Memories Felled at Sully Historic Site

Red mulberry at sunset   And the boy loved the tree….

—Shel Silverstein

There is a tree at Sully Historic Site that has given everything it had to soothe and please people over the past three decades, and the time has arrived for it to come down. Shel Silverstein’s brilliant story, The Giving Tree, reflects the same feelings that some people will experience when they learn that the largest and best-known tree at the park has reached the end of its run. The red mulberry that dominated the landscape in the open field not far from Sully’s main house has to be taken down.

The Split red mulberry“It is sad, and it is shocking,” said Site Manager Carol McDonnell. The mulberry’s trunk is badly split to the point that a visitor can, standing at the right angle, see through it. McDonnell said the most disappointed people will likely be those who have worked Sully’s annual Fathers’ Day car show. Through recent decades the mulberry has provided shade for the show’s flea market, a resting spot away from summer’s searing heat reflecting off the metal machines, and comfort for staff, volunteers and visitors who have picnicked under the security of its arms.

Still, just as the tree in Silverstein’s book provided rest and value to the boy in the story after it had been cut down, the trees being removed at Sully will have purpose a little longer after they are felled. None of the wood will leave the Sully property. The trees will become mulch along the park trails and firewood to stoke the hearth and warm the house during school programs. There also is hope that the beloved red mulberry will get a feature role in the park’s interpretation. The site’s representative slave quarter is in need of a table, and the mulberry may become the source for that addition. As in Silverstein’s book, the tree will continue to provide a place of rest.

The treasured mulberry is one of several trees being removed during the early 2015 winter months because of safety considerations. Every one of the trees taken down “were either dead, had bad bases, or 90% of the limbs in the top of them were dead,” said Everett ‘Butch’ Loughery, the Park Authority’s Landscape and Forestry manager. “The trees that we’re removing are too dangerous to leave stand,” he said.

“They’re called widow makers for a reason,” said McDonnell.

Trees leaning toward historic buildings also were removed. Loughery said a contractor was hired to prune trees that could be salvaged.

Tree in front of main house

The trees around the park’s main house are actually a historic anachronism. The site preserves the land as it was in the early 1800s, and at that time there were no trees near the main house. Over the years they’ve either been planted by families that lived there or by the arbitrary arborists of nature. Trees, like us, have a life span, and some of those being removed have not been fully leafing out in recent years, and others were beginning to hang over park paths.

Some of the walnut trees along pathways at the historic site were severely damaged in storms, Loughery said. The trunk of another mulberry being removed had split several years ago and was being held together by a bolt that had been driven through the branches of the split. Site visitors may continue to see work being done on the trees into the early spring.

Trees at SullyThe story of the trees at Sully will continue after the removal project. Funding for new plantings is being sought, and there may even be a young red mulberry given a prime placement in the open field near the main house. It will be a chance for another generation of people to grow up with a new giving tree and to share the experiences of those who rested and cooled under Sully’s red mulberry for the past three decades.

And the tree was happy.

The closing line of The Giving Tree, by Shel Silverstein

 

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.

Two Fish Visit The Farm In Fish Bowl II

Charlie the clownfish

Charlie the clownfish joined Goldie the goldfish at Frying Pan Farm Park for Nat Geo WILD’s Fish Bowl II.

Last year, Nat Geo WILD aired a humorous alternative to the Super Bowl called Fish Bowl, in which television viewers were introduced to Goldie the Goldfish. This year fans can watch Goldie and her new co-star, Charlie the clownfish, spend an exciting, fun-filled day at Frying Pan Farm Park. Fish Bowl II premieres Sunday, Feb. 1, 2015, at 6 p.m. ET/PT.

The program was shot on location over the course of two beautiful sunny days in early October 2014. Farm Manager Paul Nicholson served as the Fairfax County Park Authority’s liaison during production and was instrumental in the success of the shoot. He managed the farm animals and even milked a cow in one scene. Nicholson’s fear that his animals would drink from the fish bowls never happened, and his quick reflexes may have saved the famous fish from becoming a pig’s snack. “They were awesome and knew it was a funny shoot, so they had some fun with it, too,” he said.

Nicholson shared his experience working with Nat Geo WILD on the set of Fish Bowl II.

What was your role? My main role was to have the animals ready in the background and try to get them to focus on the fish bowl.   Of course, how do you get livestock to care about a fish! Two part-time farm staff members, Steve Luckett and Laura Mowery, were also involved in the filming. We moved some animals to new pastures, and Steve is in the background mowing grass on a tractor in one of the scenes.

During the sound recording, he had a list of sounds that were needed to complete the show. During the filming, one of the cows is scratching her neck on the fence in front of the bowl. He asked to repeat that noise. How do you get a cow to scratch her neck on command I say to him? We found an old board and brought the board to her neck and body to re-create the sound.

Can you describe some of the different settings in which the fish bowl was placed? The first scene we shot was the fish bowl on a wagon in Middleton Barn, with calves grazing in the background and the sun rising over the Antique Equipment Shed. Then we moved the fish bowl outside and filmed the larger cattle on the other side of the fence. The fish bowl was resting on straw bales.   The chicken house finished out the first day of shooting. The rising sun played havoc on the next scene as we milked the cows early in the morning, outside of Kidwell Barn. Jesse the horse was next to be filmed in Kidwell Barn, and then we finished the day with a litter of young piglets in the field.

Did anything funny happen while shooting? We had met with Nat Geo a few weeks before the shoot and I brought up cow milking and they loved it. Of course, I was thinking it would be a stationary shot with the cow in the barn, fresh milk in the clear milk machine, and maybe a calf bottle on the ground while the cow ate her breakfast. The day of filming, the director said to me, ‘Which one of you will be milking during the shot?’ I’m sure our jaws dropped, as we thought only animals were involved in this film! Guess I got the short stick and got to milk her on camera. My two sons were behind the camera, and I could hear them saying ‘Hi Daddy’ while I was milking.

Paul Nicholson prepares to milk the cow.

Paul Nicholson prepares to milk the cow.

During the large outdoor cattle scene, [Nat Geo] wanted something in the background and we got Steve on a tractor and had him mow the pasture. He would go up and down the field, coming in and out of the shot. They filmed for around an hour, but the field still needed to be finished, so I let Steve keep going on his tractor. At one point, when they packed up the camera, he knew his stardom was over and I was just having him mow the field!

How did the animals react to the fish bowl occupying their space? The animals see so many different and unique things on the farm, that their new barn mates were treated no differently. Jesse was the most curious and welcoming of any of the animals. We were concerned one of the animals would try to drink the water, but it never happened.

Jesse the horse

Jesse the horse

What challenges did the film crew have to overcome? The sun and the wind caused trouble with the lighting and blowing over their shade and reflection screens. Being a beautiful day on the farm, we had lots of school groups and visitors. Some would look at us funny, with a fish on the farm, and most would laugh when we told them what we were filming. We removed some of the wire fence on the chicken yard to get the perfect shot.   While trying to get Jesse to look at the fish bowl, we were behind the camera teasing him with a bucket of grain. At one point, we did such a good job that he touched the fish bowl that was balancing on two stacked benches and almost knocked it off! The director screamed and ran to catch the fish. Just some splashes out of the bowl and all was good. Well, I guess she had a heart attack! Also during the piglet filming, the pigs ran around and knocked the wire panel and the bowl was almost knocked into the pig pen. We knew they would eat the fish, but the bowl stayed upright and did not fall.

Wind and sun gave the crew trouble.

Wind and sun gave the crew trouble.

Do you have any other funny stories to share? The cow-milking scene was first, and then we would move over and film Jesse in the barn. During a down time in the cow-milking scene, I asked Laura to check and clean Jesse’s stall if needed.   Time went on, and we started filming the cow-milking and we hear the director say ‘Uumm, you in the background, please stay where you are.’ Little did we know that Laura was in the background and coming into the picture as they filmed!

Fish Bowl II premiers Sunday, February 1, 2015, at 6 p.m. ET/PT. Frying Pan Farm Park is located in Herndon, Va.

Watch the Fish Bowl II trailer: http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/wild/videos/fish-bowl-ii-trailer/?cmp=user_post.

Prepared by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer, Fairfax County Park Authority

The View From The Tower At Huntley Meadows Park

Great Blue Heron. Photo by Curtis Gibbens.

Great Blue Heron. Photo by Curtis Gibbens.

If you know me, you know my fascination with Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) the first time I stepped on the boardwalk over the marsh. I thought I stepped in the Everglades as I saw a dozen egrets and heard songs of red-winged blackbirds throughout the marsh. I also saw birds I had never seen or heard before, such as two yellow-crowned night herons and king rails. Another fascination was the amount of turtles resting on fallen branches beside the boardwalk oblivious to people. It was the first time I recognized a wetland and found it hard to believe an environment like this existed three miles from the Beltway.

I lived across the county, but I made many return trips, this time, armed with a camera. I quickly became a boardwalk regular and started recognizing other boardwalk regulars. These people consisted of other photographers, birders, and people who loved walking in nature. I would have discussions on birds or any other animal we had seen, and where to go to see others. Discussions also consisted on photography and sharing images on the Internet.

I encountered two of the boardwalk regulars, Jim Cox and Bill Stetzer, on almost every visit. They both volunteered at HMP as boardwalk nature interpreters. They kept visitors informed of the beaver family residing under the boardwalk at that time. They knew how many were in the family, the location of the lodge, and waited for the beavers to come out as the sun was going down. Sometimes the beavers made an appearance, but most of the time, we would hear them eating under the boardwalk, or the cry of the young. Neither one was a biologist, but they had a lot of knowledge of beavers by naturalists they encountered through the park and their own research. They were very friendly and welcoming to visitors as they shared what they knew about the beavers. I really respected the way they interacted with visitors. I also really loved the park, so I also wanted to play a small role and follow their footsteps.

Beaver. Photo by Curtis Gibbens.

Beaver. Photo by Curtis Gibbens.

I contacted the park to inquire about volunteer opportunities. HMP staff member Ann (Annie) Stat asked if I would be willing to take the park’s spotting scope to the tower. I confirmed, and met her one afternoon. She provided the scope and walked with me to the boardwalk, setting an example as she socialized with the visitors. She emphasized sharing something that a person might not see. That afternoon, it was a hawk (a red-shouldered, I believe) perched quietly above the boardwalk. Annie presented it to visitors that would have most likely walked past it unaware of its presence.

The requirements for the View from the Tower position were not hard. I had to show up, return on time, and record the number of contacts and bird sightings. I regularly volunteered two Sunday afternoons a month. Volunteering on weekends provided large counts of visitor contacts, especially on nice days. If a scout troop visited, my visitor counts would multiply.

I do not have strong social skills with unfamiliar people. I’m usually not one to start a conversation, but I had my mindset on the way Jim and Bill talked with boardwalk visitors. They did not present the park like salesmen; instead, they would share with people something that would make their visit more pleasurable and fulfilling, which was also Annie’s emphasis.

The visitors I encountered the most were birders. When I first started, I was very familiar with birds I captured on camera, like wading birds and ducks, but I lacked the knowledge of songbirds.   A few birders quizzed my birding skills, but I had my worn copy of National Geographic Guide to Birds with me for assistance.

My birding knowledge grew over the years thanks to many friendly and helpful birders. I learned a lot about different species, migration, what bird you are most likely to see at a certain time, and what comes or leaves when the wetland changes.

I also met great photographers, which has always been a very strong interest of mine. Some were just starting, the way I did when I first came to the park.   I would give them pointers, such as early morning is the best time for pictures because of the sunlight and activity. I also met photographers that had been shooting for years with lens that cost as much as a car. They gave me pointers like aperture settings and exposure.

The visitors I enjoyed the most were people that were unfamiliar with wetlands, the way I was when I first entered the park. For the most part, they enjoyed their walk on the boardwalk. When I invited them to look through the park’s spotting scope at a great blue heron, their interest peaked, especially the young children. If they had trouble reaching the scope, I had them stand on the bench. They had never noticed a large bird with all its feathers, face, and beak in great detail. I would have to work much harder to impress a hardcore birder.

I cannot express how much I enjoyed my time being on the tower sharing the natural events unfolding in front of us. I witnessed many fascinating things, such as spotting an American bittern for a group of people, a painted turtle crawling on the ice, wild turkeys jumping from a tree, a great blue heron eating a turtle during a drought, and an eagle flying off with a carcass half its size.

The past year I met a wonderful lady who has a 12-year-old son, and both are also boardwalk regulars. Their birding skills, especially the 12-year-old, are phenomenal; he is a walking bird encyclopedia. We plan to officially be a family this summer. Although we plan to spend a lot of family time in the park, I can’t get there as much as I could, so I have resigned from the View from the Tower volunteer position.

I enjoyed my time up on the tower, and I highly recommend anyone with good birding skills and who likes socializing with other birders and people who don’t know what they are looking at, to think about this position. You’ll always have an excuse to go to the park, and you will always have an excuse to get out of something you don’t want to do. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “I wish I could go, but I have to volunteer at Huntley.”

Sunday afternoons was a great way for me to wind down from the weekend, and get ready for another week of work (the calm before the storm). Although I no longer officially volunteer on the tower, I will still be making frequent visits and sharing what I see.

A side note: You may already know that HMP has directed me to wildlife and nature photography. I will display some of my work at the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center during March and April of this year. One wall will be strictly images taken at HMP. I will host a reception on March 8, 2015 from 2 to 4 p.m.

Hope to see you there.

Written by Curtis Gibbens. Huntley Meadows Park is located in Alexandria, Virginia.

Golf And Birdies: The Perfect Match

This photo shows the area between the first and second holes.  The left side is the golf course and the right side is the Pinecrest community. Photo by Sarah Oberther.

This photo shows the area between the first and second holes. The left side is the golf course and the right side is the Pinecrest community. Photo by Sarah Oberther.

Want more birdies the next time you’re on a golf course? Just look around.

There’s been an increase in wildlife, including the number of birds, at Fairfax County Park Authority golf courses. That’s because we’re consciously merging the entertainment and sporting missions of the parks with our responsibility to protect natural resources.

Look outside the fairway, beyond and away from the next dogleg or sand trap. Natural resource protection areas are not in key playing areas of the golf courses. “We sneak them in around the perimeter and in between holes as much as possible,” said Pinecrest Golf Course Manager Sarah Oberther.

The park’s Hole by Hole Guide to Environmental Stewardship shows the location of some of Pinecrest’s natural resource areas, such as woods, shrubs, tall grasses, brush piles and riparian buffers.

Some of these areas protect resources under the guidance of the Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program for Golf.

Audubon International, based in Troy, New York, provides environmental education and supports sustainable management of natural resources. The organization certifies places like golf courses, cemeteries, ski areas, and hotels that have an environmental plan and that meet certain established land management and resource conservation requirements. More than 3,000 sites have been certified for reaching those standards. Pinecrest and Laurel Hill are two of them.

There are Audubon certificates of recognition in six categories – environmental planning, wildlife and habitat management, outreach and education, chemical use reduction and safety, water conservation, and water quality management. Golf Enterprises Manager Peter Furey says Pinecrest and Laurel Hill are fully certified in all six.

Pinecrest received its first certification, for environmental planning, in April 2011 and was fully certified in July 2012. Laurel Hill received full certification in February 2009. The Park Authority’s other five courses are working toward certification, and Furey said he anticipates that will take 12 to 24 months. That would bring certification to other courses sometime between 2015 and 2017.

Oberther said the program’s impact is “priceless.” Audubon sanctioning confirms that “we have reduced our carbon footprint while increasing native habitats and wildlife.” The site has substantially reduced its use of pesticides, fertilizers and water, and labor costs are lower because less mowing is needed. “This is absolutely the best way for any golf course to be environmentally accountable,” she said.

Pinecrest is a good example of steps being taken at Fairfax County Park Authority golf courses to protect natural resources. To meet the Audubon requirements, Pinecrest documented its fertilizer and pesticide use, monitored water quality, then made changes and measured improvements. Some changes involved strategically selecting areas to filter, such as those with water.

There are plants around the ponds on the Pinecrest course in strips from three to 25 feet wide. These are vegetative filters of Bermuda, fescue and native plants that grow with no fertilizer or chemical help. Water that runs through drains and culverts and feeds the course’s ponds and creeks filters through these vegetated areas. There’s also a riparian buffer along the creek that filters more water. The runoff is primarily water from streets of developments that surround the golf course.

There is a 25-foot wide no-spray zone around water features on the course. In addition, Pinecrest has converted its fairways to Bermuda grass to reduce the demand for pesticides on the course. The Bermuda grass conversion allowed staff to eliminate all fungicide applications on the fairways for the past three years.

During the certification process, Pinecrest documented a 25% increase in bird populations at the course. Staff prepared a Guide to Birds at Pinecrest Golf Course, and it is on display in the clubhouse. There’s also a guide that will help you discover the mammals that make their home in the area’s approximately 50 acres of land. (Guide to Wildlife at Pinecrest Golf Course)

The protection of resources doesn’t stop with certification.

“This year (2014), we have planted wildflowers in our designated environmental protection areas that border our golf course and surrounding homes,” Oberther said. She added that the protection areas are “spectacular” when the native flowers are in peak bloom.

To get an idea of the program’s local impact, peek at the Wake Up Pinecrest video in the Park Videos box on the Park Authority’s home web page or at the videos on the Fairfax County Park Authority’s website for golf courses and take note of the sights and sounds of nature in those videos. Then see for yourself. Head out for a nature hike – and take along the clubs.

Pinecrest Golf Course is at 6600 Little River Turnpike in Alexandria, Va. The phone number is 703-941-1062. Information about all of the Fairfax County Park Authority golf courses is on the Park Authority website.

Author David Ochs is the manager of stewardship communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Woodglen Lake Slated for Dredging

Woodglen Lake

It’s Woodglen Lake’s turn.

In 2014, Huntsman Lake was drained for engineering work performed on the dam. There was nothing wrong with the dam. The lake’s emergency spillway just needed to be upgraded to meet new state regulations. Since the water had to be drained to replace the riser as part of that project, the county took that opportunity to dredge the lakebed.

Thirteen-acre Woodglen Lake in the headwaters of Pohick Creek is similar to Huntsman; however, Woodglen’s emergency spillway was rehabilitated in 2010. The county plans to dredge Woodglen in 2015 as part of a project that will enhance the lake and surrounding site to make the lake more efficient at its job – trapping sediment. The changes also will make future maintenance dredging easier.

Just as at Huntsman before work began there, a fish save was conducted at Woodglen on November 11, 2014, to salvage as many Woodglen fish as possible. Ecologist Shannon Curtis of Fairfax County’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) says the vendor who provided the electrofishing service had a beautiful day to work. “More than 550 adult fish and several hundred juveniles were captured. Bluegill dominated the sample at about 90 percent, with largemouth bass, crappie, red ear sunfish, banded killifish, a few minnows and a couple bullhead catfish rounding out the numbers,” Curtis said. “There were some very surprisingly large predators in this little lake/pond.”

Officials took photos of a pair of hefty largemouth bass and a crappie that topped three pounds. Most of the captured fish were transported to and released into Lake Accotink in Springfield. Curtis says there may be another attempt to move more Woodglen Lake fish in the spring of 2015.

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Plans also call for Lake Royal to be dredged in the near future, but there’s no time frame established. That project does not yet have a cost estimate, engineering design or a disposal site to put the spoils removed during the dredging.

Meanwhile, Project Manager Matt Meyers of DPWES says the work at Huntsman Lake is complete and the water reached full pool again at 242 feet above sea level on the morning of Dec. 4, 2014. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries began restocking the lake in November with an initial stocking of 8,100 bluegill, 5,400 red ear sunfish and 1,400 channel catfish fingerlings.

“The completion of the Huntsman Spillway rehabilitation project marks a major milestone,” Myers said. The wrap-up of work at Huntsman means that all five county lake dams that fall under the state law that regulates the maintenance and operation of those facilities now meet current dam safety requirements.

Woodglen project partners are Fairfax County and the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District. For more information about the project, contact the county’s Braddock District Office at 703-425-9300, TTY 711.

More background on the Woodglen project is available on the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service website.

Author David Ochs is the manager of stewardship communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The Garden In Winter

Green Spring Gardens“What does the staff do at Green Spring Gardens in the winter time? Do you take the season off?” We hear those questions regularly, and our first thought is…

Off?
There’s too much to do. Learning, planning the next gardening cycle, and designing. And if you want improvements in your garden and landscape, you can come learn side-by-side with Green Spring staff through the winter.

Learning
In winter, we learn. As gardens take their long winter’s nap, gardeners have time to teach and learn from others. We pour over books and periodicals and attend lectures by horticultural experts. Green Spring Gardens invites gardening experts to share information during our Harry Allen Winter Lecture Series. This series, sponsored by the Friends of Green Spring, provides affordable, valuable lectures for the staff and for gardeners like you. Check the schedule online and come learn along with us.

Planning
In winter, we plan. Oh, do we plan! We look at our garden successes and failures and determine what plants we will grow the next year. We pour over seed catalogs and deliberate our choices. Emails go round about who wants to share a seed lot of Echinacea ‘Cheyenne Spirit’ and who had success growing the new cultivar of Gomphrena ‘Fireworks.’  I am, for some inexplicable reason, drawn to the color red for the 2015 Children’s Discovery Garden, so I have a plan for plant combinations like red Pentas and ‘Black Pearl’ ornamental pepper. Love it!

Black Pearl Pepper

Black Pearl Pepper

The summer garden starts in winter. Select the seeds to order, then pot, nurture and divide. Seedlings and cuttings take a lot of care, but the plant selections and cost savings are great. You can do this with us. Join us for a class and hear Green Spring staff and other gardening experts share their knowledge.

Designing
In winter, we design. Some design projects produce small changes, and some are large projects like the gazebo renovation. The final stages of that renovation should occur in early 2015, so new planting designs have been drawn up for the gardens surrounding the structure. The gardens graduate from shade to sun, so the plants for those areas vary greatly, and bringing the area together visually is a challenge.

Gardens require planning, and winter is the perfect time for you to reflect on your own garden spaces. What did you like or not like? Some plants, no doubt, worked better than others in your garden. Figure out why and you will have a better understanding of what to plant in 2015. Use your camera for a quick and easy visual record of successes and failures. The knowledge you gain will translate into a beautiful, well-thought-out garden space for you.

So, back to the question of “what do you do in the winter?” As gardeners, we learn, we plan, we design – and we dream of warmer days.

Author Susan Eggerton is the program coordinator at Green Spring Gardens, 4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, Virginia. 703-642-5173.

Northern Snakeheads: New Burke Lake Residents

Northern snakeheads are in Burke Lake.

Northern Snakehead

The invasive fish drew substantial attention and concern when it first was discovered in local waters in 2004, and there were fears that it could cause an ecological nightmare. So far, snakeheads are fitting in and playing somewhat well with others, however that does not mean we are out of, so to speak, dangerous waters. U-S Department of Agriculture (USDA) studies indicate that Northern snakeheads do prey on and compete with native species. The fish is listed as an injurious species, which means that by law it cannot be imported or transported between states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, or any territory or possession of the U.S. by any means without a permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In addition, releasing any creature into a park violates the Fairfax County Park Authority policy that reads: No person shall abandon, release or cause to be released into a park any animal or other organism without the express written permission of the Park Authority.

You’re not going to get that written permission just to dump them into a local lake on a whim. Policy exceptions are sometimes made only for bona fide scientific, medical, educational, or zoological purposes.

Discovery of snakeheads

The first known catch of a Northern snakehead in Burke Lake was in the late spring of 2014. Burke Lake Park Duty Manager Keith O’Connor says that first one was about 18 inches long, adding that someone likely illegally dumped them into the lake. Despite efforts to inform people about the bad things that can happen when a non-native invasive species is introduced anywhere in the world, this invasive fish continues to spread through Fairfax County waters. Park Manager Charlie Reagle says that people caught them on a regular basis in 2014. It’s possible that snakeheads had been in Burke Lake for more than a year prior to their discovery.

The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) says snakeheads have become common in the Potomac River from Great Falls to the Chesapeake Bay, including all of the river’s tidal tributaries. The VDGIF web page on snakeheads says that 2014 surveys indicate the fish’s population may have stabilized and possibly even declined a bit from its peak in waters where they first appeared. VDGIF cites Burke Lake as one of several Virginia lakes in which there have been recent illegal stockings of Northern snakeheads. USDA says snakeheads also have been found in the spillway at Lake Accotink.

Staff at Burke Lake monitors snakehead catches. So far, most of the hauls have come from the deep water weeds at the dam end of the lake. Park personnel keep state officials informed about the catches, and state fisheries biologist John Odenkirk, who monitors Northern Virginia waters, says VDGIF plans annual spring surveys of the lake to determine if the snakeheads have any impact.

Odenkirk says that although there’s nothing in writings about Northern snakeheads that suggests the fish has had any negative impact in places where they’ve been introduced, they “potentially could alter the eco-system.” He doesn’t eliminate that possibility because environmental circumstances differ from place to place. Although invasive species can sometimes introduce parasites and disease or virtually wipe out a native species in a competition for food or living space, evidence suggests that snakeheads might not be as big a problem as once feared. However, VDGIF says problems still could arise, and state officials emphasize that snakeheads should not be released into the wild.

Huntley Meadows Park Manager Kevin Munroe monitors snakeheads in his park’s wetlands. “Although no specific data has been collected showing an adverse effect on local ecosystems from snakeheads, they have been here for a relatively short time, and we don’t know yet what their full effect will be,” Munroe says. “There have been anecdotal reports that local fish populations appear to be unaffected, but very little info is available on how they have affected amphibian populations. There are several species of locally rare frogs and salamanders whose breeding success could be affected by snakeheads if this fish decides it has a taste for tadpoles and juvenile salamanders.”

As more is learned about the fish and the role it is forging for itself in local waters, state officials adopt strategies for dealing with them. Odenkirk says to treat them like any other fish. Catch them and eat them. That’s not bad advice, because snakeheads have gained a reputation as a very tasty fish. Reagle says many fishermen tell him they like snakeheads better than walleye, one of North America’s premier freshwater fish for eating.

VDGIF’s guidelines for snakeheads are:

  1. Know how to identify the fish.
  2. Report any unusual fish to VDGIF.
  3. There is a hotline for reporting snakehead catches: 804-367-2925.
  4. There is a website for reporting observations of snakeheads.
  5. You do not have to report or kill snakeheads if you catch one, however….
  6. VDGIF asks that you do report and kill them if possible.
  7. If you wish to keep a legally-caught snakehead, it must be killed immediately. You cannot have a live snakehead in your possession. If you keep one to eat, VDGIF says you must kill the fish and then call the hotline and report the angler’s last name, date of catch, location of catch and size of the fish.
  8. Kill the fish by removing the head and separating the gill arches from the body, or by removing the internal organs. Put it on ice as quickly as possible.

Remember to monitor fish consumption advisories from the Virginia Department of Health for fish caught in Virginia waters.

Odenkirk says Northern snakeheads have a long spawning period that begins in April, peaks in early June, and can last into August. If you catch one, handle it carefully. They have teeth, so don’t lip them in the manner commonly used by bass fishermen. Odenkirk says they can be caught on virtually any bait. They are almost always deep in weeds, and can be found in very shallow water in spring when topwater or weedless lures will take them.

More information:

Written by David Ochs, Manager of Stewardship Communications, Resource Management Division, Fairfax County Park Authority.