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.
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.
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.