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Frye: Less mowing and more grass this summer

| Sunday, June 16, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

Coming this summer to an open space near you: weeds.

Get ready for it. If you like to fish or picnic, you might be doing it in or adjacent to higher-than-usual grass this summer.

In an effort to save money, a number of state agencies, including the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, are going to be cutting less grass on their properties in the future.

“My understanding is that where we've provided shoreline fishing, we're going to continue to maintain those areas. It's not going to impact fishing or access areas or parking lots,” Fish and Boat Commission spokesman Rick Levis said. “But we're going to be cutting less in places where we've maintained grassy areas as lawns.”

That's not all bad. High grass has benefits when it comes to lakes, said Patty Miller, director of the Jacobs Creek Watershed Association, which secured $64,000 in state grant money over the last few years to do bank stabilization work at Green Lick Lake in Fayette County.

“When we do stabilization work, we don't want to see much mowing right on the bank because that can undo much of your work,” Miller said. “Higher grass can actually help reduce erosion.”

Spending time and money maintaining a lawn where more natural woods and shrubs could grow is a waste of resources, added Tom Qualters, supervisor of the commission's southwest region office.

Let too much grass grow too tall and people notice, though.

Exhibit A is Green Lick. The 101-acre lake is owned by the commission. Fayette County, through an agreement, maintains the grounds around it as Jacobs Creek Park.

The county or its contractor has mowed the grass around the park's boat launch this year as always. The grass in the picnic area on the southeastern corner of the lake — where the watershed did its work — hadn't been cut all season until a week or so ago.

That area is popular with fishermen. The commission invested more than $50,000 — combining “staff time, equipment rentals and materials,” spokesman Tim Schaeffer said — in creating habitat structures to support fish populations in that section of the lake. Those structures also served to create near-shore fishing opportunities.

Yet until recently, reaching those areas meant wading through knee-high grass, from the edge of the parking lot and past two overgrown pavilions to the lake shore.

Anglers made it clear they weren't happy with that.

“Oh yeah, we've been getting some calls from people,” Qualters said. “Everyone's well aware of the doggone situation.”

The commission's Harrisburg headquarters office has fielded complaints, too, Levis said. The watershed association has as well.

Why it took so long for that grass to get cut, or what plans the county has moving forward, are unclear. Calls to the county maintenance office were not returned.

But it's clear anglers can expect more grass growing higher in places than in the past.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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