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Certified Community At Last

Great Falls is 23rd community in the nation to be designated as a National Wildlife Federation Community Habitat.

On Friday, April 6, a representative from the National Wildlife Federation contacted Robin Rentsch and gave her some much anticipated good news.

“As of Friday, we are now a certified Habitat Community,” said Rentsch, at a Great Falls Citizens Association (GFCA) general membership meeting on April 10.

As a certified National Wildlife Federation Habitat Steward and co-chair of the Great Falls Citizens Association Environment committee, Rentsch has spent the better part of the last year working toward establishing Great Falls as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Habitat Community — and last week, her vision became a reality. The National Wildlife Federation Certified Habitat Community program is designed to encourage community environmental awareness, as well as a better understanding and respect for local plants and animals.

To be officially recognized as a Certified Habitat, a community must meet specific criteria set by the National Wildlife Federation. Depending on its particular population, a community must have a certain amount of properties establish themselves as National Wildlife Federation Backyard Community Habitats. This entails creating a backyard that attracts native animals by having a natural water source, a natural food source, natural shelter and native plants. Once a resident or commercial property owner believes they have enough of these elements to qualify for Backyard Community Habitat certification, a Habitat Steward such as Rentsch will come and inspect their property to make sure.

For a community the size of Great Falls to achieve Certified Habitat Community status, the National Wildlife Federation mandates that it have at least 375 points. In under a year, Great Falls was able to come up with well over the required number.

“The minimum amount of points we had to get was 375, and we got 475,” said an ecstatic Rentsch last week. “We are so much better than the minimum.”

GREAT FALLS is the 23rd community to achieve Certified Habitat Community status in the nation, but it is not the first community to do so in Fairfax County. Reston — which is home to the National Wildlife Federation corporate offices — is already a Certified Habitat Community. In addition, Falls Church is also working toward certification. Still, Great Falls was able to achieve certification in a record amount of time.

“In an unprecedented one year, we were able to get certified,” said Rentsch. “It was an amazing effort.”

Jackie Taylor, president of the Great Falls Citizens Association and a member of its environment committee, said that much of the success of the project can be attributed to Rentsch’s extreme motivation and dedication to see it through to completion.

“We must have had at least six to eight people on the committee, and I think Robin did at least 50 percent of the work,” said Taylor.

Rentsch said the National Wildlife Federation most likely will arrange an official dedication ceremony sometime in the near future. In addition, two commemorative books depicting the community effort toward certification will be published. One will be on display in the Dranesville District Supervisor’s office, and the other will be available for public viewing at the Great Falls Community Library.

TO MAINTAIN its status as a Certified Habitat Community, Great Falls must accrue an additional 40 points annually. However, Rentsch and others involved in the project say that maintenance will not be a challenge at all.

“We get points for a lot of the things that we’ve been doing all along anyway,” said Great Falls Citizens Association Environment committee member Eleanor Anderson. “For example, we’ll get 10 points for the Native Plant Sale that we’re having on May 12, and we get 10 points for our stream cleanups … but we really would like more habitats — the more habitats we can get the better.”

Rentsch says that anyone who is unsure of whether or not their property qualifies for Backyard Habitat certification simply need call on her or any of the other numerous Habitat Stewards in the community for assistance.

“There’s plenty of people to come out and look at your garden and tell you all the beautiful things that you have,” said Rentsch.