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ReLeaf Forms Sound Barrier

As Laura Hoy saw the trees get mowed down for the Hidden Brook senior development off Rolling Road, she figured out a way to fight back and keep a treeline between her property and the Fairfax County Parkway.

Hoy enlisted 20 of her Springfield neighbors from the Winter Forest development across Rolling Road as well as Scouts from Troop 1175 and the Fairfax County urban forestry group called Fairfax ReLeaf. They spent the morning of Saturday, Nov. 8, planting a line of saplings on the roadside in hope of reducing the traffic noise.

"When Hidden Brook was going in, they leveled eight acres of trees," Hoy said. "We had to make sure we planted deciduous trees," as required in the Fairfax ReLeaf guidelines.

It was not just a matter of picking out a place and breaking out the shovels. The land belonged to the Virginia Department of Transportation, and the Fairfax County Urban Forestry group donated the saplings. All planting on Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) land needs approval, a process that starts with an application, according to VDOT spokesperson Joan Morris. VDOT's criteria includes the appropriateness of the plants, sight obstruction, damage to the road, utilities, and whether they conform to VDOT planting guidelines and the American Standards for Nursery Stock. They issued eight permits in 2002 and seven in 2003, according to Morris.

"Permit applications and plans go to our environmental engineer to review," Morris said.

Hoy approached Home Depot in Springfield, which donated 15 bags of soil, and Whole Foods in Keene Mill Center donated box lunches for the crew. Other ReLeaf supporters include Virginia Department of Forestry, which provides grants, and EDS, which provides a plot of irrigated land for their nursery site.

Kay Fowler is the volunteer coordinator for Fairfax ReLeaf, a nonprofit that's not associated with any government organization. ReLeaf does get saplings from the National Tree Trust. Fowler described the group's mission.

"To plant and preserve trees in and around Fairfax County. We rely on people like her [Hoy]," said Fowler.

Fairfax ReLeaf's four goals are to be a sustainable organization, to restore urban forests, to develop and maintain an educational program and to promote tree-friendly policies to conserve the urban forests. The group started in 1991 as an outgrowth of the Global ReLeaf project of the American forests.

Dane Kielsgard is the liaison between Fairfax County Urban Forestry division and ReLeaf. Kielsgard was at the planting with Hoy that morning. The purpose of those trees was to decrease storm-water runoff and provide a traffic noise barrier.

"Those are side benefits," he said.

FOWLER ESTIMATED that ReLeaf donates about 4,000 saplings a year. April and November are the big tree-planting months because the trees are in a dormant stage at that time. At other times during the year, ReLeaf performs tree maintenance.

"We do our maintenance in the winter," Fowler said.

Hoy is the Springfield District Tree Commissioner, and Darilyn Hanley is the Lee District Tree Commissioner. Another area around Springfield that Fowler has been eyeing for tree plantings is around the Springfield Interstate Interchange.

"You have a lot of open space there," Fowler said.

But with so much traffic going through, Fowler said they have to keep an eye on the safety of the volunteers. Springfield Mall is another target site, as well. With all the parking lots from the mall and surrounding structures, the nearby stream gets a great deal of runoff.

Off Rolling Road, the saplings and their support structures, which look like segments of pipe, are only one part of the project.

"This was Phase I. We'll be doing Phase II in the spring," Hoy said.