; it's a town of springs and creeks," Henderson said. "They should be viewed as a precious resource instead of a place you let grow over and cast your waste into.

"People are realizing ... how great it would be if a child was allowed to go into a creek and wade instead of worrying about all that is in it."