Hear that wood frog calling? See the robin hopping down the trail ahead of you? You can almost leave the sound of the Beltway behind as you meander down the path outside Hidden Oaks Nature Center, a gem nestled inside Annandale Community Park. Hidden Oaks is home to countless species of animals from foxes to barred owls to red-backed salamanders and worm snakes. Pileated woodpeckers drum on tree stumps, and flying squirrels glide from treetops at night. It is an oasis of biodiversity in the middle of suburbia, and it is well-loved. Park neighbors enjoy indoor and outdoor displays, a one-of-a-kind chain-saw-carved woodland wildlife tree, a pond, and a nature-inspired outdoor play area.
Are there many oaks at Hidden Oaks? Yes, indeed. At least 12 species of native oaks grace the property as do many other native trees, shrubs, and perennial plants.
Can you bring a little piece of this serenity home with you? Well, not literally. No collecting is permitted in the park. But you might be able to recreate it.
Did you know that in the Mid-Atlantic region, oaks are by far the best plants at supporting food webs? Oaks support more caterpillar species (bird food!) than any other plant. Renowned entomologist and conservation writer Doug Tallamy, the TA Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware, tells us that preserving biodiversity on our planet will take more than parks. Tallamy has coined the term “homegrown national park,” a call to action to replace half of the green lawns of privately owned properties in the U.S.A. with 20 million acres of native plantings. Why? Tallamy writes on the web site Home Grown National Park, “We are at a critical point of losing so many species from local ecosystems that their ability to produce the oxygen, clean water, flood control, pollination, pest control, carbon storage, etc., that is, the ecosystem services that sustain us, will become seriously compromised.”
Involve the family. Those same children and grandchildren who love visiting Hidden Oaks will welcome the fun of growing their own park and will enjoy the sights, sounds, textures and creatures of your new habitat.
Want to learn more about local nature and biodiversity? We welcome your visit to Hidden Oaks. Though the building itself is closed during the pandemic, Hidden Oaks’ staff provides myriad outdoor programs for families, small groups, scouts and schools through Parktakes Online or by phone at 703-941-1065.
When you get home, take a look at your own prospective park. Could you help reverse the decline of biodiversity in Fairfax County by planting native plants in your own space? Tallamy’s new book, The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees, tells us that, “Oaks sustain a complex web of wildlife that encompasses insects, birds and mammals.” We love our oaks at Hidden Oaks Nature Center. Plant your own for the start of something big — a Homegrown National Park.
Author Kim Young is a naturalist at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, VA.