When spotted lanternflies descended on Calvin Beekman’s property last year in Berks County, Pennsylvania, he says they came by the thousands.
“It looked like a locust plague, just overtaking you” said Beekman, who owns about 80 acres of apple trees and 42 acres of wine grapes on land his family has farmed for four generations.
Insecticides killed the pests. But, as they died, more arrived from the surrounding woodlands. At one point, he said he counted 320 dead lanternflies under one grape plant, killed by a single round of spraying, while on the plant another 40 or 50 were still feeding.
Beekman’s apple orchard was largely spared from the destruction the insects caused. His grapes were not. In a normal year, he said his vineyard yields about 140 tons of grapes, which are used to make wines like cabernet sauvignon and cabernet franc.
Last year, he harvested 62 tons, losing an estimated $100,000. This year he expects just 4 tons at best.
In addition to sucking the life out of the grapes, the lanternflies consumed nutrients their vines depend on, weakening some to the point where Beekman said they did not survive last winter. Other plants that weathered the cold months didn’t grow properly, some with stunted shoots.
Beekman said he’s now removing dead blocks of grape vines on his vineyard, but holding off on replanting until he has a better understanding of what will happen next with the lanternfly. It takes about $20,000 per acre and four years of time to get wine grape plants into production, he said.
“My vineyard was a show place,” Beekman said. “If you would see it now, it’s a disaster.”
An invasive pest
Beekman’s property is near the epicenter of a spotted lanternfly outbreak that has bedeviled parts of southeastern Pennsylvania in recent years. In addition to the risks to grapes, the insect is considered to be a threat to fruit trees, hops and hardwood timber.
Earlier this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture put forward $17.5 million to help combat the lanternfly in Pennsylvania. This money was in addition to state funds of $3 million in the most recent budget. In prior years, government spending to fight the pest in Pennsylvania was in the ballpark of $1.2 million.
“The funding was not keeping up with the insect,” said Fred Strathmeyer, deputy secretary for consumer protection with the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, when asked why the significant infusion of federal money became necessary.
The spotted lanternfly is native to Asian countries such as China, India, and Vietnam.
Ruth Welliver, director of the state agriculture department’s plant industry bureau, said the state is pretty sure that the lanternfly gained access to the U.S. by attaching itself to products imported from Asia, slipping past inspectors who weren’t yet on the lookout for it.
“This insect wasn’t really on anyone’s radar,” she said.
There are now 13 Pennsylvania counties, including the one that encompasses Philadelphia, inside a quarantine zone, where the bug is known to be present.
Since appearing in Pennsylvania, lanternflies have turned up in pockets of other states, including Delaware, New Jersey and Maryland. But they have not established thriving populations in those places. A single dead individual lanternfly recently appeared in New York.
Julie Urban, a professor at Pennsylvania State University and a leading lanternfly researcher, pointed out that the spotted lanternfly is different from other destructive pests, like the emerald ash borer, because it is less particular about the types of plants it feeds on, raising the possibility that it could hurt a wide range of species.
“That’s why this is so scary,” she said.
Urban and others are in the process now of trying to assemble the first estimates of what level of damage the lanternfly has caused in Pennsylvania. There are currently other anecdotal reports, similar to what Beekman described, of harm to grapes and vines not overwintering. It’s also possible the insect can kill hops plants in just one year, Urban said.
Adult spotted lanternflies are about 1 inch long and a half-inch wide. The insects look different as they age. Young ones are mostly black or red with white spots. Adults take on a light brownish coloring, with black spots, and red that is exposed on their wings when they fly.
The lanternfly doesn’t bite people, or carry human diseases. They damage plants and trees by sucking sap from stems and leaves. This can harm photosynthesis, weaken the plant and cause it to ooze or weep, according to a USDA “pest alert” describing the bug.
As they digest their food, spotted lanternflies themselves excrete fluid called “honeydew," which can coat surfaces and cause mold growth, including on fruit. It also attracts other insects.
Lanternflies are not very good fliers. But they are crafty hitchhikers and females can lay their eggs inconspicuously in places like the underside of a railcar, or on a shipping pallet.
“The egg masses look like a smudge of mud, it’s almost impossible to see them,” Welliver said.
The economic stakes could become high in Pennsylvania if hardwood forests there are threatened by the bug. Brian Rider, executive director of the Pennsylvania Forest Products Association, noted that the state is the largest producer of hardwood lumber in the country.
“It’s in excess of a $17 billion a year business in Pennsylvania,” he said.
Lanternflies are known to feed on oak and walnut. The state agriculture department has received reports of “yellowing and weakening” of some trees, particularly walnut. But much of the logging in Pennsylvania is in northern and northwestern parts of the state, away from the current infestations.
Beyond threatening agriculture and adding costs for businesses, the insects are proving to be a quality of life issue, said Strathmeyer. In infested areas there can be hundreds of thousands. “You’re killing hundreds,” he said. “But hundreds keep coming.”
Urban described conditions in Redding where lanternflies were not swarming, but could be found on park banisters, ledges and covering tree branches. She said if you were to stand under an infested tree, where the bugs are dripping honeydew, “it’s like you’re being rained on.”
Spotted lanternflies have an especially strong appetite for a fast-growing tree known as “tree-of-heaven,” or Ailanthus altissima, which is native to a region that extends from China to Australia, but is invasive in the U.S. The insects’ attraction to the tree offers options for killing them that have become central to Pennsylvania’s program to control the pest.
Strathmeyer describes the strategy as “hack-and-squirt.”
Ailanthus trees are cut down with the goal of reaching a targeted amount per acre. Those left standing are loaded up with insecticide. “You turn them into the bait,” Welliver said. When lanternflies come to feed on the bait trees they are poisoned.
One of the reasons this program works, Welliver explained, is that Ailanthus is a “junk tree,” and that “nobody uses it for anything, including other insects and wildlife.”
She said this approach is showing results. “As we expand the amount of area, the region, where we are doing that kind of control,” Welliver added, “we’re very, very hopeful that we will crash the population. And, in the meantime, we’re doing research to say, ‘well, will that take care of it completely, or do we need to add some other tools?'”
Urban said the fact that the insect has stayed in a relatively confined area since it first appeared shows it is possible to contain, but its ability as a hitchhiker is dangerous. With the added federal support in place, she sees this year as a pivotal point in the battle against the bug.
The hack-and-squirt method, she said, can be efficient and effective. But it has limits.
Homeowners and farmers are looking for cost effective ways to protect crops, trees, and plants. Researchers are currently trying to determine the safest ways for them to do this, while limiting the use of poisonous substances. “You can’t nuke everything,” Urban said.
Beekman recognizes that state authorities are working to combat the spotted lanternfly, “doing what they can,” and that there’s been progress on some fronts. He was complimentary of the Penn State experts who he says have set-up a makeshift research lab in his office.
But he expressed doubts about whether the insect can ultimately be killed off, and frustrations over some of the ways the state has handled the response. When the bugs first appeared in 2014 and 2015, he said they were in an area he estimated to be about a half-mile circle.
Because the space was confined, he and other fruit growers recommended to “just spray it and take care of it.” But the state agriculture department, Beekman said, declined to back this plan.
When asked about this, Shannon Powers, a department spokesperson, said in an email response that, “we already know that blanketing an area with insecticide would endanger badly needed pollinators, as well as people, animals, other commodities, and the area ecosystem.”
Beyond the origins of the state response, Beekman feels the state agriculture department hasn’t done enough to communicate with him about what’s happened on his farm. He also voiced complaints about the slow pace of some local-level efforts to cull Ailanthus trees, and he’s skeptical of measures to prevent the insects from hitching rides.
“There’s trains that run right through here,” he said, “probably 20, 30 trains a day, traveling with freight.” Beekman added: “You and I both know that they’re not checking that train.”
Powers said that the state is taking a “team approach” to dealing with the lanternfly and that Penn State is one of the key team members. “Our strategy of assigning different roles to each team member, rather than duplicating efforts, may mean an orchard owner may work with one member of the team rather than the whole team,” she added.
She also acknowledged that it’s a “daunting task” to get travelers and transport companies to cooperate with best practices for preventing the spread of the insect. “But we are using every method at our disposal to do so,” she said, noting that businesses have been “extremely responsive” to the quarantine restrictions.
Powers said social media, particularly Facebook, has been especially effective spreading the word about the spotted lanternfly and the threats it poses. Messaging around the risks to hops and, in turn, craft beer have been especially resonant, she said.
There’s also a “Look Before You Leave” campaign that encourages people to check their clothing and vehicles when traveling out of the quarantine area. And there’s a required state training and permittingprogram in place for certain businesses, like trucking firms.
Ed Weaver says this year is the first he’s seen large numbers of spotted lanternflies on his farm, Weaver’s Orchard, which is also located in Berks County. The farm was started by his grandparents in the 1930s. Weaver grows apples, as well as other fruits like peaches and berries.
He said he got rid of many of the trees of heaven that were on his land, but left some on the perimeter, along the edge of the surrounding woods, which he doctors with pesticide. All of this and other work to control the insects takes time, money and equipment, he noted.
“The thing that I am seeing is that, now that they’ve become adults, they are starting to roam around more, looking for more food,” Weaver said.
While they won’t attack apples themselves, they will go after other parts of the trees and their sticky excrement can drip all over the fruit. “That’s a prime environment for disease,” Weaver explained, describing how the fruit can become coated in mold that turns black.
Although his orchard is not certified as organic, Weaver said he tries to avoid synthetic pesticides as much as possible. But with lanternflies, he said he has no other choice, for now at least, to ward them off.
He’s worried about younger trees and how their development will be affected if the insects feed on them.
And he’s worried about his customers. Weaver’s Orchard does a sizable amount of direct-to-consumer sales. People go there to buy produce, pick their own fruit and for events.
Weaver says he’s heard stories about lanternflies getting so bad is “that it’s just miserable being outside.”
“Will the numbers be that high that people will not have an enjoyable experience here?” he said. “There’s a lot of unknown.”
Last week, Timothy Newcamp, state plant health director in Pennsylvania for USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, said at a press conference that the agency has this year opened four field offices in the state, which are working on lanternfly response.
When they’re fully staffed, the agency will have 96 employees available to work on the efforts.
“Control teams” and surveillance staff from USDA are concentrating on an 18-mile buffer zone that surrounds the quarantine area. Since April, Newcamp said teams had treated 15 properties, with over 1,900 acres as part of control efforts, relying on the hack-and-squirt method.
Meanwhile, he said, scientists are studying the most effective methods to kill the insect, including pesticides and also “biocontrol” methods—an approach where other living things are used against an invasive species.
Welliver, with the state agriculture department, said that people are on the lookout for biocontrol options like “parasitoid” wasps that have proven effective at destroying invasive gypsy moths, or possibly a fungi or bacteria that could safely achieve similar lethal results.
“Typically science will take a couple of years to get to a place where they have what you really need in these situations,” said Strathmeyer, also with the state agriculture agency. But he added: “It’s important for the public to understand that this is a winnable battle.”
“All playgrounds today are ADA-compliant which means that a child in a wheelchair, for instance, can wheel up to it and look at it. That they have access. But, they can’t play on it. Jake couldn’t play on any playground and he wanted to do his physical therapy everyday on a playground,” said Jim Cummings, a board member at Build Jake’s Place.
Jim and Lynn Cummings were the grandparents of Jacob Cummings-Nasto. He was born with a heart ailment that took his life at two and a half years. His mother conceived of Jake’s Place and his family worked tirelessly to fundraise, partner and make the dream a reality.
“There’s nothing to replace a loss of a child. There’s not anything that replaces the loss of anyone you love, right? But, when you see all these happy, smiling children, it’s very life-giving to us. And every one of these kids represents our grandson, so it’s a wonderful tribute to his memory,” said Lynn.
“We hear him laughing here all the time. We can hear him laughing. He would have loved this place,” Jim said. “We’ve actually seen kids in wheelchairs, they have such strong upper body strength, that they pull themselves up onto this and pull themselves onto the rock.”
The Cummings gave NJTV News a tour, show-and-tell style, of Jake’s Place with a ramp for children and adults on crutches or in wheelchairs. Long and winding, it leads to several fun stops.
Lynn helps playmates on the Sway Fun. It simulates a boat on the water.
“An all-inclusive playground is not just about the play part of it. It’s really about all of the movements that help the brain to develop. It helps the motor skills to develop,” Lynn said.
Other features include wheelchair-height fun boards with a xylophone and kaleidoscope on one side, the alphabet on the opposite, and a buddy station where a wheelchair can fit in the middle for play.
Arthur Aston, the executive director of the nonprofit Build Jake’s Place, was born with spina bifida.
“To see something like this, an accessible playground where all children can play together, is just amazing. It’s something I never thought that I would see in my lifetime,” said Aston.
Jake’s Place inspired other advocates to rebuild a park with inclusive access in Barrington this month. This summer, the Build Jake’s Place nonprofit is building on its success, adding another inclusive playground in Delran in Burlington County. The Cummings and advocates say all 21 counties should have at least one and they lobbied and educated lawmakers who agreed
The Jake’s Law bill sailed through the Assembly and Senate with no opposition. It would require state agencies to set guidelines and standards that exceed those of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.
If signed into law, counties will be able to apply for and dip in to those same Green Acres funds that they already do for parks and recreation projects to build their own versions of Jake’s Place.
“This is something that we should be doing as a state. And I am very pleased to know that I have colleagues who also agree with this,” said Assemblywoman Gabriela Mosquera.
Jake’s Place costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to build, but parents in the park say it’s worth every penny.
“Kids love it and it’s exciting. We love because it’s all fenced in and everyone can play,” said Cherry Hill resident Vanessa Dickinson.
“The parents are really involved, the guardians who are here watching after kids. So, I found myself swinging somebody else,” said Dina Christophe from Cherry Hill.
“We’re here quite often. One young man was in the Sway Fun. I walked up to him and his aide was crying and I said ‘Is there something wrong?’ and, ‘Can I help you?’ And she said, ‘I’ve been his aide for three years and I’ve never seen him laugh,’” Jim recounted.
The Cummings say those laughs sometimes come by the school busloads and from folks out of state. Some think they even have to pay. There’s no admission fee, just lots of fun and learning for all kids.
“And I think having a law, Jake’s Law, helps us to be able to spread that kind of an educational message of how important this is. Not because you didn’t necessarily care, but because you just didn’t know,” Lynn said.
A pair of drownings this summer — an 87-year-old man in Fair Lawn and a 7-year-old boy in Montclair — has underscored the necessity of safe swimming.
About one in five people who die from drowning in the United States are age 14 or younger, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And for every child who dies from drowning, another five receive emergency care for nonfatal submersion injuries, CDC figures show.
"We really have learned over the years how close supervision is needed," said Dr. Peter Wernicki, who chairs the aquatics committee of the American Red Cross' Scientific Advisory Council, which develops data-based swim safety recommendations. "If you have a young swimmer or learning swimmer, we recommend they be in arm’s reach."
There were 10 drownings in New Jersey last year, most of which were due to ocean rip currents.
"Drownings happen quickly, quietly, silently and in the best of families," said Judith Josephs, who is the education chairwoman for the aquatics section of the New Jersey Parks and Recreation Association.
Brian McLaughlin, the head coach for the men's and women's swimming teams at Montclair State University and the school's assistant director of athletics, encourages parents to start with swim lessons as early as 2 years old.
As families become busy with specialized sports, McLaughlin said, they sometimes don't realize that learning basic swimming skills is more important than learning the average sport, because it is a safety issue.
"There are so many swim programs that are available to families in this area," McLaughlin said. "It's important for parents to carve out the time, at least for the developmental years of their children, to take swim lessons because once a person becomes comfortable in the water, that usually will not go away."
Photos: Teaching swim safety at Paterson B&G Club
This week in Paterson, aquatic skills were taught as part of a four-day program sponsored by the Connecticut-based nonprofit ZAC Foundation, a national group that brings water safety lessons to children ages 5 to 9 in urban environments, such as Paterson and Passaic.
“Studies show that children who do not have access to water are so much more likely to drown,” said Wendy McGuire, the deputy executive director for the Boys & Girls Club of Paterson and Passaic, which is hosting the foundation's lessons in North Jersey. "But once they have that skill they will pass that on to future generations.”
Tips from the American Red Cross on preventing drowning. (Photo: Courtesy of the American Red Cross)
This year, Josephs said, her foremost concern is preventing drownings in residential and hotel pools, where there is no state requirement for a lifeguard to be present.
"The New Jersey bathing code is tough on public pools, but it has no bearing on backyard pools," Josephs said. "It has to meet the building code, but once they're inspected nobody goes back to check them."
And Wernicki, of the Red Cross, said that when it comes to flotation devices, it is best to stick with Coast Guard approved life vests.
"Inner tubes, floaty things and rafts are probably more dangerous than not having them because kids use them and get into the deep water, or out into the ocean, and now they’re over their heads," he said.
The American Red Cross offers the following swimming safety tips:
Get off the phone
In Millburn, Bob Hogan, director of the township’s Recreation Department, which runs a municipal pool at Gero Park, has seen more parents gabbing on the phone instead of attending to their children.
"I know there is WiFi and a lot of computer use," Hogan said. "But when you have to watch your kids, you have to adjust how much you use the phone."
Parents with multiple children, he said, should prioritize staying with their children who are the least skilled swimmers.
Lifeguards aren't enough
In Verona, where a lifeguard saved a 12-year-old from nearly drowning in the town’s pool last year, Jim Cunningham, director of Community Services, also is asking parents to help the lifeguards.
“Whether it’s at a pool, ocean lake, wherever you are, there is a [misunderstanding] that when the lifeguards are there, you don’t need to keep your eyes out,” said Cunningham, who noted up to 1,000 people visit Verona's town pool on a busy day.
In the majority of near-drownings, including last year’s in Verona, spectators spotted victims and alerted a lifeguard, Cunningham said, citing figures provided by the municipality’s insurance provider.
New Jersey Health Department figures released in May for the years 2006 through 2016 show 630 drowning deaths statewide. They are the most recent statewide figures available from the Health Department, a spokeswoman said.
There is one issue parents do not have to worry about: so-called "dry drownings," Wernicki said.
"If your child has some respiratory problems in the water, if they actually just come back to normal and they’re fine and they’re happy and they’re not coughing, wheezing, short of breath or loopy, then they’re going to be fine," Wernicki said.
If the child is having respiratory issues, common sense should prevail, he said.
"If they’re not getting better, you take them to the emergency room and they’ll be fine," Wernicki said. "Everybody needs to calm down."
Court Approves Green-Acres Swap to House Carousel in Seaside Heights
Tom Johnson in NJ Spotlight| July 31, 2018
A state appeals court yesterday upheld a disputed deal that transferred 1.37 acres of municipally owned beach property in Seaside Heights to the owner of a local pier to allow it to be rebuilt following Hurricane Sandy.
The transaction allowed the borough to obtain and preserve a historic wooden carousel and acquire a 67-acre tract in Toms River adjacent to a park in exchange for the sliver of beach owned by the municipality.
The case is the latest in which Green Acres-protected property has been disposed to promote other interests - in this case, parts of a public beach at one of the more popular tourist attractions at the Jersey Shore traded to a private developer.
As it happens, the developer, AFMV, went ahead and rebuilt the portion of the damaged pier at its own risk as the case was litigated. The pier has reopened with new amusement rides on the contested sliver of beach.
The transaction had been challenged by the American Littoral Society, the New Jersey Conservation Foundation, and two local residents and consolidated into one appeal by the court. The latter portion of the case was dismissed on a technicality
Essentially, the conservation groups contested actions by the state Department of Environmental Protection and State House Commission in approving the deal, arguing they lacked authority to do so under Green Acres statute and regulations and failed to consider common-law public trust doctrine.
"We don't like to see Green Acres land, which is supposed to be protected and preserved, to be diverted into private hands,'' particularly public beaches, said Andrew Provence, an attorney for the conservationists. "It's the best type of parkland we have. Here, in this case it was traded.''
In a 35-page decision, the court said it found no merit in the appellants' argument. "We are limited to deciding whether the agency's decisions are lawful; it is not our role to second-guess the wisdom of [the] agency's policy choices,'' the court found.
The court, however, did modify one aspect of the State House Commission's decision, ruling that the carousel be built in a museum on a boardwalk-fronting parcel owned by the developer to ensure public access to it. That ensures the transaction involves replacement land in transfers, not just personal property, to comply with state law.
The historic carousel, one of only four wooden carousels remaining in New Jersey, was cited by the DEP as the "determining factor'' in its decision to approve the transfer. Described as an "irreplaceable historic asset'' by the agency, it features wooden animals carved between the 1890s and 1910s during the golden age of carousels.
The conservation groups argued the DEP and the SHC acted beyond their authority because their acquisition of personal property to be housed indoors is beyond the mandate of the commission's and department's Green Acres program.
The court found otherwise, noting the Garden State Preservation Trust Act authorizes the use of land to preserve historic properties, including historic objects. The court also contended the public will continue to have ample beach access on the borough's remaining 33 acres of publicly owned beach.
The following interview appeared in the Sunday, July 22, 2018 edition of the Daily Record. Rosemarie Scolaro Moser was a speaker on the subject of concussion management in youth sports at NJRPA’s 2018 Annual Conference.
There’s a lot about CTE we still do not know. Not all the hype is to be believed, but education, prevention are key Concerns about sports concussions have been growing rapidly in New Jersey and across the country amid stories of a high percentage of deceased former football players found to have suffered from Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE), a degenerative brain disease. While the National Football League and the NCAA continue adapting with rule changes designed to emphasize player safety, some states, including New Jersey, have considered an outright ban on youth tackle football for pre-teenagers. We asked one of the state’s leading experts in the field, Rosemarie Scolaro Moser of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey, to discuss some of the concerns about brain trauma in sports, the scientific unknowns and the rise in what she calls “concussion anxiety” among youth and young adults who have experienced head injuries.
Question: You have been researching youth concussions since the 1990s. What first got you interested in that particular field of study?
Moser: At age 6, my son Alex was able to skate backwards with such ease in hockey skates that he was quickly recruited to play defense. When he was10 or so I noticed that games were more competitive. I was a hockey mom as well as a neuropsychologist and was aware of the concussion programs begun at the NHL level, yet none of this knowledge or care was available at the youth level. As a mom, I thought, my child’s brain is more important to me than that of an NHL player who chooses to play for a living. So, I created and implemented an education-prevention program for youth in NJ. That is when I began my first research in the area of youth concussion.
Q: When did you first start hearing about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) in relation to football? Was there an alarm-bell type moment for you along the way, o! r was this an instance in which public awareness was only slowly catching up with what medical professionals already understood?
Moser: No alarm bell. No surprise. We have known about repeated traumatic brain injury in athletes since the early 1900s. It used to be called "punch drunk syndrome" in boxers. It became more well-known by Dr. Bennet Omalu’s work and then continued by Dr. Ann McKee’s work.
Q:There’s a lot about CTE we still do not know. But there is agreement that repetitive brain injuries – such as, but not limited to concussions – are a major contributing factor. Is that a fair summation of where we stand right now?
Moser: Bottom line, if you have repeated traumatic brain injury your brain will be affected and can have long-lasting problems. CTE has been found in brains of contact sports athletes who donated their brains due to cognitive and emotional problems. However, it has also been found in non-athlete brains. A study from the Mayo Clinic in 2017 demonstrated that men who played high school football between1956 and1970 did not have more neurodegenerative disease or dementia than their non-football playing classmates. So what does that mean? Ultimately, the studies on CTE have been predominantly with unhealthy individuals.
We need controlled studies that include just as many brains of athletes who did not suffer cognitive or mental health or drug/alcohol problems during their lifetimes to tell us the real story. The public also needs to realize that what a professional football player’s brain has been through is not analogous to what occurs in youth sports.
Q:This isn’t just a "concussion" issue, correct? Of equal concern is the impact of repetitive, lighter blows to the head that may cause no visible symptoms at all, but are more difficult to legislate out of the sport with new rules.
Moser: A recent 2018 article in JAMA:Pediatrics by my colleague, concussion expert Dr. Chriz Giza and coauthors addresses this issue of "subconcussion" which they say is the "recently coined term intended to encompass the possibility that some head impacts causing no immediate symptoms are associated with…" brain pathology. In other words, the authors call it an "intriguing concept" as it has not been scientifically or medically validated. A concussion is hard enough to identify because it is "invisible," not like a fractured leg. Yet now we are talking about "subconcussive" blows with no symptoms. How can we make assertions about "subconcussions" which at this time have no clear definition?
Q:Fears about repetitive brain trauma have prompted several states, including New Jersey, to consider banning youth tackle football under a certain age (the N.J. bill says under 12). What’s your overall reaction to such a proposal?
Moser: I think legislators and the public need to become more informed by talking to the vast array of inter! national and national concussion experts and scientists, and not just relying on media outlets for their information. There are many opinions that are diverse. In other words, even among scientists there may not be a consensus to ban tackling in youth football. However, top neuroscientists are being cautious about any statements regarding the banning of tackling, or for that matter the restriction of other sports too. There is consensus that youth sports need to become more safe.
Q:Some experts have gone even farther, suggesting for instance, that younger players should never head a ball in soccer. Is that really enough of a blow to the head to potentially contribute to developing CTE? Should we be concerned about the jolts a brain may take in youth tackle football even when there isn’t any direct contact with the head and helmet?
Moser: A blow to the head or header doesn’t mean you will have CTE. In younger players, avoiding head injury and being cautious is paramount. Perhaps this is simplistic, but I think if you vigorously shake any part of your body enough, repeatedly, on a long-term basis for years, you can hurt yourself permanently. I don’t think it is any different for your brain. However, just because you shake your leg at all does not mean you are damaging it, or that you should avoid any situation where you need to shake it. We need more scientific research to tell us how much or under what conditions "shaking" is a bad thing.
Q:So, what key steps can and should youth football organizations take to make their sports as safe as possible for players without banning the tackle version of the sport entirely?
Moser: There is a great documentary that aired on PBS created by MomsTEAM Institute that I was! a part of called "The Smartest Team." It focuses on a concussion safety program that was brought to an Oklahoma high school that helped reduce the frequency of concussion. Interviews of players, parents, and athletic staff are very informative. Every football coach, player, and parent should watch it.
Q: Given the tenor of the public discussion these days, it almost feels like defending the continuation of youth tackle football is akin to putting a target on the backs of players, as if only uncaring parents could consider putting their children at such risk. That’s not fair, but do you believe that further research will ultimately validate that defense? Or do you fear that we’ll eventually wonder why we didn’t do more to protect kids sooner?
The answer to both questions is "Yes." There is both overreaction to the concussion problem by some, and there are still many who are not taking the problem seriously enough. We need to reach a realistic, logical middle ground based on sound scientific evidence. Further research will help us identify all the variables that put our kids at risk. It can help answer questions such as, "At what age should kids begin certain sports? When should they begin learning to tackle, check, or head the ball? How much of a force is needed to produce a concussion in youngsters? How does age, gender, history of headaches/emotional difficulties/learning difficulties, or certain genetic predispositions result in a greater risk of brain problems? The answers to such questions can help us prevent concussion.
Interestingly, a study published in the Journal of Neurosurgical Pediatrics in 2018 found a high prevalence of having played youth contact sports among physicians who were orthopedic and neurosurgical department chairs. These are successful, bright individuals. Such a study makes us question t! he statement by some that playing contact risk sports in youth will damage your brain.
Q:How about professional football? Or even college and high school? Do you believe that the game as we know it today will look mostly the same 10 years down the road, or should we anticipate some fundamental changes to better protect the heads and brains of players?
Moser: I am hopeful for fundamental changes, and based on the history of football, significant change has happened in the past, for example, when the game was changed in response to its almost being banned during the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt due to injuries and death in college play. The NCAA has taken some important strides already. As technology changes, so will the sport. And the culture of youth sport must also change. It is imperative that we uphold the goals of fun, healthy physical activity, and teamwork in youth sports. I believe that, unfortunately, winning at all costs, parental and coach pressure to overspecialize in one sport, and college scouts and scholarships in a culture where our athletes are paid unbelievable salaries have interfered with the basic integrity of youth sports. With the support of good research, and a shift in the current culture of sport, we can increase the safety of our youth.
Q:Public debate has focused a great deal on CTE, but have we lost some of the broader picture on youth concussions? Are there other related concerns that aren’t being discussed as much as they should be?
Moser: In my opinion, CTE has become an easy story for some of the media to exploit and thus alarm the public. The scientific community still is not sure what CTE is, why it happens, when it happens, or what it means. The current research studies are no! t blinded controlled scientific studies so they show relationships but not direct causes of CTE. We have found CTE in non-sports players. We do not know why some professional athletes in high contact sports don’t suffer the same outcomes as others with regard to brain disease or disorder.
How about we focus on why many schools have part-time or no athletic trainers? Or why we allow non-school, private and community sports to take place with volunteers who are not trained athletic or health professionals? Why do we allow kids to play sports without reasonable safety oversight? Problems such as dehydration, eating disorders, drug and steroid use, as well as sport-specific physical injuries need more attention and are overlooked when there is a lack of health professional oversight.
Let’s also focus on mental health disorders in our youth that are going unnoticed or not treated because of lack of mental health services in schools and lack of health insurance to provide for treatment? Youth violence and bullying are terrifying problems that need to be better addressed.
Q: What advice would you have for the parents of, say, an 8-year-old boy who desperately wants to start playing football, parents who may already have some understandable concerns about the supposed risks but remain undecided. What should they do to allow them to make a fully informed decision?
Moser: You must feel comfortable with the sport and the team in which your child engages. If you are not convinced that safety and injury prevention are a top priority over winning, then don’t join. Talk to the coaches and other parents. Are the parents or coaches living vicariously through the youth players? That is not a good sign. Whose interests do they represent? Watch the practices and games. Is there ! skill building? Are the kids having fun? Has there been concussion education of the team and personnel? MomsTEAM.com is a great resource for parents and athletes. The focus is pro-sports and pro-safety with a strong emphasis on presenting up-to-date health information and balanced opinions of the latest research.
“There is consensus that youth sports need to become more safe.”
Rosemarie Scolaro Moser of the Sports Concussion Center of New Jersey
(AP) — David Allgood and Tom Stokes glide up a slight incline to the wooden platform overlooking the Green River at Mammoth Cave National Park. From there, they watch through a glass panel as the Kentucky park’s lone ferry carries a Jeep across the water below.
The longtime friends turn their wheelchairs and roll toward the recently improved Echo River Spring Trail, which is wide enough for them to travel side-by-side. Accompanied by the gurgling water and chirping birds, they chat quietly about the trail and the thought that went into the view unobstructed by railings.
“It’s probably the best trail I’ve ever been on as far as accessibility,” Stokes said. “It’s really scenic. It’s awesome to be out here in the trees, the mature forest, and see the sun coming through, and the birds, the nature.”
The upgraded trail reopened earlier this year after a $1.1 million transformation from a rolling, rutted gravel footpath to an 8-foot-wide concrete and wood path with little slope. New exhibits include Braille and invite visitors to experience them by touch to make them more meaningful to the visually or cognitively impaired.
The Mammoth Cave project is an early step in a coordinated push by the National Park Service to improve and increase accessibility for people with disabilities. The nationwide effort, launched in 2015 with federal grant money, was aimed at increasing the diversity of park visitors.
Nine parks have received more than $10 million in federal funding to design and build projects as examples for other parks as they work toward making trails, buildings, waterways and camping more accessible, said Jeremy Buzzell, chief of the accessibility and housing program for the National Park Service.
David Allgood and Tom Stokes use a trail adapted for persons with disabilities at Mammoth Cave National Park.
A project at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Alaska focused on making historic buildings more accessible also is complete, and four other parks have projects in the works.
Klondike officials gutted the interior of the park museum in a railway building dating to 1900 and redesigned it to be more accessible. Before renovations, the dimly lit museum consisted primarily of displays best viewed from a standing position, visual information specialist Kira Pontius said.
Now the park has interactive exhibits, displays are at a better height for people in wheelchairs and many have small models that visitors can touch with their hands, Pontius said. Visitors also can use audio devices that describe and give background on every display.
Pontius said the changes have improved the park experience for everyone.
“We have a museum that is much more modern. It’s lighter. It really tells the story, beginning to end, of the gold rush,” she said.
The director of National Center on Accessibility in Bloomington, Indiana, said parks should highlight their improvements for the nearly 20 percent of Americans who have a disability.
“If you take the time to provide these opportunities, then shout it from the mountaintop, essentially, to let people know, because a lot of times people just assume they can’t do something and choose not to go,” Sherrill York said.
The center gave Mammoth Cave officials guidance on their changes and reviewed their designs, said Dave Wyrick, chief of interpretation and visitor services at the park.
Mammoth Cave National Park
The Echo River Spring Trail is the second above-ground trail at the park to be made accessible to wheelchair users, but it’s the first all-access trail for those with other types of disabilities. The park also offers an accessible cave tour.
“We just wanted a universal trail that talked about Mammoth Cave and how it was formed, the springs and things, that everybody could experience,” he said.
Allgood and Stokes, who know each other through a disability resource center in Louisville, traveled about 90 miles (145 kilometers) south to check out the trail, which has added picnic tables that allow them to sit comfortably on the sides instead of awkwardly at either end.
Allgood said he’s seen accessibility improve over the 36 years he has used a wheelchair but knows there’s a long way to go. He said he visited the trail before the park started working on it and was only able to travel about 150 feet before he was forced to turn back.
“It’s fantastic what Mammoth Cave and the National Park System are doing to make it accessible for those of us with disabilities and mobility impairmentto do before,” he said.s, because now we’re welcome to come and actually see aspects of the park that we were never able
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