Interns, Invasives, Introductions, Identifications

 

Interns Caitlin Lundquist  (right) and Melissa Letosky spent the summer in the field.

Interns Caitlin Lundquist (right) and Melissa Letosky gathered data in the field.

There’s a lot going on in this job! Prior to my internship with the Fairfax County Park Authority, natural resources were an abstract concept for me. Although I considered myself to be a pretty outdoorsy person, I now realize I was practically blind to the nature around me until this experience opened my eyes to the amazing life it contains. I was born, raised and educated in Northern Virginia, and even though I am studying environmental sustainability, I knew so little about the environment in my own backyard. This internship provided the best education I have ever had about the ecosystems in which I’ve lived.While I have volunteered for invasive plant removals in the past, this summer I was able to work on a long-term project to protect the local forest from non-native invasives. Throughout the internship, another intern and I surveyed more than 5,000 acres of forested parkland, focusing on the degree of non-native invasive infestation. The most diverse, undisturbed and publically valued forests receive higher priority rankings and are targeted for invasive treatment and further preservation efforts. This rating system helps the Park Authority’s natural resource managers determine how to efficiently allocate forest conservation funds. By approaching invasive management from a different perspective this summer, I learned about the details that make such large efforts successful.

The job as a Natural Resources Intern was packed full of a variety of learning opportunities. Right off the bat, I was taught how to identify non-native invasive plants, signs of a healthy forest, and a good number of common native forest plants. I also had the invaluable experience of working daily with geographic information systems (GIS) to make maps and log points in the field for data use. The interns attended an introductory GIS 101 class to gain additional technical skills.

In addition to this everyday hands-on experience, I had the opportunity to participate in deer browse surveys, vegetation plot analyses, rain garden maintenance and water quality assessments. Through experiential learning, I was educated about multiple conservation efforts that the Natural Resources Management Protection Section handles. For example, I was able to see why the overpopulation of white-tailed deer was such a problem when shown the baby oak trees they had hedged down to the ground.

While I became most familiar with forest ecosystems, I also learned a lot about wetlands and meadows. At Huntley Meadows Park, we toured the wetland restoration project, walking along the construction site to conduct water quality testing. We also spent a week assessing non-native species in the woods. Another special event the interns were fortunate to attend was a grass identification class held by a group of volunteers, where we were introduced to the huge variety of grasses, sedges and rushes in local meadows. Finally, an insightful talk by University of Delaware professor and author Doug Tallamy, a well-known native plant expert, stressed the importance of native biodiversity in all ecosystems.

I am currently going into my last year at George Mason University and am constantly thinking about what I want to do as a career. This internship has introduced me to a different aspect of the local area and to environmental protection in general. I have learned tons about how the county is organized and functions and am thankful to everyone I worked with for being so nice and willing to share their knowledge and resources. Working outdoors to improve the environment in my hometown has been extremely rewarding and has inspired me to improve my scientific and natural resources education.

 Author Caitlin Lundquist was an intern for the Park Authority’s Resource Management Division in the summer of 2013.

 

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 11 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2008. Another Park Bond Referendum will be held in November 2012. Today, the Park Authority has 420 parks on approximately 23,168 acres of land. We offer 371 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park System is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: o Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist. o Eight golf courses including Laurel Hill, our newest, upscale course and clubhouse located in Southern Fairfax County o Five nature and visitor centers. Also seven Off-Leash Dog Activity areas o Several lakes including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax o The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter o Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel o An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter o Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel o Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent o A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly o A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale o Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community o Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center o Provides 274 athletic fields, including 30 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 500 school athletic fields PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: • A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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