Means Being A Good Park Neighbor
The phone rings often in the busy Resource Management Division and Park Operations offices of the Park Authority. On some days, it seems like one call after another involves encroachment.
"No, Mr. Breen, you can't keep your children's swing set on park land. You'll have to move it out of there."
That's encroachment - placing personal property on park land.
"I see. Your neighbors are dumping their grass clippings on park land. Thank you. We'll check into it."
That's encroachment - dumping your own yard debris on park land.
"Yes, ma'am. I understand it looks like scrubby underbrush. But it's actually a habitat for both plants and smaller animals, so destroying it to make it look like your yard cannot and should not be done."
And that's encroachment - destroying park land to expand your yard area.
It is common for homeowners to extend their backyards into parks by clearing native vegetation and creating additional lawn area. Other homeowners dump grass clippings or yard debris, sometimes thinking such composting helps the natural environment.
In truth, encroachments cause a big costly mess. Clearing, mowing, and dumping debris promotes the spread of invasive plants and harms native plants with an excess of chemicals. Piles of yard waste attract rodents and snakes. Removing trees and vegetation reduces the tree cover needed to mitigate air pollution. Last but not least, using park land as though it is personal property robs the public of its use.
Some encroachments may seem trivial, but in the worst cases, encroachments can destroy wetlands, trees, native vegetation, and wildlife. Since virtually all Fairfax County parks suffer from encroachments to some degree, the collective impact is enormous. Besides the environmental damage, it's expensive. The Park Authority spends thousands of dollars every year cleaning up encroachments.
Here are some guidelines for preventing encroachment:
- If you don't own the land, then don't put anything on it. It's that simple. If you see a neighbor encroaching on park land, consider talking to them about it (or giving them this article), or call the Park Authority at 703-324-8594.
- Don't mow past your property line. High grass and other vegetation buffer streams and provide animal habitats. A buffer slows down the flow of stormwater runoff which prevents erosion. A buffer also traps many pollutants which otherwise end up in the stream.
- If poison ivy is growing on the park side of your property line, please leave it alone. Poison ivy, a native plant, is a wonderful food supply for birds and other wildlife.
- Don't dump grass clippings and other yard debris on parkland. Phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium-found in fertilizer, sewage, detergents, and animal wastes-are not harmful to the environment in low doses. However, when these excess nutrients are washed into a stream, they can cause an overgrowth of algae, which depletes oxygen in the water and affects the health of other aquatic plants and animals.
If you have one of Fairfax County's parks for a neighbor, then be a good neighbor back. Treat your park neighbor like the treasure it is, so it will be sustainable for generations.