Jeannette takes on weeds with a vengeance | Who's Who

Jeannette Franks: A Weed Warrior with the resolve of her prey - Brad Camp/For the Review
Jeannette Franks: A Weed Warrior with the resolve of her prey
— image credit: Brad Camp/For the Review

Jeannette Franks is not one to shy away from a challenge, much to the chagrin of Bainbridge Island’s tree-climbing ivy and the island’s many other invasive plant species.

Franks ranks as the island’s No. 1 Weed Warrior, an organization she helped start in 2003 after some 10 years of fighting non-native plants on her own, well, along with her husband, Dick Baker.

“It took us three years to get rid of the ivy on an acre of our land,” she said. “There were a lot of others trying to do the same, so we got together and formed Weed Warriors. It’s a battle, but we’re making headway because we’re organized and we get a lot of help from a lot of people and organizations.”

It may sound unusual for someone like Franks, who has a doctorate from the University of Washington’s School of Social Work and has worked as an associate professor there for many years, to dedicate herself to eradicating weeds. She doesn’t think so.

“I’ve always been a certified tree hugger,” she said. “In the ‘60s, when we were choosing our paths in life, I was always outside exploring. I grew up in the Seattle area, so it’s just part of who I am.”

She takes special pride in the ongoing battle to rid Blakely Harbor Park area of ivy, which had been crawling up trees and covering the ground for more than 100 years before the battle to eradicate it began in earnest.

“From what I heard, 140 ivy sprigs were brought here by the early pioneers and by the 1980s it was old-growth ivy in Blakely and had completely outgrown the native species.”

Franks embraces Ann Lovejoy’s theory that the birds ate the seeds of the ivy and holly that propagated after being brought ashore, then secreted them in the area.

“It just took off and by the time we decided to take it on,” she said, “it had reached critical mass. It’s been a challenge, but we’ve gotten a lot of help and a 10-year plan that we’re carrying out. If we don’t re-seed an area like Blakely it’s a weed magnet and the invasive plants will re-establish themselves again because they will outcompete the native flora. It’s a never-ending battle.”

Franks and her husband, along with Len Beil, who is equally involved as a Weed Warrior, have spent many days all by themselves whacking away at ivy surrounding island trees.

“At first, people didn’t think the ivy was a pest, but they’ve become educated about the non-native plants and the need for us to work together to be successful in the removal of them,” she said. “Many more people are aware of the problem now, and have worked to rid their own properties of invasive plants. There’s been a lot of success on the island, but we have to keep at it.”

Besides Blakely, success is beginning to occur at Pritchard Park, where a few years of Earth Day work parties by Bainbridge High School students and other volunteers is starting to make a difference. The organization also is arming itself in better ways, including with well-designed tools to assist the ivy eradication, thanks to grants and other financial assistance.

“We’re always looking for more volunteers,” Franks said. “But we’re encouraged by the progress we’re making.

- Dennis Anstine




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