Tag Archives: Invasive Management Area

On One Day, Make A Difference

Fall has arrived, and with it comes the opportunity to leave the heat of summer behind and enjoy cool, crisp weather while getting in touch with the outdoors.

Make a difference by restoring parkland.

What better way to do that than to volunteer with Fairfax County Park Authority’s Invasive Management Area (IMA) program?  October 27 is National Make a Difference Day, which encourages people all over the country to volunteer their time making a difference in their communities.  This year, 14 IMA sites will host events, so there are plenty of opportunities for Fairfax County residents to get out and enjoy the fall foliage.

Volunteers will learn about native and non-native plants and how each impacts habitat for local birds and wildlife.  Gloves and tools will be provided to volunteers who help remove non-native invasive plants that take over parkland and degrade habitat. Dress in layers for the weather and bring a bottle of water. You may work up a sweat and be able to skip the gym for the day.

During VolunteerFest 2011, 253 volunteers removed 115 bags of invasive plants.

Last year, 11 sites participated in National Make a Difference Day, and 253 volunteers removed 115 bags of invasive plants. Participants left knowing that they had made a difference in their community and that local habitat was improved. Some volunteers even claimed they heard birds and wildlife thanking them as they left.

It was great to see so many families enjoy the outdoors and each other at National Make a Difference Day in 2011. Everybody had a great time and even engaged in some friendly competition to see who could remove the most invasive plants.

So, if you are looking for a way to enjoy fall in Fairfax County, consider spending National Make a Difference Day, October 27, with the IMA program. For more information and to view the full IMA calendar of events, visit the IMA webpage.

By Erin Stockschlaeder, Invasive Management Coordinator

No Such Thing As A Bad Day Fishing

I must take issue with my friend and Park Authority colleague, Matthew Kaiser. In a recent blog titled IMA Volunteers Share Memorable Wildlife Encounters, Matthew wrote that “catching a glimpse of a bald eagle soaring high above a lake can make a bad day of fishing slightly more palatable.”

Claiming the right to be petty and picky, I disagree. One, there’s no such thing as a bad day of fishing. Two, if there were, not that I would know, nothing could make it palatable.

I love bass fishing. It has provided me with innumerable moments of thrill, relaxation, frustration and renewal. I don’t particularly like the work of preparing to fish, but I do it knowing that the moment I’m on the water I’ll feel calm, anticipation, joy and all the multiple emotions that make us click as people.  I feel centered when I’m near or on water. I feel human.

As for those innumerable moments, fishing has been the source of both wonderful and terrible moments. Fishing had a small, tiny, miniscule role in a temporary breakup when my wife and I were dating. Something to do with my taking a fishing rod along on a romantic walk at night around a lake. We recently talked about that night, looking back at it through nearly 14 years of marriage. She remembers wanting to kill me. I remember I didn’t catch anything on the Jitterbug I was throwing. Obviously, we’ve gotten over it. 

Volunteering  for the Invasive Management Program has been the gateway to wildlife experiences for the volunteers in Matthew’s article. Fishing has been the gateway to nature for me.

Because of fishing, I have seen

  • an eagle parent teaching its youngster how to fish
  • osprey feeding their newborns
  • a deer swimming across the Potomac River
  • a snake eating a bluegill
  • turtles mating
  • turkeys in flight
  • water boiling across the surface as a rain storm approached
  • waves so high above my boat I couldn’t see over them
  • bass guarding the fry on their nest

Because of fishing I have

  • felt a sudden, 20-degree temperature drop as a cold front passed like a wall of wind
  • made dozens of friends
  • learned how to canoe
  • fallen into rivers
  • seen new parts of our country
  • stood in a boulder field surrounded by snakes
  • learned about myself
  • shared time with my parents, shared time with my children

Fishing has been my gateway to nature and wildlife encounters. Somewhere outdoors is something that can be your gateway to nature. Seek it by visiting the parks. Find it, hold it and protect it. It will make you feel centered. It will help you feel human.

Written by Dave Ochs, editor, ResOURces Newsletter

IMA Volunteers Share Memorable Wildlife Encounters

One of the most exciting things about visiting Fairfax County parks is encountering wildlife. A family visit to a playground is made more special when a child points in awe at a deer moving quietly through the trees. A walk along a stream valley trail is more memorable when a fox scampers into view, even if only for a brief moment. And catching a glimpse of a bald eagle soaring high above a lake can make a bad day of fishing slightly more palatable. Wildlife is abundant on parkland, but you have to spend time in the parks for your best shot at seeing something extraordinary.

IMA volunteers work together to restore parkland by removing invasive plant species and planting native species.

One group that spends a significant amount of time in parks is our Invasive Management Area (IMA) volunteers, our frontline defense against the spread of non-native invasive plant species. These intrepid volunteers endure searing heat, stifling humidity, stinging plants, and painful thorns as they search for invasive plants to remove and replace with native species. Because their work often takes place off the beaten path, IMA volunteers also frequently encounter wildlife.

July is Parks & Recreation Month.

As we celebrate Parks & Recreation Month’s GET WILD theme, we thought we’d share some of our IMA volunteers’ incredible wildlife sightings. Enjoy these retellings and keep an eye out for wildlife in the parks and around your home. Your wildlife encounter, whether simple or spectacular, will be a story you can share with family and friends for many years.

Vivian Morgan-Mendez, a longtime volunteer at Nottoway Park, often sees bright orange Baltimore orioles and bluebirds flitting near community garden plots. She also remembers the afternoon a wild turkey flew out of the brush where her crew was working. “All five of us saw it. Pretty amazing!” However, sometimes wildlife encounters aren’t always fun; just ask Morgan-Mendez. “Several of my IMA volunteers and I were stung after we dug up a ground bee hiding place along with invasives. It was a very painful experience.”

Volunteer Jennifer Porter credits her proximity to Holmes Run Stream Valley Park for the abundance of wildlife activity around her home. “We have foxes around. They sashay down our pipe-stem drive at will at almost any time of the day or night. Our next door neighbor’s cat was forced to take refuge under a car to escape one fox that seemed too interested. Some years ago now, we had a fox on the front porch chasing our blind cat. A few days after that, another fox chased our second cat up the back steps.”

Porter used to be fond of gardening barefoot, at least until she nearly stepped on a copperhead. “Barefoot appears not to be a good idea,” she advises. One summer, Porter’s cats brought 16 small snakes into the house including one that tried to escape by crawling inside the piano pedals.

IMA Volunteer Renee Grebe photographed a pair of coyote pups as they crossed a creek on a downed log.

Those who venture into local green spaces have a unique window within which to see unusual things. Renee Grebe reports Clermont and Loftridge Parks are “alive these days – coyotes everywhere it seems.” Grebe has also encountered coyotes around her neighborhood, including a pair of pups she saw crossing a creek on a downed tree. Several times a week last summer, she began hearing the howls of a newly established coyote pack at dusk, and the howling has begun again. “The cacophony makes it sound like there must be 100 of them (though at latest report there may only be four adults and three babies).” She continued, “Also, it’s not unusual (and almost expected) that if an ambulance siren goes off, the coyotes will howl back.”

Grebe finds humor in some of her wildlife encounters. One morning she came upon a fawn that was standing a short distance from the path. The fawn seemed curious and crept closer as Grebe stood still. “But at one point,” she recalls, “it must’ve hit a spider web right on its nose because all at once it started snorting and jumping in place and shaking its head. It was so funny! I wish I had it on camera. It was just the reaction you’d have if you didn’t expect yourself to walk into a web.”

Wilson Harris was intrigued by a red fox that recently visited a bird feeder in his front yard. “The fox was just sitting placidly there. No sign later of any carnivorous activity” Harris has also seen box turtles ambling across his yard.

When Greg Sykes isn’t volunteering with IMA he’s taking photographs, and wildlife is one of his favorite subjects. While kayaking at Royal Lake he snapped a photo of a pair of egrets that came closer and closer to him. “I thought they might try landing on my boat!” he said. Sykes has seen foxes and kits by a den, sometimes with a dead goose or duck. On another kayaking excursion, this time at Lake Accotink with his dog, a bald eagle landed right in front of them.

Beavers are a common sight in lakes and creeks.

Royal Lake has been a particularly good place for Sykes to encounter wildlife. He has seen muskrats playing among wood duck chicks and he is one of the lucky few to have seen a river otter playing in a tributary in the park. Sykes remembers watching bats and beavers at twilight. “It was cool to watch the bats, and then a beaver swam up to where I was with a mound of vegetation and made a scent pile by the shore. I don’t think he knew I was there.” Sykes offered a tip to aspiring wildlife photographers. “You don’t always need blinds to photograph wildlife. I’ve used a camera bag and lay on my stomach to get some skittish animals, like hooded mergansers.”

Remember, Get Wild this summer and spend some time in the parks. You’ll be surprised and amazed by the wildlife encounters waiting for you there.

Have you had a memorable wildlife encounter in the parks? We invite you to share your story in the comments field.

You can view and print brochures about wildlife and other stewardship topics here.

 Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer

New Boot Brush Stations Curb Hitchhiking Seeds

Boot brush stations will capture hitchhiking seeds.

Most of us have learned over time to wipe our feet before entering the house. This spring, Natural Resource Specialist Kristen Sinclair will put a new spin on this message with the installation of three boot brush stations at Lake Fairfax Park. The goal of the one-year pilot project is to stop the spread of non-native invasive plant species such as wavyleaf basketgrass and garlic mustard by removing unwanted seeds from the soles of hikers’ shoes and boots.

Boot brush stations have been installed successfully by park agencies in the Midwest and the National Park Service. The Lake Fairfax stations will be located at trailheads and near the campground. Stations include a framed educational sign, mounted boot brush, and a gravel reservoir to catch fallen seeds. To deter new weeds from sprouting up in the soil around the stations, a pre-emergent herbicide will be applied to the gravel area.

Funded by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Environmental Improvement Program, the stations provide an opportunity to educate park users about the negative effects of non-native invasive plants on the local environment. Aggressive invaders can choke forests, suppress native plants, and damage wildlife habitat. A startling example of invasive species spreading unchecked on parkland can be found at Maryland’s Patapsco Valley State Park, where wavyleaf basketgrass engulfed 100 acres in less than 10 years.

Wavyleaf Basketgrass

The threat of this happening at Lake Fairfax is very real. Erin Stockschlaeder, coordinator for the Invasive Management Area (IMA) and Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) programs, has discovered and mapped wavyleaf basketgrass in the park. This plant blankets the forest floor, and its small, sticky seeds cling to pant legs, socks, and boots.  As the invading plant spreads, native plants including deer’s tongue (a native grass), violets, trout lilies, and a variety of ferns disappear. According to Sinclair, one measure of success for the program would be finding no new populations of wavyleaf basketgrass in the campground or on the trails. If the program is deemed successful, brush stations may be installed at other parks throughout the system.

A sign identifies common invasive species.

Getting the most bang for your buck is important in these lean budget years, and once installed the new inexpensive brush stations will require little maintenance. Three brush station kits and sign will be purchased from Genesis Graphics of Escanaba, Michigan, and assembled and installed by Groundskeeper Specialist Ferlin Mathews and the Area 6 crew. Graphics for the sign were developed by Graphic Designers Joanne Kearney and Alex Ngyuen. “We will monitor the stations the first season to make sure there aren’t any undue maintenance issues,” said Sinclair.

When implemented, this project will accomplish one of 12 best practices to assist in the prevention, control, and eradication of non-native invasive plan species, as recommended in the Park Authority’s 2009 Natural Resource Management Plan. Sinclair concluded, “I believe an interactive sign is a great way to raise awareness of the issue of “hitchhiking seeds.” It certainly can’t make the problem any worse.”

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer

Heather Schinkel Leaves Natural Resources Well-Managed

Heather Schinkel leaves the Fairfax County Park Authority feeling good about where natural resource management is headed.

“We have strong policies; a well-educated public, staff, and leadership; and we’re moving towards active management,” she said.

Natural Resource Management and Protection Branch Manager Heather Schinkel mingles with colleagues at her going away party.

Heather and her family are heading west for other opportunities in Fort Collins, Colorado. Schinkel, the agency’s Natural Resource Management and Protection Manager, left the Fairfax County Park Authority last month after eight years of service. She joined the Park Authority shortly after the organization broke new ground in January 2004 by establishing an agency-wide Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP). She remembers that, at the time, most people did not know what invasive plants were and how “incredibly important and threatening they are.” The agency had its dual mission at the time, but it was not as well integrated as it is now.

Today, the stewardship ethos and application is better distributed throughout the agency and park planning, development and maintenance processes integrate natural resource concerns. In addition, the agency has strong partnerships with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Department of Forestry, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Earth Sangha, REI and other organizations to protect resources and educate county residents. “We’ve done a good job in getting the word out,” said Schinkel.

“And we are finally actively managing on the ground. That’s what the NRMP is all about, restoring and maintaining our natural areas,” she said. That management takes the form of projects such as those at Elklick Preserve, Old Colchester, and Laurel Hill, where there are site-specific natural resource management plans in place and funding to implement at least some management activities.

Then there’s the Invasive Management Area program.  

“IMA has been incredibly successfully,” Schinkel said. In its six years, the program has drawn more than 5,000 volunteers who’ve donated more than 20,000 hours on over 1,000 workdays. IMA will hopefully get another strong boost this spring from its Take Back the Forest campaign, an initiative to host 500 volunteers at 40 IMA sites. Agency personnel recently selected the winner of a t-shirt design contest that is tied to the program.  

Schinkel also sees success at Old Colchester, where a resource assessment and planning project was fully funded and timed well before the master plan to allow proper planning for the park. Funding for natural resources and stewardship awareness activities is difficult to come by in this time of austerity and Schinkel says the solution to properly managing resources ultimately has to be big. She estimates some $8 million and dozens of staff would be needed to fully manage natural resources on all of Fairfax County parkland. In context with current funding opportunities, the need is quite daunting. 

Though fully funding the NRMP is not foreseeable any time soon, the Park Authority continues to seek funding for at least a first phase of NRMP implementation. In addition, a key step is an upcoming demonstration forest management project at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park that is funded in part with 2008 bond funds.  This project will set the stage for the anticipated bond referendum in November. Passage of the yet to be approved park bond would fund a larger scale natural resource renovation project for the Sully Woodlands park assemblage. It would be one more significant step that would follow the many significant steps the Park Authority took while Schinkel was managing and protecting the agency’s natural resources.

Written by Dave Ochs, stewardship communications manager and ResOURces editor