Water chestnut harvest

The prickly seed pod.

The green fringe of European water chestnuts that grows steadily over the Esopus Creek where it widens at Saugerties Beach threatens to engulf that part of the river and the beach area.

Attempts in the past to remove the water chestnuts by hand have not been effective, and the latest plan is to buy a weed cutter and enlist volunteers to take the cut weeds to shore, where the Saugerties Village Department of Public Works will haul them away, said Susan Bolitzer, the president of Esopus Creek Conservancy.

“These are not the Chinese water chestnuts that you find in soups or other Chinese dishes,” she said.

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Indeed, far from it. This invasive plant makes life tough for our native aquatic birds and plants, and its seed pods are fiendishly sharp hazards for barefooted beach-goers.

A group preparing to remove the mess has the cutter and is preparing to start work this weekend, July 7 and 8. Once the weeds are cut, they will need volunteers to bring them to shore, where the DPW has offered to haul them away.

Two years ago, artist Ze’ev Willy Neumann vowed he would find a way to remove the noxious weeds. Neumann’s enthusiasm inspired others, including a neighbor, Chris Nealon, who found a source online for a lake mower, which is apparently the method of choice for other municipalities with chestnut infestations, Bolitzer said.

They will probably be working on the project through the summer, Neumann said. “We will be cutting away the front of the weeds, and as we cut a row we will need people to take the weeds away.”

Neumann publicized the removal project with a float in the July 4 parade. The float featured a wooden shoe, representing Saugerties’s Dutch heritage, and a boat. In its water craft incarnation, the shoe was covered with water chestnuts and a rower inside fought to row it through the mess.

The small group working on the project can use additional help. One task for interested boat owners may be hauling the cut weeds to shore so as to clear the next row for cutting. If you’re interested in helping or want more information, call Bolitzer at 247-0664.

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