Supporter Profile

NEFF’s Own Weed Warrior

Jan. 07, 2024

A June 2023 field dispatch from NEFF Development Communications Specialist David Ayers

A June 2023 field dispatch from NEFF Development Communications Specialist David Ayers

In early June, it was Burning Bush, Multiflora Rose and Garlic Mustard. Today, just a few weeks later on June 28, it’s Porcelain Berry, Japanese Knotweed and Norway Maple. These may not be household names, but they elicit an immediate and disdainful reaction from the dedicated few who combat invasive plants in New England. And who are these dedicated few? The land trusts, public agencies, and conservation commissions that formally work to contain invasives, and locals who care enough to do something—and are able to do something—for their nearby ecosystems. Locals like former NEFF Board of Directors member Rick Findlay.

Rick does some formal invasives work, but primarily sticks to volunteering in Littleton, and is the local invasives guide for me and two other volunteers this afternoon at Prouty Woods Community Forest. Rick is one of those people who cares enough to take action against invasives, and to such a degree that he has become the de facto invasive plant expert in town.

I knew Rick from his time on the NEFF Board. When I was but eight months into my role, Rick was just stepping down from his after 10 years. Rick was recognized for his outstanding achievements at NEFF’s 2023 Annual Meeting; when I attended the June 8 event and watched Rick receive his awards, little did I know the extent to which he deserved those honors. That would soon change.

The weekend after NEFF’s Annual Meeting, I met Rick in the field for the first time. The Littleton Conservation Commission in partnership with Sudbury Valley Trustees was hosting a Weed Warrior program at Brown’s Woods in Littleton. Two things became abundantly clear to me at that event: one, everyone knows Rick, and two, everyone respects Rick. These are not mutually exclusive qualities, though in their unanimity they may as well be. In Rick’s case, his sterling reputation precedes him through no self-promotion or want of recognition.

Back to our invasives outing on June 28: Rick greets us wearing a “Findlay” t-shirt. This is the weed warrior himself—the shirt suits him like a cape does a superhero, even if his quiet modesty would normally never allow it. It was a gift from a friend, he says, explaining the connection to the University of Findlay in Ohio.

He opens the hatch of his Subaru Outback. Within lies the weed warrior’s arsenal of tools: A weed wrench, a heavy-duty tool that closely resembles a car jack, a tri-blade weed whacker for the Japanese Knotweed, some miscellaneous bobs and bits, and the occasional glove. He shows us a couple of brush hogs in the barn, and mentions the tractor outside the barn once belonged to his mother-in-law. This all seems uniquely Rick.

As willing as he is to dole out his encyclopedic knowledge, he is just as willing to lend a hand or tool. A few folks pass us on the trail. Rick acknowledges them, weed wrench in hand. The gentleman of the group yells back, “go get ‘em, Rick!” I’m reminded once again of Rick’s celebrity.

Walking down one of the side trails at Prouty, Rick makes a comment that surprises me. “I had been somewhat a loner growing up, making my own fishing rod as a five-year-old and cruising the Bronx River.”

Unlike his siblings, Rick admitted to struggling at school and initially balked at the opportunity to go off to prep school. He ultimately followed his brother to the Pomfret School in Connecticut where he would make some of the most meaningful connections in his life.

One of those connections was Seaver Leslie. Rick and Seaver spent years together as teenagers and young adults fishing Maine’s lakes, ponds, and streams. Rick, an avid fisherman who was given his own fly rod at age 7, was quick to hitchhike from New York to Maine, year after year. The Leslies became his second family and provided him with his first introduction to NEFF by way of the Sortwell Memorial Forest, which was donated by Seaver’s grandparents.

Through family connections, Seaver met one Roger Prouty during a trip to Colorado and immediately introduced him to Rick. The three became quick friends, and by chance Rick moved to Littleton, Roger’s birthplace. Roger introduced him to family and friends, and soon he was on the board of the Littleton Conservation Trust.

These names are at once familiar to me and now, suddenly, richly illustrated. That Prouty. The family for which this Community Forest is named. The family whose former home now serves as NEFF’s stately headquarters. It dawns on me that Rick was instrumental in NEFF acquiring the Prouty estate. The rest is history—NEFF history.

Before leaving for the day, Rick gives the three of us our directive. It’s simple: keep the stone wall clear on both sides, from the trail’s kiosk to just past the community farm. “An hour here and an hour there,” he says. To Rick, this is considered “whittling.” To me, almost forty years his junior, it feels like a wrestling match. He makes it sound so easy and with a ring of optimism, I find encouragement in his words.

The only fair comparison between invasives and Rick is their widespread influence on the land. Rick is everywhere, all at once. Invasives, sadly, the same. I wonder to myself: if there were enough Rick Findlays in the world, would there be any invasives at all? Rick’s devotion to ridding or at least managing these pests is just that remarkable. Feeling inspired, I tackle the weeds around a Prouty outbuilding. I think about the connections between Rick, Seaver and Roger, as well as their respective legacies. A tremendous sense of gratitude comes over me. Surely, I can carve out 30 minutes before lunch. What’s a little whittling, anyway?