Working together to strengthen and support noxious weed management efforts in Montana.

An Evening Ball of a Different Sort

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Weed Whacker Ball September 11th

Weed Whacker Ball September 11th

Let me set the scene:  a pickup rolls up at the big get-together in the little town of Wise River, Montana, and the whole family gets out.  It is early September in this little rural town and it may be a wonderful fall afternoon or it could be snowing. There are three wall tents set up—two big, one small—and the smell of pork roasting over a bed of coals wafts through the air, taunting the senses and causing all the mouths to water.  A local group of ladies have worked all day preparing several table’s worth of salads and desserts, which have earned reputations of being utterly delicious.  This feast feeds over 325 people, and all of them are here for one thing:  The Big Hole Watershed Weed Committee’s Weed Whacker Ball.

When bellies are full, the crowd moves inside the buildings where there are drinks, dancing, silent and live auctions, and ample socializing.  Special awards are given out, vicious bidding occurs on the numerous silent auction items and when that ends, the real entertainment begins with auctioneer Mark Anderson and his sidekick Rick Later. These two know the crowd which makes for the most entertaining and fun live auction a person can attend.  This event is one of the more family-oriented affairs around; in fact, all evening you’ll see kids playing their own games and darting in and out of the crowd.  It is a casual dress occasion, so one needs to bring their appetite, some shoes suitable for dancing, and oh yeah—your sense of humor!

So what exactly IS the Weed Whacker Ball?  Well, it’s a fundraiser held every year to earn money for weed control projects in the Big Hole Valley.  What makes this event so unique is the fact that it is the local landowners who are the driving force behind it.  They are the ones who started the fundraiser, now in its fifth year of running—a very successful running I might add.  Since its inception, the event has raised over $90,000.

The tradition of holding the fundraiser in Wise River has also attributed to the Ball’s success, because it has become an event to schedule the calendar around for residents of the Big Hole and surrounding areas. Not only has it become tradition for those who travel from as far as Ravalli County to attend, but it’s also become tradition to all the hard-working citizens of Wise River and elsewhere who so graciously organize and coordinate this event every year.  As Joan Stanchfield, a local rancher’s wife who lives in the Big Hole, puts it, “The local people are what keep it going.”

The Weed Whacker Ball has had much success when it comes to raising money for their cause, but some may ask whether that cause is still relevant today, and if so, why should we as Montanans care?  Is it relevant?!  Of course it is!  I cannot stress enough the relevance of noxious weed control in Montana no matter who you are!  As Jeanne Caddy, the chairperson and chief organizer of the Weed Whacker Ball, said herself, “Everybody is a contributor and everybody is affected by noxious weeds.”  It may seem like some of us are exempt from the consequences of weeds, but these nasty little plants truly leave their mark on everyone in some tangible way. Weeds affect Montanans in numerous ways:

If you’re a recreationalist or a wildlife enthusiast, you should be aware that noxious weeds threaten animal habitats of all sorts, thereby critically disrupting the balance of ecosystems and stripping the land of its natural beauty, not to mention displacing native species of plants.  Foreign plants (All noxious weeds are non-native.) are most often malicious to the native plant species, choking the natives in a variety of fashions; long taproots, extensive root systems and even producing their own type of herbicide to kill off surrounding vegetation.

If you happen to be a wildlife enthusiast of a different sort—hunters, fishermen, and outfitters—noxious weeds are your enemy as well.  These invaders will cause erosion of fisheries and displace desirable native forage for wildlife. It all flows downhill from there; reduced game living in an area means fewer tags available for hunting; this leads to a reduction in business for any outfitters who use that area during the hunting season.

To make matters worse, weeds also have a reputation for spreading very quickly, taking over the area in which they’ve been introduced.  Another rising issue is the control of aquatic nuisance species.  Basically, when noxious weeds grow either in or along the water’s edge produce their seeds, those seeds use the water as transportation and stick to boats, boat trailers, chest waders, creels, and any other equipment a fisherman might be using. By transporting his gear, the fisherman may be transporting malicious foreign seeds, usually unknowingly.  When he goes fishing again at another river or lake, all of that gear is once again submerged in the water, loosening up the seeds’ holds and thereby transplanting noxious weeds and other nuisance species to the new body of water; in fact, Eurasian water milfoil plants can reproduce from any portion of the plant and will remain viable long after the plant pieces dry.  An immediate goal of Jeanne Caddy’s is to push the education of this issue and make the topic of aquatic nuisance species more recognized and acknowledged throughout the Big Hole Valley.

And if you happen to be a farmer or a rancher, you probably know more than the average Joe about how much of a battle it can be to fight noxious weeds.  Some of the other noxious weeds in the Big Hole Valley include Canada thistle, yellow toadflax, common tansy—the latter of which sparks an eye roll from Jeanne at the mere mention of this stubborn little plant—and the one that presents probably the biggest battle of all, the oxeye daisy.  In the Big Hole, the battle with oxeye daisy is just as much a battle with weed education as it is with the weed itself.  This devious little weed looks like any daisy you would commonly find in your garden, but don’t be fooled, this noxious weed is just as wicked as the rest of them.  It uses its appearance to trick people into thinking it’s a pretty flower instead of the weed it really is.  Unfortunately, its seeds are sometimes sold in wildflower mixes; so it can easily be said that education is key when it comes to weed control.

The Big Hole Watershed Weed Committee leverages funds used from the proceeds of the Ball to help obtain grants. Jeanne worked on a grant through funding the Wise River/Big Hole River Oxeye Daisy Project which she will manage throughout the season.  When the Wise River School students are back in class this fall, they will work with her to measure the effectiveness of different control methods on the oxeye daisy.  Aside from this, a commercial applicator was hired with funds from the stimulus program and Jeanne’s committee is continuing to build on the Anglers Education Project from 2009, which was funded by a DEQ mini-grant and will be conducting an educational float trip with Trout Unlimited this summer.  Thanks to another grant the Divide Elementary School students have become well-educated on noxious weeds and attended local spray days as well.  However, grants aren’t always easy to come by so this is where the annual Weed Whacker Ball comes into play.

Why has this fundraiser been so successful?  As Joan Stanchfield puts it, “Because it’s been fun and people realize it’s necessary.”  The ripples of the Weed Whacker Ball have reached great lengths in the fight against noxious weeds; this event has led to the creation of a community weed day in Melrose, Glen, and Divide as well as serving as a model to develop several weed management groups throughout the Big Hole.  The fight against weeds is as much an awareness issue as anything, but is raising awareness just as instrumental as other preventative measures when it comes to noxious weed control?   “Definitely—because it starts with education,” according to Jeanne.  She goes on to say, “The key thing is establishing relationships with people…and it takes a long time.”  People like Jeanne, Jack, and Joan still spend hours of their time at kitchen tables throughout the Big Hole Valley to build those relationships, driving home their point that when it comes to the battle of weeds “It IS a winning battle if you try hard enough,” insists Jack.  Jeanne makes a good analogy about weed control:  “It’s a maintenance thing.  It’s like yard work—it never goes away.”  So if it never goes away, why should Montanans be proactive when it comes to noxious weed control?  “We can’t afford to NOT be proactive,” she continues, “It’s part of keeping Montana, Montana.”

So the Weed Whacker Ball is a method of raising much-needed dollars to help educate about, prevent, and manage noxious weeds in the watershed. It really says something about an event when a community of less than 125 people comes together to produce such a successful shin dig, but it also says a lot when the tickets are sold out early every year.  This year the Weed Whacker Ball will be held in Wise River on Saturday, September 11th, and if history is an indicator, it should be a great time as always.  By asking around about it, I’ve been told by many that the Weed Whacker Ball is “THE THING to go to,” so come out to the little town of Wise River and enjoy a fantastic time with everyone at a great, family-oriented event.  All of the relationship building accomplished throughout the season shines during the socializing and festivities of this relaxed, casual, end-of-the-summer affair.  As all of the coordinators of the Weed Whacker Ball would agree, it’s about more than just weeds.   If you are interested in attending this unique event, please contact Jeanne Caddy at 406-267-3354 or If you are interested in helping the noxious weed cause in one of Montana’s more beautiful watersheds, you may also donate to the event, again by contacting Jeanne.

The Weed Whacker Ball is many things to many people who attend:  a great time to visit with old friends,  enjoy some lively dancing, and to celebrate  all those who have made such a difference during the season, not to mention enjoying the best food in the valley (or so the rumors go). Come find out for yourself and join in the fun of the 2010 Weed Whacker Ball in Wise River, Montana.  See you there!

Thanks to Emily Calvert for her story about the Weed Whacker’s Ball.

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