The Park Authority has a program to restore natural areas on park lands called Helping Our Land Heal. Helping Our Land Heal rebuilds, repairs and maintains quality natural areas.
Work is conducted on several Helping Our Land Heal projects each year. The first of those was a pilot study completed in 2015 at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly. The Natural Resources Branch of the Park Authority's Resource Management Division oversees these projects.
Elklick Preserve Forest Restoration
Elklick Preserve is a 1,400-acre park in Centreville, VA. The park contains a mosaic of young Virginia pine forest, mature oak-hickory forest, and grassland. Elklick Preserve is home to one of Virginia’s highest-quality examples of a Northern Hardpan Basic Oak-Hickory Forest, a rare forest type that occurs only on fertile, shrink-swell clay soils. The forest restoration project began in 2017 and aims to restore 23 acres of degraded forest to high-quality Northern Hardpan Basic Oak-Hickory Forest. Restoration methods include thinning Virginia pine, removing invasive plants, planting native oak and hickory seedlings, and deer exclusion fencing.
Elklick Preserve Grassland Restoration
Elklick Preserve’s 1400 acres contain a 60 acre grassland, or meadow, that is currently being restored with the goal of providing breeding habitat for declining grassland bird species such as eastern meadowlarks and grasshopper sparrows. These birds carefully choose their nesting habitat and restoration of the grassland will allow the Park Authority to manage it for their requirements. The restoration is needed because trees and non-native invasive plants have invaded the meadows and made them inhospitable to grassland birds. In addition, the grassland restoration aims to strengthen local populations of rare plants that are not secure because of human uses of their habitat such as utility line repairs and improvements. Both of these goals require the intensive control of non-native invasive plant species using a variety of tools, including prescribed burns and planting of native grasses and forbs where thickets of young trees and shrubs have been removed. This project began in 2018.
Fitzhugh Ecological Restoration
Fitzhugh Park is 10-acre forested park within a heavily urbanized area in Annandale, VA. Most of the park is forested, dominated by species typical of mixed-mesic forests such as tulip poplar, American beech, white oak, and red oak. Fitzhugh also contains a small floodplain forest community and a small meadow. Forest fragmentation, urban stormwater runoff, deer overabundance, invasive species and illegal trash dumping have degraded several acres of the park's forest. The restoration project begun in 2017 aims to eliminate invasive species, restore forest understory structure and increase native biodiversity. In addition to the forest restoration, a half-acre thicket of invasive vines is being restored to a native grass and wildflower meadow. Restoration methods include removal and control of invasive plants, planting and seeding native plants, deer exclusion and trash removal.
Old Colchester Park and Preserve Restoration
Old Colchester Park and Preserve is a 140-acre park near the mouth of the Occoquan River in Lorton, VA. The park is primarily forested with a patchwork of upland forest, floodplain forest, depression swamps, and seepage swamps. A Natural Resources Management Plan (NRMP) was completed for Old Colchester in 2011, and implementation of management recommendations began in 2012. Management goals include restoration of degraded upland forest and floodplain forest, protection of high-quality forested wetlands, and restoration of hydrology in degraded wetlands. Restoration methods include removing invasive species, planting native trees, seeding native grasses and wildflowers, prescribed fire, and minor earthmoving to restore hydrology.
Riverbend Park Meadow Restoration
Riverbend Park is a 400-acre park on the Potomac River in Great Falls, VA. Riverbend contains mature upland forest, high-quality floodplain forest, and several meadows that are popular with birdwatchers. The restoration project aims to remove invasive plants, increase native plant diversity, and increase diversity of pollinator floral resources on four acres of meadow. Restoration methods include invasive species removal, planting native shrubs, and seeding native grassland plants using a no-till seed drill. This project began in 2018.
Laurel Hill Forest Restoration
Laurel Hill Park is a 1,200-acre park complex in a medium-density residential area in Lorton, VA. Forested areas are at the northern part of the park, while the southern part is primarily recently abandoned agricultural land, much of which was part of the Lorton Prison system before the Park Authority acquired the land. The majority of the park is characterized by undeveloped open space, in most cases overgrown by non-native invasive plants. A forest restoration project began in 2019 at a site on abandoned agricultural land that was overgrown by kudzu, mugwort, and other invasive species. It is near Lorton Road and the Fairfax Cross County Trail. The goal of the restoration is to eliminate invasive species from the site and establish a healthy Piedmont acidic oak-hickory forest. The focus of the restoration work is on invasive plant control and removal, deer exclusion, and increasing biodiversity by planting and seeding native plant species.
Ellanor C. Lawrence Forest Restoration
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is a 650-acre, resource-based park in Chantilly, VA. The park is divided in two parts by Route 28. The west side of the park is developed as a recreational area with forest remnants surrounding athletic fields. The core of the park, east of Route 28, is mainly forested with a mosaic of relatively young forests. Forest fragmentation, a high deer population, and non-native invasive species infestations have degraded many acres of forest in the park. The goal of the forest restoration is to create Acidic Oak Hickory and related forest types where the existing unhealthy forest will lead to further degradation and forest loss. Planned restoration activities include deer exclusion, silvicultural treatments, control of invasive species, and increasing native plant biodiversity by planting and seeding. This project began in 2019.
White Gardens Meadow Restoration
White Gardens is a 13.6-acre park in Falls Church. Previous owners cultivated an expansive garden landscape throughout the property under the shade of a mature tree canopy. A three-acre open field was retained and mowed as a large lawn. A meadow restoration project began in 2015 to restore this field to a diverse native plant grassland community. Upon its completion in 2018, the meadow contained numerous, colorful, native grass and wildflower species supporting native pollinator and bird species. In 2019, the project won an award for Best New Environmental Sustainability from the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society (https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/index.php/park-news/2019/z-ir136)
Poplar Ford Park Meadow Restoration
Poplar Ford Park is a 439-acre park in Centreville, VA. Poplar Ford contains upland forest, floodplain forest and large meadows. The park is one of the few in Fairfax County with meadows extensive enough to support grassland birds. The restoration project aims to restore 44 acres of degraded meadow to high-quality native grassland and to enhance 25 acres of existing shrubland and wet meadow habitat. Increasing habitat size and quality for native grassland birds is a major project goal. Restoration methods include removing invasive species, removing eastern red cedar thickets, prescribed fire, soil nutrient restoration, and seeding native grassland plants with a no-till seed drill. This project began in 2015, and FCPA's Natural Resources Branch earned a 2019 FCPA Trailblazers Award for Best Project.
Ellanor C. Lawrence Pilot Forest Management Project
From 2012-2015, ecological restoration and natural resource management work was conducted at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park as a pilot study. The project goals were
Field investigations informed the development and implementation of two written resource management plans. More than 20 hands-on restoration practices were implemented at the park. Among the methods used were nine types of forestry treatments, three strategies of non-native invasive plant control, two methods of deer management, four soil treatments, and two methods of natural disturbance regime re-introduction.
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Fairfax, VA 22035