The Weed Warriors of Ft. Hunt

The Weed Warriors of Ft. Hunt


Director of Service Learning and Community Engagement

Alex Deas ’24 has had many opportunities to explore his passions here at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes. “The school allows me to explore them and make the most of them,” he told me. Through the school, he’s had the ability to experience things he never thought he would. For instance, as a result of being a committed drummer for the school’s pit orchestra, he was able to play at the Kennedy Center for the Critics and Awards Program (CAPPIES) of the National Capital Region. As a result of the school’s partnerships, he has had the opportunity to travel to Costa Rica to explore environmental sustainability or to Spain to practice his language skill. However, one of his proudest and unexpected passions has been a program he and his family found on their own called Weed Warriors.

Weed Warriors programs have been around for at least the last decade, but they have become more prevalent in recent years as people have become more aware of the threats to local ecosystems. In these programs, participants learn to identify common invasive species and techniques for their removal. A Weed Warrior also understands that this is not a one-time affair and that, true to their names, the weeds will grow back and quickly. The National Parks Service runs a Weed Warrior program for Rock Creek Park, and once each volunteer undergoes the training, they pledge to serve the park for at least 36 hours in that year. Because of the leadership of the National Parks Service, many communities close to D.C. have founded their own Weed Warriors chapters, getting The Washington Post’s attention last year in an October 2023 profile.

However, as Washington, D.C. and the surrounding area often tops lists ranking public park systems in the country, there are many parks out there, and just as many parks to tend. While there is a strong concentration of Weed Warrior programs in parks that are directly adjacent to D.C.’s city limits, parks that sit farther afield do not seem to have the same care. This is where Alex entered the picture for Fort Hunt Park, a National Park about 15 miles from the center of D.C. that sits at the south end of the George Washington Parkway.

The first time I became aware of the program he had built was through an email he sent to the whole Upper School before Martin Luther King Jr. Day in 2022. In the tradition of treating this day as a “day on, not a day off,” he invited the school community to join him in tending to his local park, and he would continue to invite his peers to help with the program on days off from school for the rest of the 2022 school year. Through the rest of 2022, I’d see “Fort Hunt Cleanup” appear on many student service logs at least once.

How he became involved is a story that is common over the last few years: he and his family found themselves at home more often during the pandemic, and when they searched for things that they could be involved in, it turned out there was something not too far away. Before the pandemic, his father had begun to be involved in Weed Warriors around the D.C. area. He passed his experience on to Alex and together they applied the lessons learned and training to create a program for Fort Hunt Park. Around the fall of 2021, his father also encouraged him to get more people involved in the project, and so their new chapter of Weed Warriors was born.

A typical session of Weed Warriors is scheduled on a weekend and lasts for about three hours, and participants are encouraged to bring their own gloves and garden tools. While much of the cleanup of Fort Ward involves the clearing of species that cling to trees (like English Ivy), one of Alex’s most enduring memories involves the removal of bamboo. It went on “for an actual mile,” he says. 

When I asked him why he first got involved with his father, he responded quite honestly and simply: “The service requirement.” While SSSAS does have a service hours requirement for graduation, the intent of it is not to burden students with work in the community, but to grow within them a culture of lifelong service to their community. For Alex, this intent worked. He quickly learned that he has a keen interest in the environment, and he’s more than happy to be an ambassador for its needs. Sharing this with his community has been a great experience, and sharing this experience with his closest friends has been a central part of his time at St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes. He was even able to use the lens he’d honed to identify environmental threats to areas in Costa Rica he’d visited with the school. Over the course of this experience, he’s gained satisfaction, not from his personal gain or benefit, but from the realization that “everyone else benefits.”

As his time as a student at SSSAS comes to a close, Alex has begun to take stock of all the things he’s done at the school and what he wants to do in his next chapter. As he reflects on his involvement in music, he realizes that it has given him an appreciation for the way that people work best in a team if they bring different strengths to the table. It’s taught him the importance of doing things with a strong team. He brings this wisdom to planning the future for the Weed Warriors program he has cultivated. While he has led the actual cleanup efforts, he left it to someone else to create an Instagram account to spread awareness of their efforts. He had another friend take on the responsibility of creating a website for the Fort Hunt Weed Warriors where people can learn about invasive species cleanup efforts and volunteer to help. Working together as a team, highlighting the strengths of each member, he hopes that what he leaves behind is a lasting system of care for Fort Hunt Park. 

As for the next chapter, he knows that he won’t stop caring about the environment. He hopes that he can expand things further. While he’d always set his sights on being involved in government in some way, even in the past few months, he has begun to focus on ways that he can be involved in environmental law specifically. However those next steps unfold, he will be able to look back with pride about what he created at Fort Hunt. With the support of the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes community, the Weed Warriors of Fort Hunt Park will continue to fight on!