Local Park Recognized by National Group as Community Forest

Local Park Recognized by National Group as Community Forest

In April and May Monticello Park in Alexandria is a stopover for migrating warblers, and the park fills with birders— binoculars pointed upward to the tree canopy. In the summer neighborhood children splash in the small stream running through the park, and all year long recreational dog walkers take their pets along the trail circling the woods. Neighbors view this park as their own and help maintain it. The park has served as an outdoor classroom for Alexandria Country Day School nearby.

But this small urban park is also packed with a wide diversity of wildlife and vegetation with its history dating back to when Piscataway peoples established villages and a sophisticated agriculture system in the 16th century. The north-facing slopes on the east side of the stream are vegetated with old-age chestnut and northern oaks. The west side of the stream is populated with tulip trees, white and northern red oaks and a number of other native hardwoods. 

On Wednesday, June 9 the park was recognized by the Old-Growth Forest Network as a Community Forest.  Rod Simmons, City of Alexandria Natural Resource Manager said, Monticello Park serves as a refugium for many species that are increasingly rare in the D.C. area and is by far the most diverse  forest community remaining in eastern Alexandria. “There is precious little left, and it is a miracle this is still here.”

Simmons explains the designation of this park will not cause changes in stewardship or use of the park, just a pledge to properly manage the park according to sound science and best practices in perpetuity.

Brian Kane, Mid-Atlantic regional manager for the Old-Growth Forest Network, presented a plaque to Simmons recognizing Monticello Park as a Community Forest. He says this is the 40th Community Forest in the mid-Atlantic region with 165 so far in 23 states in the United States.  He says typically a Community Forest is 100-500 acres but this 7-acre urban forest is different. “It is rare to have one in an urban area.”  Kane says the mission of the OGFN is to connect people with nature by creating a national network of protected, mature, publicly accessible, native forests.

Kane says a Community Forest is typically nominated by a volunteer.  He explains it could be an avid hiker or fisherman who wants to make others aware of the old growth forest.  In this case the nomination was made by Tate Commission, a freshman at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes School. Kane says this is the youngest volunteer he’s ever had and the hardest working. 

Commission says he started the nomination process back in February and worked on filling out the forms, taking the pictures and doing the research with daily back and forth emails and a good part of each Sunday devoted to creating the portfolio.  

Kane says, “Tate’s nomination was one of the most complete and detailed that we have ever received in the mid-Atlantic.” Commission explains it was important to him to save the park for perpetuity. “I felt like it is a human responsibility to not exploit it in the future. Everyone thinks nature is their own, and it should be there forever protected.

“It is important that anyone can go. It’s for the community. It’s a really important place.”  Also he says, “I’m happy this has been success. Commission says this is just the beginning for him. He plans to go into some kind of science and to keep this going. “On a larger scale, this could be part of climate change which I’m interested in. Nature is a cool thing; no one owns it. It’s crazy. This has been around longer than humans.”