Climbing vines a problem? Shrubs with thorns keeping you from
exploring the woods? Many invasive plants are preventing us from
enjoying our forests and are degrading our natural ecosystems.
Want to help with parkland restoration or use cool tools? Students
or scouts, do you need to earn some community service hours?
IMA is the program for you! Check out our website, then call or
email us to get involved and help remove non-native invasive species
and plant native species.
What is IMA?
The Invasive Management Area (IMA) Volunteer Program is a
community-based project designed to reduce invasive plants on our
parklands. This unique, volunteer-led program gives residents an
opportunity to connect with people while taking care of the natural
resources around us. IMA enables community members to help protect
the plants and wildlife of Fairfax County's forests while spending
time outdoors, meeting new people and restoring natural habitats.
IMA is more than just pulling weeds. Key components of this program
are habitat restoration and a long-term commitment to the park.
Invasive plant species are difficult to remove and control, but with
the help of IMA volunteers, undesirable non-native, invasive plants
are removed manually and native plants returned to the habitat. The
job of volunteers doesn’t end once the invasive plants are removed,
often it is necessary to plant native species. Native plantings take
place in the spring and fall.
project began in 2006 with just 20 sites. Since then, over 35 acres
have come under IMA management and there are 40 active IMA sites.
Many more acres have been treated and restored by contractors and
staff. The goals of IMA are:
Focus community support and momentum to do something about non-
native, invasive plants
Garner more community involvement and support
Educate the public about the effects of non-native, invasive
Participate in outreach opportunities regarding non-native,
Develop healthy habitats such as meadows and forests that are
free of invasive plant species
Currently, funding is provided by the Fairfax County Board of
Supervisors in support of the Environmental Agenda. Grants were
provided by REI in 2012, 2013 and 2014. Additional funding
was provided by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation's
Chesapeake Bay Small Watershed Grant Program in 2007 and a donation
from the Biz World students of Westlawn Elementary School in 2008.
What are Invasive Plants?
Invasive species are, generally, non-native species that cause
ecological or economic harm. They share certain
characteristics, such as being able to mature quickly, generate
many offspring and can tolerate a wide range of habitats. For
example, Japanese stilt grass will produce seed in as little as 1%
Because of the characteristics that allow a species to
successfully establish in new territory, invasive species make
terrible neighbors. They out-compete native species for the same
resources, eventually reducing the populations of native species
(and in some cases even removing species from a community
altogether). Some invasive species have more complicated effects
which have ramifications higher up the food chain, resulting in
fewer native birds and wildlife. The third main effect of invasive
species is that they have the ability to alter natural functions of
communities and ecosystems by changing the soil conditions.
Species that IMA Volunteers may work on:
Although the prevalence of invasive, non-native plants throughout
parkland is of concern, habitat recovery following an invasion is
still a relatively new concept. There are over 200 different species
of invasive plants found in Fairfax County. Below are species that
many of the IMA volunteer sites focus on, as they respond well to
Garlic mustard has been linked to poor regeneration of our native
oak-hickory forests, where it can change the soil chemistry such that
it discourages native species from growing near it.
English Ivy threatens the health trees by weakening the bark and
eventually growing over the top of the tree which cuts it off from
sunlight. Eventually Enlgish ivy will kill trees it is growing on if
Stiltgrass is the dominant plant in the understory many forests and
forms a carpet that does not allow any native species through. Seeds
can last in the soil for up to 7 years.
Winged Euonymus or Burning Bush can escape cultivation and grow in
the natural areas.
Mile-a-Minute grows very fast forming a dense carpet and can grow
over native species.
Barberry threatens the forest by altering soil pH and nutrients. Bush
honeysuckle produces copious amounts of â€œjunk foodâ€? berries that
birds eat and disperse into our pristine forests spreading this
highly invasive shrub.
Japanese honeysuckle is a non-native vine that strangles trees and
other native vegetation. Donâ€™t let itâ€™s sweet smelling flowers
fool you, this plant is a real threat!
Pachysandra creates a monoculture; displacing and out competing
touted for its benefits to birds, Autumn olive, has now out-competed
much of the other vegetation in some stream valleys and meadows
Wintercreeper creeps along forest floors and up trees where it will
mature and fruit, damaging the tree and eventually killing it.
Park Authority Hosts Annual Spring Focus on Invasives
The Park Authority's national award-winning Invasive Management
Area (IMA) will hold its annual Take Back the Forest promotion
again this spring. IMA and its multiple volunteers are dedicated to
battling non-native invasive plants in Fairfax County parks and
replacing them with native flora.
The hugely successful stewardship effort has drawn 13,441
volunteers to parks through 2015. They have donated 43,442 hours to
remove 8,706 large bags of invasive plants from 68 park sites. REI,
Inc. has donated $55,000 in grants through the Fairfax County Park
Foundation over the past four years to support IMA and the Take
Back the Forest initiative.
Take Back the Forest emphasizes volunteering in the spring when
invasive species are readily attacked without having to fight
through summer forest growth. It annually coincides with national
volunteer days such as Earth Day, National Volunteer Week, Potomac
River Watershed Cleanup Day, and Arbor Day. County residents who
volunteer for IMA during the April 15 to May 15
promotion receive a free T-shirt courtesy of REI.
Take Back the Forest will run from April 15 to May
15 this year. More information about volunteer
opportunities during that time span and becoming an IMA volunteer
is on the Park Authority’s website at Invasive Management Area -
Volunteer Program. Information also is available by emailing IMA
Coordinator Leslie Gerhard
or by calling her at 703-324-8681.
calendar is full of opportunities to volunteer. We welcome
youth, adults, scouts and groups. If you have a group that would
like to volunteer but do not see a date that works for you please
contact the IMA coordinator who would be happy to assist placing
The minimum age to volunteer is 11, although there are occasional
opportunities where younger children can participate. Please
contact the IMA Coordinator to discuss, Volunteers 13 and younger
must be accompanied by an adult.
Students that need community service hours- please bring your form
to be signed at the end of the workday.
To sign up, contact the IMA Coordinator Leslie Gerhard
IMA workday sign-ups must be received by Noon the day prior for
weekday workdays, and by noon on Friday for weekend workdays.
Volunteer during Take Back the Forest and make a difference you
Check out our calendar
to see what sites are convenient or are hosting workdays when you
us by email, or call 703-324-8681 for workday details
(time, place, directions…)
Wear sturdy shoes, gloves, long pants and long sleeves, and
bring some water. Tools are provided.
Enjoy the company of others who care about the environment while
learning about our local forests.
Backyard Plants Brochure
Forest Plants Brochure
We thank our many partners for their continued support
Fairfax Master Naturalists
Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District
Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental
Virginia Native Plant Society, Potowmack Chapter
Weed Warriors, The Nature Conservancy