Many newcomers view Northern Virginia as a suburban sea of tract homes, dense development, shopping malls and traffic jams.
I hope they realize that we are blessed with a natural jewel, which former U. S. Senator John Warner called “a magnificent little oasis.” It is the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve on the banks of the Potomac River in the Mount Vernon area of Fairfax County, just south of Old Town Alexandria.
At 485 acres, the preserve is one of the last tidal wetlands on the river. Tidal freshwater marshes are rare, says Dr. Elizabeth Wells, a George Washington University wetland plant expert. This wetland complex is one of the most significant temperate, tidal, freshwater, riverine marshes in the national park system. Thus, it is a national treasure as well.
Congress designated it as a preserve in 1959 “so that fish and wildlife development and their preservation as wetland wildlife habitat shall be paramount.” Today, it has 300 known species of plants, 6,000 arthropods, 38 fish, 16 reptiles, 14 amphibians and over 230 birds. Like all wetlands, Dyke Marsh provides ecological services: flood control, water quality enhancement, habitat, fish nursery, shoreline stabilization and recreational opportunities.
It’s been excavated, dumped in and invaded by exotics. Commendably, the U. S National Park Service is moving to restore damaged areas.
The Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve is “the nearest thing to primeval wilderness in the immediate vicinity of the city,” wrote naturalist Louis Halle in 1947. Newcomers’ lives can be enriched by the few remaining natural areas like Dyke Marsh that have not fallen prey to the bulldozer and asphalt spreader. Visit www.fodm.org to learn more.