Volunteers from around Fairfax County descended on Meadowood Farm Saturday, Sept. 24, shovels, pruning shears and paintbrushes in hand, ready to spend the overcast morning caring for the visitors center there as part of National Public Lands Day.
"I needed to get out of the house and get some exercise," said Marvin Rainwater, a Mount Vernon resident who spent the morning performing some maintenance on a trail that starts at Meadowood so other volunteers could lay some stone chips on the trail.
"It's good for people who live in the area to get out and help take care of the public lands they use," said Rainwater. "Plus, it's a fun way to meet your neighbors. It's a good release after being stuck behind a desk all week."
More than 100 volunteers had signed up for Saturday's event, split between the work at Meadowood and Pohick Bay Regional Park, just down Gunston Road from Meadowood, said Theresa Jefferson, an environmental specialist with the Bureau of Land Management, which controls the site.
"We're helping our trails look like a real trail today," she said, after spending the morning staining the deck and helping a group of home-schooled children pull weeds and plant flower bulbs.
The volunteer effort helps to care for "one of the few public lands we have in the Eastern part of the country," said Jesse Kopach, another Land Management employee. "Lots of the kids that come out to volunteer don't have backyards to play in, so it's good to have an opportunity to show them about nature and how to take care of things," he said.
The difference between public lands and parks is that public lands are controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, an office of the Department of the Interior and therefore a federally-protected area, Kopach said. Parks are run by the Fairfax County Park Authority and the National Parks Service and tend to have been established by some historically significant event or location, he said.
Most of the land governed by the Bureau of Land Management is located in the western part of the country, said Gary Cooper, the Lower Potomac Field Station Manager. Of the 260 million acres it oversees, only 39 million acres are located in the eastern part of the U.S., he said.
"We manage a lot of the lighthouses around the Great Lakes," he said. "I think it's wonderful that so many people come out to help. These lands belong to the public, so for people to come out and do things to help take care of the land, it gives them a greater sense of ownership."
Cooper applauded the many "educational events" that take place at Meadowood, which partners with the Freedom School and Gunston Elementary school to teach students about conservation and wildlife. "We hold a burro and wild horse sale here and there's a lot of equestrian groups that go for rides on our trail. The Fairfax Audubon Society conducts some bird-watching and counts from out here," he said.
ONE MAJOR objective to the day was improving the trail that begins at the visitors center at Meadowood and winds around the property toward Mason Neck Park, said Michael Nedd, state director for the Bureau of Land Management.
"We're working on the trail to put down stones and make it accessible for people with disabilities," he said. "Trails should be handicapped-accessible and at a certain grade for people in wheelchairs to allow them to enjoy it as well. We're making sure things are done to meet the Americans with Disabilities Act requirements."
Before the work had been started, "we had a grading problem and a weed problem," said Jeff McCusker, an outdoor planner with the Bureau of Land Management. "We want to build an interpretive trail to identify the trees and plant species that people see when walking along the trail," he said.
Volunteers put down a black fabric tarp that would prevent weeds from growing up and breaking through the stone chips spread along the trail, he said. A new trail sign was installed, marking where the trail led and the areas of interest in the region, he said.
A long-time resident of Springfield, Charlie Rupert and his family have often enjoying riding their horses along the trail at Meadowood. "We're a part of the Friends of Meadowood group and we board our horses just up the road," he said, taking a break from shoveling stone chips on the trail. "This is a very special area. The horse trail comes right up through here and it's just a beautiful ride."
The morning started with a bird walk led by Harry Glasgow, a volunteer at Meadowood. "Birds are an important indicator of environmental health," he said. "If we have a successful bird watch, the area is in decent shape."
Most of the birds seen along the walks conducted at Meadowood are songbirds and warblers with a few hawks and owls, Glasgow said. "There are many ducks and many eagles around here too because we're near the river. We saw a few eagles this morning," he said.