Working To Solve Environmental Threat

Working To Solve Environmental Threat

Actions speak louder than pleas in solving community problem.

At this time of budget crunch for Alexandria city government, all those organizations that look to the municipal coffers to solve their problems might want to consider taking a page from the Parkfairfax Association book of self-help. They are prepared to invest $20,000 of their own money, along with time and labor, to solve a problem they consider paramount to their community.

As stated by Matthew Natale, president, Parkfairfax Association, in a recent newsletter, "The 'Park' (in Parkfairfax) is taking a real beating ... The situation will not improve by itself and will require the investment of capital ... We all need to take a hard look at our woodlands ...."

What he was referring to is the woodland on the east side of Valley Drive, between Gunston Road and Martha Custis Drive, a 10-acre stand of trees being damaged, and in some cases destroyed, by non-native invasive plants. These invaders include English Ivy, Japanese Honeysuckle, Chinese Wisteria, and Tree of Heaven among others, according to Scott Knudsen, project coordinator, Parkfairfax Association Woodlands Committee.

"The ivy is causing saplings to be strangled. Wherever you have ivy too many trees are dying. Larger trees are more resistant to the ivy but it also can damage and even kill them," Knudsen said. To highlight that fact, he pointed out an area where a large hole existed in the tree canopy due to dead trees collapsing.

PRESENTLY THE ASSOCIATION has allocated $10,000 to fund the invasive plant clearing project for approximately 10 acres. This is only a portion of the overall 22 acres of woodland in Parkfairfax. They are prepared to invest an additional $10,000 to complete the present project, according to Natale

"All of this money is from the association budget," he said. Its annual budget is approximately $5.2 million, according to Natale.

So that the project is conducted in a professional manner, the Association Board of Directors authorized the hiring of a project manager, a woodlands/invasive specialist, and two invasive plant program technicians. Knudsen, a Parkfairfax resident and board member, is serving on a volunteer basis.

"I'm actually an investment counselor in my real life. But, I'm seriously considering getting into horticulture. I have a real love for this type of work," he said.

Neal Howlett, landscape director, Parkfairfax, is serving as the project manager. Jan Ferrigan, invasive plant program coordinator, Arlington County, is the on-site invasive plant specialist. She is an extension agent with the Virginia Cooperative Extension Program working out of the Fairlington Community Center.

"We have been working on this project since Feb. 12 every other weekend. That schedule seems best for everyone," Ferrigan said. Thus far they have cleared approximately four acres.

INVASIVE PLANT technicians Jesus Perez and Pedro Diaz have been hired as seasonal, part-time employees to work with Ferrigan and Knudsen. Both have extensive experience in the removal of invasive vines by working with Alexandria Horticulturist Rod Simmons to remove such plants from city parks and natural areas, according the association's work program description.

As outlined, the project will be carried out in three stages:

• Stage One: Removal of English Ivy. This is expected to consume approximately half of the budgeted labor cost.

• State Two: Removal of Chinese Wisteria. This is the most important stage of the project in that "wisteria thicket is the chief cause of tree deaths in this section of Parkfairfax woodlands."

• Stage Three: The clean-up phase.

"Once the project is completed, it doesn't mean that the work is over. This will require constant policing to prevent the invasive plants from returning," Knudsen said.

"This is one of the largest natural stands of woodlands in Alexandria. And all of the woodlands in the Parkfairfax area have been affected by these invasive species," he said.

As noted in the explanation to the association's board, "The prevalence of non-native, invasive vines and shrubs have become established throughout" Parkfairfax wooded areas. That is why this project "has been advocated for years" by the community's environmental activists, according to Natale.

AT THE OUTSET, the board was told, "While we can save a number of individual trees by monthly volunteer clearings, we cannot hope to address the scope of the overall problem ...." through that approach. "Parkfairfax must provide stewardship for the woodlands." They agreed, pledging the necessary financial commitment to preserve the "Park" in Parkfairfax.