The goal is simple. Restore a forest stand.
The task is not so simple, and it will take a long time.
The Natural Resources Branch of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division started a project in 2017 to restore a forest stand that was being taken over by invasive plants. The long-term goal is to replace those invasive plants with native species, replanting the area with native oaks and hickories to rebuild a rare forest type that exists in the forest stand next door.
According to the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), a basic oak-hickory forest in our region generally would have a mix of a variety of oak and hickory trees along with white ash (Fraxinus americana) and tulip-tree (Liriodendron tulipifera). The understory may have Eastern redbud (Cercis canadensis), Eastern hop-hornbeam (Ostrya virginiana) and flowering dogwood (Cornus florida).
This is taking place in western Fairfax County at the Elklick Woodlands Natural Area Preserve. Nature preserves in Virginia are places that the state designates to protect significant natural areas. DCR says there are 63 of these dedicated natural areas in Virginia.
So far, light conditions in the forest have been improved by the removal of invasive plants and some cedar trees through controlled burns and other means. The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) partnered with Designs for Greener Gardens in a no-cost exchange of their labor in return for some of the trees. This company previously has worked on arbors and custom fences at Green Spring Gardens.
FCPA ecologist Owen Williams says the project’s next steps are to continue managing invasive plants and then prepare a planting design. It’s a long-term project with long-term natural resource benefits for Fairfax County.
Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority. More information about Elklick can be found on the FCPA web site.