The Washington and Old Dominion Task Force, a group studying vegetation and clearing along the trail met on March 24. The trail is owned by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, but Dominion Virginia Power has an easement along the trail that allows it to trim trees as necessary in order to ensure that their power lines are not damaged by falling trees.
Recently, people who live along and use the trail have complained about what they say was excessive clearing of trees, and have called Dominion’s practices "clear-cutting."
Dominion has said it is embarking on a new strategy which will enable them to remove hazardous trees and has plans to replace those trees with species which will not grow tall enough to threaten the lines.
The task force is working to assist in the development of an agreement between the Park Authority and Dominion which would govern vegetation management in the future. Task Force Chair Barbara Hildreth said in an interview later that she is heartened by recent discussions and believes that Dominion is beginning to compromise on their management plans.
Initially, she said, Dominion had been treating the trail the same as any other transmission corridor; few other transmission lines, however, double as parks. Dominion is beginning to make accommodations for the differences, Hildreth said. "Dominion seems willing to modify their policies," she said.
During the meeting, the task force discussed the use of herbicides, said Hildreth. Dominion Virginia Power has used herbicides in some areas, saying that it is the most efficient way to control some smaller kinds of brush.
Some residents that live along the trail say that Dominion has not given sufficient notification of what sorts of herbicides are being used, and where, so they may opt to avoid going into those areas. At the March 24 meeting, Hildreth said, Dominion agreed that they would begin to give notices when they are going to use herbicides. "They are going to work with the [Northern Virginia Regional] Park Authority parameters," Hildreth said.
Additionally, Dominion announced that it would hire an outside arborist, Bonnie Appleton, to come and visit the trail. Appleton, a professor at Virginia Tech will visit the area in the coming weeks to survey the trail. "She’ll study different sorts of plant that would work," Hildreth said.
Hildreth said she has spoken with Appleton and that the arborist will likely recommend a variety of different trees which would grow to different heights and provide a varied treescape.
The task force also viewed a presentation created by Fairfax County Planning Commissioner Ken Lawrence (Providence). The presentation showed that because the trail runs generally east-west, during the mid-day hours when the sun is directly overhead, the best way of shading the trail would be with small trees close to the trail.
Other members of the task force, Hildreth said, pointed out that many trail users go out on the trail after they get home from work, when the sun is lower in the sky. At these times, taller trees further off the trail are effective in shading the trail.
Hildreth could not estimate when the task force’s work would be done. Currently, the Park Authority and Dominion are developing guidelines, and some of the task force’s recommendations have gone into the draft agreement. "We’re trying to solve the problem from many aspects. I think that’s the best approach," Hildreth said.