Tree Love Comes to Frying Pan Farm Park

Stiltgrass2 Fort Foote MD

Japanese stiltgrass.

There’s massive change coming to Frying Pan Farm Park – but not to the farm. The change is coming in the forest beyond the fields.

An extensive, multi-year project to protect the forest at Frying Pan is planned. It’s part of a broad, county-wide ecological restoration program called Helping Our Land Heal. When protecting the animals at the park, staff make sure there are barns, sheds, and fenced fields that provide shelter, keep the farm animals contained and keep predators out. Smaller animals are moved every night into secure areas, protected from night predators like weasels and foxes. Forest plants need protection, too — protection from other plants, from forest animals and from human influence.

Honeysuckle wraps around a tree

Honeysuckle wraps around a tree.

Non-native invasive plants are one of the biggest threats to the forests of Fairfax County and Frying Pan Farm Park. Wineberry, Japanese stiltgrass, bush honeysuckle and autumn olive are a few of the non-native plants running amuck in the park’s woods. They compete with native plants for space, sunshine, water and nutrients, and they often win the competition. Wildlife don’t like the taste of non-natives, and the plants don’t supply the animals the nutrients they need to survive. Nothing will eat Japanese stiltgrass, and it make tons of seed that it spreads like crazy. Wineberry looks a lot like blackberry except it has a very red, fuzzy stem. The fruit is similar to blackberries, but it’s too high in sugar and doesn’t have enough of the fat the animals need to keep them going through winter. Over time, as non-natives displace natives, there are fewer and fewer native plants so that those remaining are overeaten by the animals. That makes it even easier for the invasive plants to take over. A downward spiral is created.

If you walk through the Frying Pan woods, you’ll see lots of green plants. Unfortunately, many of them are the wrong plants. Just because a forest is green doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Some folks refer to that as being green blind — people see green, so it must be good. Park Authority natural resource managers have been taking a long, hard look at the Frying Pan forest plants, and there are many that should not be there. Those plants must be removed before native plants can start growing back. The non-native plants will try to return from roots or seeds. They will have to be removed again and, maybe, again. It may be several years before invasive plants are removed to the point that native plants start thriving on their own or through seeding and transplant.

Removing autumn olive.

Like renovations at your home, it looks worse before it starts looking better. Be patient with the process. The project may take five to ten years, but in the long run any disturbances will be temporary. Large sections of Frying Pan’s woods will have loads of invasive plant material removed. This may take a few weeks or a few months and likely will be repeated several times during the restoration. The plan is to remove the non-native plants to make room for the native plants to reach the goal of a healthy forest.

The native plants may return on their own, or they may require seeding or transplant. Either way, they will start as very small plants and trees. Little plants and trees are sweet, tender and tasty to certain animals. To prevent them from being nibbled down to nothing before they have a change to thrive, they’ll need protection from certain wildlife. Deer fencing will be installed to give restoration areas the best possible path to rejuvenation. This will not impact any of the walking trails through the Frying Pan woods.

It’s exciting to see so much care going into the wilder side of Frying Pan.

Author Yvonne Johnson is the site manager at Frying Pan Farm Park.

More about Helping Our Land Heal can be found on the Park Authority website.


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About Fairfax County Park Authority

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, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 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: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. 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 • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • 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 • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 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 for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

2 thoughts on “Tree Love Comes to Frying Pan Farm Park

  1. Arielle K Masters

    Wonderful! Looking forward to watching this progress. Hope you’ll be tearing out the poison ivy as well – there’s still tons along the gravel side entrance (south side, primarily, on and between just about every tree). Hope you’ll be careful with the geocaches that are around the farm so they don’t accidentally get destroyed or moved. Contact me if you need to know where they are; I’d be happy to send a map or show you in person – even though none of them are mine, I’ve found all but the most recent one or two.

  2. Arielle K Masters

    [have tried to comment on this at least twice before; it keeps disappearing]

    Looking forward to all these improvements! Doggo and I walk over there quite often. As part of this, hope you’ll get rid of the overabundant poison ivy along the south side of the gravel side entrance from Monroe.

    In the process of making the improvements, please watch for the geocaches and letterboxes so they don’t get moved or damaged. I can help with the geocaches if you need – just LMK; they aren’t mine but I know where they go – but it’s been a while since I’ve hunted the letterboxes and am not sure what’s over there these days.

    Thanks all around 🙂


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