Finding Love In All The Right Places

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Worn down. Eroded. Unstable. Degraded.

And it didn’t even have a name.

Talk about feeling unloved.

But a year from now, this small stream will be stabilized. It will have the flow and look of a natural creek. It will meander, it will trickle across rocks, its banks will be secured with native plants, flowers will line those banks, and the water it sends into Accotink Creek will be cleaner.

And it now has a name. Wakefield Run.

Talk about love and appreciation for the outdoors. It’s happening because a lot of people who care got together and did something.

There’s a project under way to restore Wakefield Run, a stream that Laura Grape, the executive director of the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District (NVSWCD) calls, “a piece of jewelry, a gem in the Accotink Watershed.”

When the project is over, life will be a little bit better for the Fairfax County hikers, runners, bikers, birders and scouts who use the trail along the stream and for the wildlife that lives around and in it.

Wakefield Run starts west of Ossian Hall Park in Annandale and flows under the Beltway before joining Accotink Creek in Wakefield Park and sending its waters on to the Potomac River. Runoff from the 100 acres it drains has eroded the banks and damaged the stream.

When part of Wakefield Park was taken for the expansion of I-495 to make room for the Express Lanes, the Fairfax County Park Authority was given $75,000 towards site mitigation. The Park Authority approached NVSWCD with the idea of putting the funds toward the restoration of 800 feet of Wakefield Run. That kicked off a partnership that led to the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) putting up $300,000, and Dominion Power stepped forward with another $35,000. The Fairfax County Park Foundation joined the effort and garnered more support from the I-495 Express Lanes contractor, Transurban Fluor, and the Friends of Accotink Creek arranged monitoring of the stream so everybody would know how much the project helped.

At the groundbreaking ceremony on July 24, Supervisor John Cook called the involvement of the Friends of Accotink Creek “a great example of citizen engagement,” adding, “This is how we will make environmental management, in a good way, the reality in Fairfax County.”

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Grape thanked the Park Authority for bringing the idea to NVSWCD as she explained the project to the groundbreaking ceremony audience. She said the project design will reduce the size of the stream’s outfall at I-495, and a pool will slow runoff of the drained acreage. A more natural setting will replace riprap, clean the water and reduce runoff speed. Revamping of a stream crossing used by Virginia Dominion trucks and mountain bikers will reduce the environmental impact usually caused by such crossings. Water flow will be diverted away from banks and toward the center of the stream, which Grape said is what traditionally happens in less urban waterways. Some trees have to be removed during the work, but Grape said that will allow some invasive species to be removed as well, and the area will naturally recover. A plant save has already been conducted with plans for replantings later.

Grape called the project “a tremendous example of the investment being made in the Accotink watershed by Fairfax County and by our local communities.”

DPWES Director James Patteson pointed out that partnerships and projects such as this one are part of an evolution. He said that 20 years ago his department may have just assessed the situation and built “an armor channel,” but that now the department is staffed with urban foresters and biologists who understand environmentally responsible design.

Dominion Virginia Power’s Manager of state and local affairs, Tim Sargeant, said his company was glad to be invited into the partnership. “This great partnership of public and private organizations and individuals will yield an environmental and aesthetic benefit that allows all of us to share a sense of pride and accomplishment and contribution to our communities,” he said.

Suzy Foster of the Friends of Accotink Creek said the project “will serve as a small example of a healthy and stable state that we hope to achieve for the entire Accotink watershed and Fairfax County.” Another citizens group, Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts, will have key input into the design of the stream crossing, and Earth Sangha will play a role in the native plantings.

Friends of Accotink Creek representative Suzy Foster spoke passionately about protecting the local environment.

Friends of Accotink Creek representative Suzy Foster spoke passionately about protecting the local environment.

The Park Authority Board’s Braddock District representative, Anthony Velluci, summed up the groundbreaking by noting that roads like the nearby Beltway are just as much a part of the county as the natural resources of the Wakefield Run project. “We have to realize that that’s just not going to go away,” he said. “We have to find that balance between environment and development where we do smart things and not haphazard things that we have done in the past, and I think we’re doing that.”

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

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