EDITORIALS

Don’t Eat the Park

Posted Aug. 07, 2011, at 4:07 p.m.

New York City’s parks are coping with a new problem that may spread to Maine’s parks: People are busy gathering edible plants like mushrooms, American ginger and elderberries. Park officials say the foraging boom has gotten out of hand and want it to stop. They are training rangers to watch for foragers and drive them away.

In Maine, Martha Stewart, the home and life improvement maven, has promoted the trendy foraging movement. Her magazine, Martha Stewart Living, has chronicled her experiences in harvesting edible plants. Her own foraging has been in the prison yard where she served time after a conviction after an insider-trading investigation and later in her garden at Seal Harbor. Her accounts and recipes for wild vegetables stirred the interest of other enthusiasts.

The craze got a big push in the 1980s, when “Wildman” Steven Brill turned his arrest for dandelion gathering in Central Park into a public relations bonanza. He still leads foraging tours. It now has gone mainstream, with an “Urban Forager” column in the magazine Edible Manhattan and a similar column in a New York Times blog.

In Acadia National Park, mushroom hunters have presented the main foraging problem, usually because they mistake poisonous for edible. In August of last year, four Canadian tourists, two men and their wives, were found lying on the lawn and vomiting behind the Jordan Pond Restaurant and were taken to a hospital. Chief Ranger Stuart West recalls that they described the mushrooms only as turning blue when crushed. Four other adults, Italian tourists, became ill and were hospitalized after eating what they thought were chanterelles. Ranger West warns against eating fiddleheads found in Acadia, since the edible ostrich fern fiddlehead does not appear there.

Judith Hazen Connery, a natural resource specialist, says the chief problems are gathering the purple flowers of beach heather and balsam fir tips for wreath-making. Federal regulations prohibits disturbing “plants or the parts or products thereof” in any national park. But Acadia, in an exception, permits gathering small amounts of blackberries and five gallons of apples, but only for personal use.

In Baxter State Park, Park Naturalist Jean Hoekwater quotes a regulation that prohibits the “removal or introduction of natural objects, materials, plants or animals,” except for fish and other wildlife for personal use in authorized areas, and berries and fiddleheads for personal use only. With a general reference to the foraging trend, she points out that Baxter and Acadia are not “survivalist or subsistence type parks.”

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