This year marks the tenth anniversary of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s national award-winning Invasive Management Area (IMA) program.
The hugely successful stewardship effort started in 2006 with 454 volunteers donating just over 1,600 hours to remove non-native invasive plants from 21 places on park land. Three of those original volunteers are still with the program. Jan Meyer is the volunteer site leader for IMA at Fred Crabtree Park, Bryant Bullock is the site leader at Brentwood Park, and Philip Latasa is the site leader at Lake Accotink and Americana Park.
Program growth has led to about 2,000 volunteers pitching in during each of the last four years. REI, Inc. has donated $55,000 in grants through the Fairfax County Park Foundation in the past four years to support the program and an annual spring event called Take Back the Forest.
“REI’s support through the Park Foundation for Fairfax County Park Authority’s IMA program spans well beyond their valuable financial investment,” said Park Foundation Executive Director Roberta Longworth. “REI staff and members get personally involved by volunteering to remove invasive plants that are detrimental to the environment. We are grateful for REI’s partnership with Fairfax County parks,” she said.
Take Back the Forest is a recruiting tool for IMA. It’s a one-month long effort that emphasizes volunteering in the spring when invasive species are readily attacked and volunteers don’t have to fight through summer forest growth to pull out invasive plants or to plant native species. Take Back the Forest annually coincides with national volunteer days such as Earth Day, National Volunteer Week, Potomac River Watershed Cleanup Day, and Arbor Day.
Take Back the Forest will run from April 15 to May 15 this year. The Park Authority will have many volunteer opportunities available during that time, and volunteers who lend a hand during the Take Back the Forest promotion receive a free T-shirt as thanks.
IMA has received multiple awards during its existence, and in 2013 the National Association of Government Communicators named Take Back the Forest the top communication-with-the-public initiative of any government agency in the nation. Through 2015, since the program’s debut, some 13,441 volunteers have donated 43,442 hours during 2,108 workdays to remove 8,706 large bags of invasive plants from 68 park sites.
IMA plans to highlight its tenth anniversary with a ceremony and workday on National Public Lands Day, Saturday, September 24, 2016, at Nottoway Park, 9537 Courthouse Road in Vienna, Va.
More information about the Invasive Management Area program, when and where work sessions are held, and how to become an IMA volunteer, is on the Park Authority’s website at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/resource-management/ima/. Information also is available by contacting IMA Coordinator Leslie Gerhard at 703-324-8681 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority