Friends of Riverbend Park Celebrates 20th Anniversary

RB 1The Friends of Riverbend Park (FORB) would probably straighten the Potomac River if we asked it of them.

FORB has supported Riverbend with more than a quarter-million dollars in contributions, services and equipment over the years, and they’ll celebrate their 20th anniversary at the park’s Visitor Center from 5 to 7 p.m. on August 4, 2019. It’s a celebration of FORB and those who have supported the organization and the park over the past two decades.

Friends Groups support, enhance and advocate for Fairfax County’s parks, facilities, and services in multiple ways. FORB has made it possible for Riverbend to hold summer camps and the park’s annual Native American and Bluebell Festivals. FORB also has funded field trip scholarships for schoolchildren. The park’s bass fishing boat, telescopes, water quality measuring equipment and canoes also were funded by FORB, as are some maintenance and office facilities and equipment.

 

Funding comes from membership dues, generous donations from local citizens, grants from private foundations and the Fairfax County Park Authority, and proceeds from fundraisers such as the Blue Bell Benefit, the Barbeque Benefit and a Native Plant Sale.

“It is amazing to look back and see how much has been accomplished over those years,” said Timothy Hackman, the Dranesville District representative on the Fairfax County Park Authority Board. “In addition to its strong general support of Riverbend, one of the prime foci of FORB has been on summer camps and scholarships for school field trips,” he added. “These initiatives give our children new experiences, expose them to the outdoors and instill in them a love of nature. Riverbend and our community have greatly benefited from FORB’s generous support, and we look forward to a continued wonderful relationship.”

Friends Group contributions have been invaluable to parks over the years. FORB, like other Friends Groups, works closely with park staff and the Fairfax County Park Authority. The members of FORB ensure that Riverbend thrives, grows and remains an enjoyable natural resources park.

The August 4 celebration of FORB’s 20th anniversary is open to the public. There is no charge. Please RSVP to forbpark@gmail.com.

FORB assisted in the development of this blog.

Information about park Friends Groups is at https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/friends.

Archaeology at the Mount Air Historic Site

Mount Air Ruins.Something’s in the air at Mount Air.

Over the years, there have been several archaeological investigations at Mount Air Historic Site, but the park has never been subject to a systematic investigation of the property. Now, thanks to fate and Mother Nature, it is undergoing such an investigation.

In the past, archaeologists from a private company conducted limited testing on a small portion of Mount Air prior to development of a nearby subdivision. In the 1990s and 2000s, the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) partnered with American University to conduct field schools on the property, and Park Authority archaeologists later returned and recovered artifacts that dated throughout Mount Air’s history.

Recently, a tree at the park fell onto a barn structure, rendering it a safety hazard. Likewise, a tenant house on the property was deemed unlivable. Removing those two structures means the ground would be disturbed, and because of the incredible history of the site, if the land is going to be disturbed, then county and park policies mandate that an archaeological investigation must first take place. That means the Archaeology and Collections Branch is returning to the Mount Air Historic Site. This is an opportunity for archaeologists to look at the property comprehensively and to better understand the changing patterns of its use over time.

FCPA archaeologists establish grid for 2019 archaeological investigation.

FCPA archaeologists establish grid for 2019 archaeological investigation.

Currently, the FCPA’s Archaeology and Collections Branch is conducting a shovel test pit survey. That’s a site test that doesn’t disturb much ground. Archaeologists dig small holes straight down, sift the dirt, and collect and record any artifacts. From that they can learn whether further tests of the area are needed and, armed with those results, the archaeologists can better focus future, more detailed excavations.

Mount Air is in southern Fairfax County adjacent to Fort Belvoir. Previous investigations revealed that Native Americans likely occupied the area dating back thousands of years, however, the site is best known for its 18th-century inhabitants, the McCarty family. Dennis McCarty patented the land that would become Mount Air in 1727. It is unclear when the McCartys moved to the land, but records suggest it could have been as early as the 1730s. Dennis McCarty was a prominent planter and served as a member, and eventually speaker, of the House of Burgesses.

Upon his death, his land in Fairfax County passed to his eldest son, also Dennis McCarty. This Dennis married Sarah Ball, a relative of Mary Ball Washington, the mother of George Washington. A planter like his father, Dennis also served as the sheriff and justice of Prince William County and on the vestry of Truro Parish. He died in 1742, and his probate inventory speaks to his wealth. It included 51 enslaved individuals as well as several parcels of real estate. The Mount Air parcel passed to Dennis’s oldest son, Daniel McCarty. Again, like his father and grandfather and because it was expected of prominent individuals of the time, Daniel held several offices including that of a trustee of the town of Colchester, a tobacco inspector, vestryman, and county justice. It is likely that Daniel commissioned the construction of the three-story Mount Air manor house. The Mount Air property remained in the McCarty family until the eve of the Civil War .

In 1860, Aristides C. Landstreet purchased Mount Air, and with the outbreak of the war, he and several of his sons joined the Confederate Army. The Union Army occupied that part of Fairfax County, and the Landstreet’s Confederate sympathies were noticed. Aristides was twice arrested and jailed. The Union Army also arrested his wife, Mary, on suspicion of provisioning rebel troops. During the war, Union troops, including the 5th Michigan Volunteer Infantry Regiment, camped at Mount Air and forbade the family to open their curtains for fear that they were signaling nearby Confederates.

Troops from the 304th Engineer Regiment at Mount Air in 1918.

Troops from the 304th Engineer Regiment at Mount Air in 1918.

After Aristides’ death in 1910, the property passed to his daughters, who sold it in 1914 to Shirley Kernan. Federal troops again encamped at Mount Air in 1918. This time it was the 2nd Battalion of the 304th Engineer Regiment, which built railroads and prepared for deployment to France during World War I. Ownership later passed from Mrs. Kernan to her daughter, Elisabeth Enochs. Elisabeth died in 1992, and fire completely consumed the historic Mount Air manor house just weeks after her death.

Mount Air Mansion in 1970.

The Mount Air Mansion in 1970.

The Fairfax County Park Authority acquired the property, including the house ruins and numerous outbuildings, in 1997.

To keep up with the current archaeological findings at Mount Air, follow the blog at https://cartarchaeology.wordpress.com/.

Author Christopher Sperling is the Senior Archaeologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Daylong Hikes in the Fairfax County Area

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Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail (CCT)

When a Boy Scout mom wrote to the Park Authority for some ideas on where her son could take the long hikes needed to earn a Merit Badge, the agency’s Trails and Infrastructure Coordinator, Beth Iannetta, came up with plenty of suggestions.

If you’re looking for a hike of 15 to 20 miles or more, consider taking some of her advice.

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CCT Trail Marker

• The Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail, also known as the Fairfax CCT, is an amazing achievement for a well-populated area like Fairfax County. Over 40 miles long, it crosses the entire county, from the Potomac River in the north to the Occoquan River in the south, passing through many of Fairfax County’s best parks along the way. We particularly like the northernmost segment from Leigh Mill Road to the Potomac River.

• The Bull Run – Occoquan Trail follows the Bull Run Stream Valley and Occoquan Reservoir along the western edge of Fairfax County. The trail is 18 miles long, beginning at Bull Run Regional Park in the north and ending at Fountainhead Regional Park in the south. The trail, which is a gem in the NOVA Parks collection, offers a chance to enjoy nature and history as it meanders through woodlands, fields, and along the water’s edge. For an easy hike next to Bull Run, join the trail in charming Clifton. The hike from Fountainhead Regional Park to Bull Run Marina is a nice hilly, wooded segment of the trail.

The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHT) is a network of trails extending over 800 miles through Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia and Washington DC. Fairfax County contributes much of its Potomac riverfront to the PHT including Seneca Tract to Great Falls in the north, and Alexandria to Mount Vernon in the east. Favorite hikes on the PHT include:

o Seneca Tract from the eastern edge of Loudoun County to Riverbend Park is a nice stretch accessed from woodland trails in the park.

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Bluebell time at Riverbend Park.

o The mostly flat trail north from the Riverbend Park Visitor Center is especially gorgeous when bluebells and other spring wildflowers are in bloom. Head south from the center for a rockier, but easy hike to Great Falls Park.
o The PHT follows the River Trail through Great Falls Park on a sometimes steep segment with incredible views of the falls and Mather Gorge.
o Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is popular for a short hike to a nice waterfall, but it also offers a pretty, moderately challenging section of the PHT.
o Turkey Run and Potomac Overlook Parks both include trails that connect to the PHT and beautiful river views close to DC.

• On the Virginia side of the Potomac, the popular Mount Vernon Trail offer 18 miles of paved trail from Theodore Roosevelt Island south to George Washington’s Mount Vernon. Most of the trail is independent, but there is a street segment through downtown Alexandria. The trail is narrow and extremely popular with bikers, so pedestrians and runners need to be careful. Most of the trail is level, with great views of the river and DC, but the southernmost mile is a steady climb. There’s a beautiful boardwalk section heading south along Dyke Marsh, so Belle Haven is a good starting point for walkers.

What is an Invasive Plant?

Ivy 3aI once was quite proud of the English Ivy tree I’d nurtured in my townhouse garden. I was ignorant of its impact on the environment.

My mother and I had planted a pair of four-inch plants some 20 years before I started shaping them into a tree. I didn’t know that English Ivy was invasive. I knew very little about invasive plants.

That changed when I became a Green Spring Extension Master Gardener in 2014. I learned that invasive plants are a species accidentally or intentionally introduced by humans into a region where those plants did not originate. They can cause great damage to the new area’s natural resources. An invasive species can be any kind of living organism – plant, insect, fish, fungus, bacteria and even seeds or eggs. Species that grow and reproduce quickly and that spread aggressively can be labeled ‘invasive’.

Ivy 1aThe Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) has created an Invasiveness ranking that categorizes the level of threats to forests and other natural communities and native species from invasive plants. The categories are high, medium and low. Kevin Hefferman, a stewardship biologist at DCR, says the ranking increases for species that:

• Alter natural processes, such as water flow or soil chemistry
• Invade undisturbed natural areas
• Cause substantial impacts on rare or vulnerable native species or natural areas
• Are widely distributed and generally abundant where present
• Disperse readily to new places
• Require significant resources to manage and control

Naturalists encourage gardeners to curb the spread of invasive species by planting native plants and removing invasive ones. There are many web sites that offer native alternatives, including those of the Virginia Native Plant Society, The Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia, and Green Spring Gardens. More information also is available from Master Gardeners at Green Spring.

Ivy 4In full disclosure, I adore English Ivy (Hedera helix). However, I won’t plant it. It’s an evergreen, perennial vine. It grows as a dense ground cover (juvenile stage) and a climbing vine (adult stage). Regretfully, its dense foliage blocks sunlight and restricts growth of other plants. As pretty as it looks growing up mature trees, its heavy vines loosen bark and hold moisture against the trunk, often causing fungal disease and death. Heavy vines also can fell trees in bad weather. English Ivy also nurtures bacterial leaf spot, a disease seen in elms, oaks and maples. It spreads by seeds and runners. Mature vines produce flowers and seeds that birds enjoy and spread. It is also known to cause wildfires to spread as flames climb vine-covered trees. It tends to climb anything it can use for support such as fences, homes or trees.

Invasive species overtake native species and destroy ecosystems that rely upon diversity of species to survive. They often provide little or no food value for wildlife. Kudzu is another devastating invasive plant that grows at a rate of one foot per day with mature vines as long as 100 feet. It engulfs everything in its path from trees to shrubs to homes and cars.

When visiting a plant nursery or accepting plants from friends and neighbors, avoid invasive species. Plant natives for their beauty and for the well-being of the environment.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Extension Master Gardener and a board member of the Friends of Green Spring.

The Life and Times of the Manassas Gap Railroad

Manassas Gap Railroad

These stone walls are remnants of the earthworks built to carry the rails of the Manassas Gap Railroad’s Independent Line, begun during the railroad boom before the Civil War and never completed.

Weaving through Alexandria, Fairfax City and on to Manassas is the abandoned railway bed of the Manassas Gap Railroad chartered in the mid-19th century. Today these bulwarks of dirt curling west to the Blue Ridge Mountains are silent witnesses to ambitious dreams, changing economic and political climates, and the devastating ruin caused by the Civil War. Two of the best spots to explore these beds are on parkland at the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site in Annandale and Hidden Oaks Nature Center. They’re just a couple blocks apart on Royce Street in Annandale.

The railroad was built in part as a product of the speculative frenzy of railroad building in the late 1840s and early 1850s. The advent of steam-powered engines ignited the construction of railroads to connect the fertile farms of the expanding West to the traditional markets and business hubs along the East Coast. A feverish program of railroad construction created some 3,668 miles of track in less than 20 years.

Economic competition for access to the productive farms of the Shenandoah Valley increased when the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad (B&O) opened a line to Winchester through Harper’s Ferry in 1836. The merchants of Alexandria, fearful that they were losing their crucial wagon trade with the Shenandoah Valley, received a charter in 1848 from the state legislature for the Orange and Alexandria Railroad (O&A). The line ran from the rural fields south in Orange to the port city.

Its success bred greater ambition. By 1850, another group of merchants and farmers received incorporation for the Manassas Gap Railroad (MGRR) that would recapture the wheat trade of the upper Shenandoah Valley that the B&O had successfully acquired through its Winchester branch. Wealthy planters and prominent business owners in the area determined its route and invested heavily in its future.

To reach the valley, the line would run west from the Manassas Junction on the Orange and Alexandria line, through Gainesville, past Front Royal, through the Manassas Gap and on to Strasburg. It was completed in three years and celebrated with rhetorical gusto.

Buoyed by new revenues and awash in plans for expansion, the MGRR company decided to build its own Independent Line directly from Manassas Junction to Alexandria rather than pay the O&A its high rail rental charges for goods that had to be transferred from the MGRR and shipped to Alexandria on those lines. The legislature approved the plan in March 1853.

The Independent Line was to run 34 miles, crossing the Bull Run west of Chantilly and then Cub Run, into a sweeping curve crossing first the Warrenton Turnpike and then the Little River Turnpike to what is now the city of Fairfax. It then ran east near the village of Annandale, turning south to re-cross Little River Turnpike, run through Indian Run Valley and on to just outside Alexandria.

The process of obtaining the necessary land, however, and the costs of the major filling and leveling required for construction reduced profits and assurances of state aid. By 1858, the company’s debts were enormous, and growing hostilities and talk of secession weighed heavily on the plan. One year short of completion, the Independent Line fell victim to the Civil War, and no steel rails were ever laid. Instead, its earthworks served as battle sites and as little-known transportation routes for both Confederate and Union soldiers.

The Manassas Gap Railroad never recovered from the war, during which its rails were torn up and its rolling stock destroyed by both sides. The right-of-way was relinquished, and much land was returned to farming. In some places, however, where there were deep cuts, high fills or substantial masonry work such as at Hidden Oaks and the Manassas Gap Railroad Historic Site in Annandale, the roadbed remains. Its high fill areas, shallow cuts and two historic culverts, all constructed during the 1850s, remain in remarkably complete condition. The Historic Site is a perfect place to look back on the complex tapestry of how people, places and events — especially surrounding the Civil War — converged to create a place of historic significance.

Author Jane Scully is a former ResOURces newsletter editor for the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Hidden Oaks celebrates its 50th anniversary in October. Interpretation of the railroad bed will be part of projects being developed for the celebration.

Mill Advocate Remembered

“I just got a call from Marge Lundegard. Bob passed away yesterday.”

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Bob Lundegard spent much of his retirement giving back to Colvin Run Mill.

Those were the opening lines of an email that quickly circulated and spread heartbreak through the Fairfax County Park Authority following the death of Robert Lundegard on Monday, May 20, 2019. Lundegard was a park icon one park official called an “amazing guy.” He will be remembered for his love of parks and, in particular, for Colvin Run Mill Historic Site.

“It is impossible to think about Colvin Run Mill without thinking of Bob,” said Dranesville Supervisor John Foust. “He was a man of fierce determination and tireless energy who got things done. His efforts to renovate the mill and expand its educational programs have left a profound and enduring legacy.”

Lundegard and his wife, Marjorie, spent much of their retirement time volunteering and spearheading preservation fundraising efforts at Colvin Run Mill. The retired federal government science and technology expert believed that future generations can learn from yesterday’s innovation. He noted that in a world of ubiquitous smart phones, the water-powered mill of Colvin Run “was the technology up until after the Civil War when electricity and wind power were developed.”

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Colvin Run Mill.

“The Park Authority and Colvin Run Mill lost a true friend,” said Fairfax County Park Authority Board Member Tim Hackman. He added that Lundegard “was a dedicated and visionary leader. He saw the importance and value of educating the public, and especially school children, about Fairfax County’s colonial and 19th Century heritage, and pushed for the restoration of the mill and miller’s house and facilities into the fully operational facility we see today. His spirit and commitment will be greatly missed.”

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Bob and Marjorie Lundegard at Colvin Run Mill in November 2015.

Education was important to Lundegard. He taught at Syracuse University, and Marjorie is a retired Oakton High School chemistry teacher who started volunteering at Colvin Run in 1988. The Lundegards were among the first members of the Friends of Colvin Run Mill when it formed in 1997, and Robert Lundegard served for a time as the president of the support organization. Under his leadership, the Friends raised money for lights on the mill and a portable mill called a meadows mill for demonstrations. The Lundegards also raised funds for the mill through a partnership with a consignment shop in McLean and through Marjorie Lundegard’s writing, publishing and selling of more than a dozen books about mills in the region. Together they raised more than $50,000 to support Colvin Run Mill’s capital improvements plan, which includes renovation of the miller’s house at the site and the building of a planned educational visitor center.

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Celebrating the Fifth Anniversary of Huntley Meadows’ Wetland Restoration

It’s deeper, it’s bigger, and it’s healthier. There’s more plant and animal diversity in the restored wetland at Huntley Meadows.

HM Wetlands Awareness_050717_0113In a massive project that spanned more than two decades, the Central Wetland at Huntley Meadows Park was restored. On May 10, 2019, the park will mark the fifth anniversary of the The Central Wetland Restoration Project’s completion, and it’s a good time to review the outcome of the effort.

Five years down the line, the wetland is showing noteworthy improvements, including more biodiversity and healthy ecological function. The restoration increased the size and depth of the wetland. Berms were installed, and management now can hold back or release wetland waters. Since the project’s completion, Huntley Meadows staff have been actively managing the wetland.

HM Wetlands Awareness_050717_0071Wetland management decisions are based on scientific data collected from the wetland. That data includes water levels, wetland plant communities and survey results. There’s a weather station in the wetland that provides invaluable data by recording more than 20 parameters every 15 minutes. The information it provides includes water levels, gate levels and rainfall. Staff conduct annual vegetation surveys through aerial photo analysis and ground vegetation surveys in the wetland to determine the diversity of plant life and the trends in the plant communities. The weather station data and the vegetation surveys are critical elements that are required to make science-based decisions and reach goals set for the wetland.

The wetland requires significant maintenance to ensure that the data being collected is quality data. Maintenance also assures the wetland infrastructure that was installed performs properly. The weather station requires regular cleaning, calibration and repair, and the integrity of the berm must be maintained to reduce any chance of major issues due to flooding and erosion. Native vegetation is monitored and enhanced annually to make sure the soil on the berm remains stable. It can be affected by foot traffic.

xjane-gamble-muskrat.jpgThe central wetland is the focus of many scientific research projects that are critical to understanding the effects management has on the wetland.  Bird surveys are conducted weekly to track bird diversity and abundance. Redheaded woodpeckers and prothonotary warblers have become more common since they started breeding in the wetland over the past five years. Jane Gamble 7Marsh birds such as rails and bitterns are of particular interest. Spring breeding bird surveys are conducted, and in 2015 Virginia rails bred in the Central Wetland for the first time in almost 20 years. Frog call surveys are conducted every year to monitor populations. Management also extends to invasive plants and animals, including the northern snakehead fish (Channa argus), which has become naturalized. Most of these surveys could not be conducted without the help and generous support of volunteers.

hm-wetlands-awareness_050717_0080.jpgThe surveys, projects and weather station data collected provide vital information used to guide wetland management plans and decisions.  Those plans have to be flexible because the wetland is completely dependent on stormwater for its life. Staff can lower wetland water levels by opening gates to release water. However, raising water levels requires rainfall and stormwater flow in East Barnyard Run, the wetland’s feeder stream. The typical annual water routine in the wetland follows the natural hydrologic cycle — high water in winter, falling water levels in the spring, low water in the summer, and rising water levels in the fall — but the routine can’t become a pattern. It is important to vary the timing and elevation of seasonal water levels in the wetland each year to prevent a pattern that potentially favors specific species over diversity.  Erratic cycles lead to an amazing diversity of vegetation and wildlife.  Based on the park’s annual vegetation surveys, The Central Wetland vegetation and wildlife are responding very well to the new hydrologic cycles.

People outside the Fairfax County Park Authority have noticed the project’s successes. Over the past five years, the Wetland Restoration Project has received more than 10 awards, including the prestigious Virginia Governors Gold Medal Environmental Excellence Award in 2017 and the American Counsel of Engineering Companies Engineering Excellence Award in 2014.

Staff will continue to manage the wetland water levels and plant communities to create the best habitat for a diverse array of wildlife species. We are seeing positive results in the vegetation and wildlife to date, and we anticipate the best is yet to come.

Author Dave Lawlor is the Natural Resource Manager at Huntley Meadows Park. Park Authority photographer Don Sweeney and park visitor Jane Gamble provided the photos.