Parks Launch IMA (Invasive Management Area) Program

(Conservation Currents, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Winter 2007)

The Fairfax County Park Authority is getting serious about weeds! Last spring, in response to citizens’ complaints about the decreased beauty and deteriorating ecological value of their parks caused by invading weeds, and spurred by development of the park’s first ever Natural Resource Management Plan in January 2004, FCPA began recruiting and training volunteers to take on six of the most aggressive, unwanted plants in Fairfax County’s parklands.

The six plants, kudzu vine (Pueraria montana var. lobata), Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), winged burning bush (Euonymus alata), English ivy (Hedera helix), mile-a-minute (Polygonum perfoliatum), and Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), are all weeds that reproduce readily and spread rapidly, often smothering other vegetation. Mile-a-minute, for example, can grow up to a half a foot per day!

All six plants also are included on the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation’s list of invasive alien plants, a list of weeds that have spread or been introduced to Virginia, and which are threatening to overwhelm the state’s natural areas. Additionally, all six are relatively easy to identify and can be removed without herbicides, by hand pulling or by using simple tools.

Scouts pull english ivy at Rutherford Park
Scouts remove English ivy at Rutherford Park in Fairfax.
Rutherford Park woodland cleared of english ivy
Rutherford Park woodland after ivy removal.
A jungle of invasive plants covers Mason District Park in Annandale
Invasive weeds cover Mason District Park in Annandale.
Volunteers use tarps and mulch to smother invading weeds at Mason District Park
Volunteers smother Mason Park weeds with tarps and mulch.

The goals of the park authority’s new weed management initiative, nicknamed the IMA (or invasive management area) program, are to control these targeted weeds at specific sites and, ultimately, re-plant parkland with a variety of native plants. The park authority wants to re-create habitats that support local wildlife and maintain ecosystems that perform valuable processes that help keep our air and water clean. At the same time, the program provides volunteers with the opportunity to get outdoors, meet others, and make a difference in the park down the road or in their neighborhood.

Volunteers can participate in the IMA program as a site leader or as a one-time volunteer. Site leaders adopt an IMA location in their local park, and recruit friends, family, neighbors and groups to work with them to control the weeds prevalent at that site. Initially, group leaders guide their teams in pulling or smothering unwanted plants. Eventually, when weed populations have been controlled, re-planting of the site can take place. For volunteers who would like to help when they can, removal and planting events are posted on the IMA on-line calendar.

In 2006, more than 700 volunteers participated in the IMA program at 21 park sites throughout the county. Re-planting events were held at six of the IMA locations. Several sites still have additional weeding to be done. The remainder will be monitored for weed regeneration this spring, and planted if weeds have been adequately controlled.

Kathy Frederick, the IMA volunteer coordinator, attributes the success of the IMA program to the dedication of its volunteers. Most of the 21 site leaders who participated in the program in 2006 plan to continue their volunteer efforts during the 2007 season. And, although IMA’s official work period ended in October, several are continuing to work at their local park throughout the winter.

In 2006, funding for IMA came from monies set aside by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to support its environmental agenda. An additional $50,000 in funding through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grants program will enable the park authority to keep IMA going this year.

For spring 2007, Frederick is hoping to recruit 10-20 additional site leaders for the IMA program and is considering expanding the list of target weeds to 10 total species. “We want neighbors to care about their parks and to take a vested interest in them,” Frederick says. “We also want to improve our ability to manage our parklands and protect the natural resources the public values. The IMA program is helping us do that.”

To become an IMA program volunteer, contact Kathy Frederick by email or call her at 703-324-8681, TTY 711.

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