By DAWNE LEIKER
Chances are, if there's a worrisome patch of weeds somewhere in Ellis County, George Korobka has it in his sights.
As Ellis County's weed control supervisor for 18 years, Korobka, a native of the Newton area, can name the size of a patch of leafy spurge or Canada thistle in a remote area of the county, and explain the best way to get the upper hand in the constant battle of man versus weeds.
Spring is just around the corner, and the first shipment of chemicals already has arrived at the noxious weed department of Ellis County Public Works. Korobka plans to start pre-emergent treatments of county property soon, and then start checking problem areas of the county for thistles.
"But at the end of May, it turns into a madhouse," he said, as he discussed the work that typically is accomplished by his three-person department, which also includes Alan Diehl and Mickie Dreiling.
"There's no such thing as an eight or 10-hour day. We work a lot of 12-hour days."
It's work that involves spraying approximately 1,500 miles of county roadways, on both sides, Interstate 70, and U.S. Highway 183. The department's efforts, Korobka said, reflect on the county, helping create a better impression for travelers.
But reducing the threat of noxious weeds isn't just a matter of creating pleasing aesthetics. Korobka said approximately 5,000 acres of land a day are lost in the U.S. to noxious weeds, a total of 1.8 million acres a year.
Spraying noxious weeds is a process that can be done about nine months of the year, and when he's not inspecting or treating weeds, Korobka and Diehl cut and haul trees and brush that invade county roadways.
Dreiling, employed by the county since 1993, handles the inside duties for the department and works "like a maniac," Korobka said, as she handles customer service responsibilities, as well as time sheets for public works department employees.
Although most weeds found in Ellis County can be treated successfully by conventional means, a concern Korobka has found in recent years has been development of resistance to chemicals by weeds such as Kochia. Some patches of the weed simply would turn brown and wilt after chemical treatment only to reappear later. An area of Kochia near Fort Hays Municipal Golf Course was treated four times, and finally Korobka found some success with a new product.
As they prepare for the changing seasons, the noxious weed department will be dealing with new challenges and many recurring challenges from years past.
"The weather's getting warmer, so we'll be getting geared up," Dreiling said.