MILFORD \u2014 The Charles Island Restoration team never thought planting trees would become such a learning experience. Or that returning the island to its natural state would entail overcoming obstacles from nature itself. Animal activity from deer and rabbits and fungal diseases have hindered volunteers\u2019 efforts. But the biggest challenge has been the so-called mile-a-minute vine, according to restoration team founder Bill Pursell. \u201cIn 2020, it was a pretty light year rain wise so invasive species, this mile-a-minute, did not exist,\u201d said Purcell. \u201cWhen we started to plant the trees in April and May of 2021, there was none out there. So DEEP (Department of Energy and Environmental Protection) was hoping that maybe it would happen again, and because the island is shut down from June 1 to Sept. 1, we didn\u2019t find out until we were able to get back that it was horrendous.\u201d The vine grows like a blanket, up to six inches in a day, Pursell said. \u201cI\u2019m not saying that\u2019s how much is growing on the island, but it covers everything,\u201d he said. \u201cUnless you have a tree that is 4 or 5 feet, it will cover it.\u201d The team planted 17 trees in April of 2021, and when they returned in September, eight of them were covered by the vine, he said. The volunteers responded with an all-out attack on the invasive species, clearing as much as they could. This year, Pursell said the plans are even more aggressive. \u201cWe didn\u2019t spray it all, and that was a key thing,\u201d said Pursell. \u201cIt\u2019s too invasive, and we got a commitment from DEEP that they are going to spray it all next year.\u201d When Pursell first started the restoration project, it was a family affair, but it has become Charles Island Reforestation, LLC, a registered 501(c)3 with multiple people volunteering. This was a surprise for Pursell because he initially thought fundraising and getting volunteers would be the hardest part of the restoration. But it turned out to be the easiest. \u201cWe set up a nonprofit, and the money started rolling in, and I would never have believed it,\u201d he said. \u201cMy wife put it up on one of the Milford Facebook groups, and I didn\u2019t ask for anything, and people started calling, and I received 200 emails, as well as texts and Facebook messages.\u201d When he saw all the support, Pursell said he wanted to make sure he followed the rules regarding nonprofit agencies. \u201cI wanted to be registered with the USGS (United States Geological Survey), and once we went down that path, we set up the account,\u201d he said. \u201cWhen we went to go plant, we put out another post saying if anyone would like to go help us, and we got good support on that as well.\u201d Over the planting season money continued coming in, and volunteers continued to show up, he said. Peter Piccone, DEEP wildlife biologist, said the volunteers were a key part of the restoration efforts. \u201cThe volunteers were great,\u201d he said. \u201cThey were very enthusiastic. They were a lot of great help. They provided a lot of assistance for us.\u201d The first thing the volunteers did was help remove all the vines from the plants, which was a lot of work, Piccone said. Once that was done, the volunteers shifted to other labor-intensive work. \u201cThey helped us plant trees, extent the deer fencing near the planting area,\u201d he said. \u201cThey were great.\u201d The volunteers\u2019 enthusiasm for their community was great to see, he added. \u201cFor DEEP, it\u2019s a great partnership to have the community come out and be involved. It\u2019s a citizen science project,\u201d he said. \u201cUltimately, we are trying to restore the habitat on Charles Island, so the snowy egrets and other birds will be able to continue to nest and possibly have more on the island.\u201d When the restoration team returned in the fall, volunteers planted another 50 trees. Followup visits showed that some of the new trees had bite marks on them. This posed another problem, Pursell said. \u201cThis wasn\u2019t the invasive species. This was either deer or rabbits or another species,\u201d said Pursell. \u201cSo now when we plant trees, we\u2019re going to have to put guards up to make sure they grow.\u201d Another obstacle they had to overcome was the fungal disease that destroyed many of the transplanted trees. \u201cThe smaller the tree that is planted, the more adaptive to the environment it is,\u201d said Pursell. \u201cBut there are some trees like the red maple tree that were planted a little bit bigger, around five feet, and have done good on the island. So we\u2019re going to be planting a variety of trees of different sizes.\u201d Overall, Piccone said the restoration team\u2019s efforts had gone well. \u201cWe have to see how the trees are doing next year, but they are looking good,\u201d he said. \u201cWe are hoping to have another good planting season this coming spring, and overall, if we can keep the mile-a-minute managed next year and protect the plants from the rabbits, we\u2019ll be in good shape.\u201d The goal for the restoration team in 2022 is to plant 200 trees on the island. \u201cI\u2019ve started contacting the nurseries to buy trees and be ready for an April planting,\u201d said Pursell. \u201cWe did a lot of prep work in the fall to be ready. We cleared out areas, set up fencing, so we are ready for at least 50 to 75 trees in the spring.\u201d Once the team finishes planting, Pursell said they will start doing the prep work to be ready to plant the rest of the trees in the fall. \u201cI think if we can do 75 in the spring, we can do 125 in the fall, but we also have enough area to plant 100 trees in the spring, so we will see what happens,\u201d he said.