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Vilas County Woman Honored with ‘Invader Crusader’ Award for Work at Natural Lakes Private Preserve

Ann Mawicke has made a name for herself in the Natural Lakes Private Preserve community.

“If I’m working on the roadside here, I’ll have a car go by and say, ‘Are you the weed lady?’ Yeah, I’ve been affectionately called the weed lady,” she said.

Mawicke spends several hours a week during the summer pulling bull thistle or chopping down invasive honeysuckle.

Credit Katie Thoresen/WXPR
Invasive bull thistle.

While she hasn’t always been the ‘Weed Lady’, ever since learning about terrestrial invasive species and how they can impact the land, Mawicke can’t seem to turn it off.

“The only thing I knew when I started all this was bull thistle. I didn’t know what honeysuckle was. It’s very easy, unfortunately, to learn. You’ll never be able to drive down the road and see roadside weeds the same again,” said Mawicke.

On an overcast morning, Mawicke along with Lyndon and Joan Pritchard were busy removing invasive species on property at Natural Lakes Private Preserve just north of Boulder Junction.

They’re part of the homeowner’s association on the 3,600-acre private land that includes four lakes.

Mawicke said the invasive honeysuckle was first found on Nature Conservancy land to the north and has slowly been making its way south.

“We did a driving tour and sure enough we had it. It’s all at the north edge of our land. It’s been slowing moving. We’ve been dealing with it since 2016,” she said.

While the physical labor happens several hours each week, Mawicke puts in the hard work long before that.

She’s worked with organizations WHIP and Lumberjack RC&D to find and apply for grants to buy things like chainsaws, clippers, herbicide, and garbage bags.

Mawicke also coordinates all the volunteers and goes out with them in teams of two or three to get the work done.

“My average volunteer is late 60s, early 70s so the thought of working 6- or 8-hours pulling weeds, one, I wouldn’t have any volunteers return. Two, less risk of injury, doesn’t blow their day. Plus, it’s the summertime and they have family visiting so you want to balance things out,” Mawicke said.

Credit Katie Thoresen/WXPR
Ann Mawicke is one the recipients of this year's Invader Crusader Award for her work fighting invasive species.

It’s this hard work and dedication to taking on invasive species that’s earned Mawicke an Invader Crusader Award in the Volunteer Category.

She hopes the recognition brings awareness to the fact that there are grants and support available for private landowners when it comes to fighting invasive species.

Her dedication has certainly been enough to motivate her neighbors like the Pritchard’s into action.

“[I] get a little exercise and of course invasive species both in the water and on the land are something we got to keep control over, so not too hard to decide to help out,” said Lyndon Pritchard.

It helps that they’ve been seeing positive results from their work.

“You see that, you know in areas that we worked on, not last year, but the year before. It was just thick, you couldn’t see the water from the landing. You thin it out,” said Pritchard. “Now two years later, you see all the natural stuff coming up. It’s much, much different scenery. You can see through it. It looks healthy. It’s not all choked out. The results are always nice to see. At least your work is doing something.”

That success keeps Mawicke and the other volunteers motivated as does the knowledge of what can happen if they don’t.

“It could render a piece of property or an area of property unusable. You can’t walk through invasive honeysuckle. You’re not going to send your kids to rollicking through 6 foot tall bull thistle with thorns on it,” said Mawicke. “That’s where a lot of this comes from. This wasn’t here. It came from other people, or it came in on tires, or ATV tires, or people hiking and you need to stay ahead of it or it’s just going to get completely out of control.”

Wild Rivers Invasive Species Coalition also received this year’s Invader Crusader Award.

Based in the Upper Peninsula, they help fight aquatic and terrestrial invasive species.

They work in Forest, Florence, and Marinette Counties as well as Dickinson and Menominee counties in Michigan.

Katie Thoresen is WXPR's News Director/Vice President.
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