Remembering the CCC | Governor Kaine's land conservation goals | Conservation Connection | Green grass blues? | First Landing's Old New World | Building a natural legacy: Virginia State Parks | Invasive Species Council unveils website | Virginia introduces Master Naturalist Program | DCR's Natural Heritage program wins international award | Mark your calendar
More than 70 years ago, Samuel Solloway served with the Civilian Conservation Corps near Clifton Forge, Va., in what is now Douthat State Park. One of Virginia’s best loved state parks, Douthat bears the rugged stamp of the CCC: winding footpaths, cabins and picnic shelters made of rough-hewn logs, and a stone spillway that holds Lake Douthat nestled below wooded peaks.
Before joining the corps, Solloway, who grew up in Maryland, had never seen the Allegheny Mountains. His CCC company included young men from as far away as Chicago and Washington state. When asked why he left home to join the corps, Solloway answers with one word: “Poverty.”
“During the Depression years,” he explains in a gravelly drawl, “you were looking for something to get a little money to buy food. There was no money; nobody had any.”
The CCC offered hope to single men, 18 to 25, as well as their parents and siblings. “We got $30 a month: $25 of that went home to take care of the family, and we got $5 a month,” Solloway recalls. “We also got three hots and cot,” he adds.
For families struggling to make ends meet during the Depression, the CCC stipend was a Godsend. With nearly one-quarter of working age Americans unemployed, young men gladly undertook the hard labor demanded by the corps.
When he arrived at Clifton Forge, Solloway was put to work quarrying stone. “I was working outside, using the jackhammer and digging rocks,” he recalls. “See that mark on that finger there,” he says, extending his hand forward to show a pale scar. “Building the spillway there at Clifton Forge, two rocks busted my finger open.”
Solloway later requested a transfer from the company commander to begin working in the kitchen. Dishing up meals for fellow corps members, he received training that served him well: Like many young men in the CCC, Solloway went on to join the army, where he spent his 31-year career in mess halls and canteens. “World War II soldiers were mostly CCC boys anyway,” he explains.
Life in the corps instilled a discipline that prepared young men for life in the barracks. Corps members awoke each morning to reveille, donned green fatigues and worked until a bugler played retreat in the evening.
Despite public sentiment for America’s “greatest generation,” some historians and CCC vets feel the corps’ impact is overlooked. To foster public appreciation, Virginia’s General Assembly this year declared an annual CCC Member Appreciation Day on March 31.
It was on March 31, 1933, that President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the New Deal legislation that created the corps. The nation’s first CCC camp, Camp Roosevelt, opened that April in Shenandoah County. Three years later, on June 15, 1936, Virginia’s state park system opened to the public.
The CCC helped develop each of Virginia’s first six parks—Douthat, Westmoreland, Hungry Mother, Fairy Stone, Staunton River and First Landing, which was then Seashore State Park—as well as the recreation areas that later became Pocahontas, Holliday Lake, Bear Creek Lake and Twin Lakes state parks. Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway were likewise developed by the CCC. A sister program, the Works Progress Administration was also active in Virginia’s parks and forests.
In all, more than 100,000 young men from Virginia served in the CCC between 1933 and 1942—and more than 2 million served nationwide. Not only did they build park infrastructure, such as dams, cabins and trails: they also restored the natural landscape, planting millions of trees. The corps restored forests ravaged by timber barons and returned failed farms to woodlands, earning the CCC its nickname: the Tree Army.
Helen Hines’ late husband Ralph served with the corps at Pocahontas State Park. “He rode the train up from Newport News, and when he got here in the middle of the night there was nothing but cornfields,” she says. Chuckling, she lets on that Ralph “slipped into” the corps one year early at age 17.
The couple eventually retired near the park he helped build. “He was very fond of it. He did a lot of work in this park,” Helen recalls over a potluck lunch in the Pocahontas Heritage Center. She has gathered to reminisce with fellow CCC vets and spouses, members of CCC Alumni Chapter 124.
The group has met regularly for more than 25 years. The alumni were instrumental in the creation of the park’s CCC Museum, and books documenting many of their stories still enthrall museum visitors. The chapter also compiled a cookbook featuring similar anecdotes that is sold at the park to benefit the museum.
Another regular at the alumni group’s gatherings, Mildred Dunbar met her late husband in 1937, while he was serving in the corps. “My husband and I got married while he was in the camp,” she recalls with a warm smile. “He went to the head man and he said, ‘I got married over the weekend.’ And he told him, ‘You just keep quiet and don’t say anything about it, and we’ll keep you on here until you can get a job on the outside.’”
Although the CCC was officially open only to single men, corps life did not demand a monkish celibacy. In fact, dances and social events were the norm. At Douthat, “They sent a bus to town to bring the girls out for the dance once a month,” says Solloway. “I remember one particular Christmas … They had a little dance at Christmas time, and we were all decorating for it. I fell off the ladder and broke three ribs and wound up in the dispensary for Christmas … But in the middle of the dancing party, they all came to dispensary where I was and gave me Christmas presents.”
The camaraderie that developed within the CCC outlived the corps itself, which was disbanded in 1942 shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Time, however, has taken its inevitable toll. CCC Alumni Chapter 124, lost four members last year. This spring, the remaining CCC vets and spouses elected to terminate their monthly meeting in favor of less-frequent social gatherings.
For the dwindling number of Virginians who personally recall the CCC—the hard work it required of them and the hope it provided their families—the recognition sparked by this year’s 70th anniversary of Virginia State Parks is a fitting tribute.
I went first to Fort Monroe to enlist … By train, I was sent to Chester, and by truck I was sent to Pocahontas Park. It was then called ‘Swift Creek Recreation Development Project.’
When I arrived at camp, it was foggy and rainy. I didn’t know where I was; I had never heard of Beach, Virginia. The next morning I was issued my clothes—one size fits all. They asked me what my talent was. I told them I had done painting and drafting in school … they put me in drafting.
I stayed at Pocahontas for three months. Then, I was sent to Fairy Stone State Park. There, I did drafting, also dynamiting and blasting of rocks. We also dug a lake, built cabins and roadways, and fought fires. On the weekends, a bus took us in to Bassett. Some went to the movies for 15 cents … We played basketball and baseball—the good old days.
I enjoyed working for the corps as a young man. It was a good life. Like most everybody, we were unemployed … After I left the CCC, I attended the University of Virginia and later went to Old Dominion University, where I became a mechanical engineer.”
- Ralph Hines, quoted in a book of CCC memories at the Pocahontas State Park CCC Museum.
This past April, only a few months into his administration, Gov. Tim Kaine announced an ambitious goal to protect 400,000 acres of open space by 2010. Speaking at the 17th annual Environment Virginia conference at Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Kaine said that his administration would more than double the amount of land in conservation easements, as well as invest in new public parks, forests and preserves.
“Since 1968, the Virginia Outdoors Foundation has preserved 330,000 acres of land … The goal of my administration is to preserve an additional 400,000 acres throughout Virginia by the end of the decade,” Kaine declared.
The Virginia Outdoors Foundation is the commonwealth’s leading holder of conservation easements, the legal documents that are the cornerstone of the governor’s initiative. When a landowner signs a conservation easement, he or she cedes specified development rights in perpetuity. VOF co-holds easements with many of the 30-plus land trusts active in Virginia, as well as with local governments and soil and water conservation districts.
Kaine also cited the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation, which gives matching grants to nonprofit organizations and local governments for the preservation of farmland, natural areas and historic sites. VLCF grants fund both easements and outright acquisitions. DCR serves as the lead staff agency to the VLCF board.
Kaine said, “I pledge to provide more funding for the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation and local ‘purchase of development rights’ programs than any governor before me. I believe that investment can be made by making open space preservation a priority in Virginia’s General Fund.”
The state’s 2006-2007 budget allocates $2.5 million for VLCF grants each year. The foundation’s board met in June and tentatively anticipates announcing a new grant round in August.
If the governor’s preservation goal is to be realized, it would amount to the boldest land conservation program since the creation of Virginia State Parks 70 years ago—an anniversary that Kaine himself commemorated over Memorial Day weekend at Douthat State Park and again at Pocahontas State Park in June.
“Seventy years ago, Virginia’s leaders showed extraordinary vision in becoming the first state to open a state park system in a single day. Until then, there was precious little public land for hiking, swimming and enjoying the outdoors. Today, no one in Virginia is more than an hour from a Virginia State Park,” said DCR Director Joseph Maroon.
“Seventy years from now, the governor’s bold initiative to set aside more natural areas, working landscapes, historic sites and open space will be hailed as an equally significant step towards protecting the Chesapeake Bay and preserving the best of Virginia’s lands,” Maroon continued. “The next phase of land conservation requires that we empower landowners. DCR will do its part to educate and assist those who are motivated by the same commitment to Virginia’s future that inspired our predecessors.”
Looking back, moving ahead
Eighty years ago, conservation as we know it was in its infancy. Created in 1926 to oversee forestry, geology and waterpower, the State Commission on Conservation and Development took charge of Virginia’s newly created state park system in 1936. Instantly beloved, the park system grew during the post-war years, first with the addition of once-federal recreation areas then through the construction of new parks.
In 1958, the commission became the Department of Conservation and Development, the predecessor of our DCR. Two years later, Virginia became the first state in the nation to establish natural areas in addition to state parks. The department published the first Virginia Outdoors Plan in 1966. Then as now, the comprehensive plan for outdoor recreation and open space preservation offered guidance for all levels of government.
A decade later, the department implemented Virginia’s Litter Control Act, helping citizens recognize that individual choices really do make a difference for our environment. In that sense, the effort to curb littering was a precursor to our current work to reduce nonpoint source pollution.
It was in 1983 that Virginia joined with the EPA and neighboring states in the Chesapeake Bay Agreement, a landmark watershed partnership. Virginia’s own 1988 Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act further challenged and empowered local governments to protect their Bay tributaries.
Actions were taken during the 1980s to focus the agency’s mission on natural resources conservation. Though outdoor recreation and tourism remain key facets of our work, the former division of economic development was elevated to a new agency in 1984. Mineral resources and forestry followed suit, while the dam safety program joined our department in 1986. Finally, historic resources protection, once a mainstay of the department’s work, was assigned to a distinct agency in 1989.
Though the name Department of Conservation and Recreation has remained constant for nearly two decades, our programs have grown and changed. We have accepted new responsibilities in Stormwater Management and Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance.
Twice in recent memory—in 1992 and 2002—Virginia citizens voted to invest in the outdoors by approving bond initiatives to expand and upgrade our state parks and natural areas. Virginia state parks set a visitation record of more than seven million in 2001, the same year the system was recognized as the best-managed in America.
Even as we unveil new parks, cabins and campgrounds, Virginians agree that more open space should be preserved. Last year, the DCRadministered Virginia Land Conservation Foundation awarded a record $12 million in matching grants. The foundation is poised to become the cornerstone of Gov. Kaine’s newly announced land conservation initiative.
Through all the name changes and reorganizations, a few things have remained constant over the past 80 years. First, the agency’s commitment to our natural, cultural and outdoor recreation resources has not wavered. Second, the department has thrived because of committed, hardworking public servants. Thousands of men and women have served the Commonwealth well as full-time, part-time and seasonal employees at DCR. I am proud to be counted among them as we look back and move ahead.
Think fertilizer runoff is a farmer’s problem? Think again. A full 10 percent of nitrogen pollution in the Chesapeake Bay comes from lawn and garden fertilizer, and more than 20 percent of the phosphorus in the Bay comes from non-agriculture fertilizers. And those numbers—the most recent available—come from a 2003 study by the Chesapeake Bay Program, so it doesn’t reflect the region’s most recent development boom.
Last year, algae hopped up on fertilizer sucked the life out of 10 percent of the Chesapeake Bay. The oxygen-free dead zone was the fourth largest on record. While such dead zones peak in July or August, the culprit algal blooms begin with spring runoff. Rainfall and melting snow wash nitrogen—algae’s favorite food—into streams and rivers.
When the mercury starts to rise, homeowners understandably begin thinking about a summer lawn or garden. Many attempt to jump-start their yard with a dose of fertilizer, much of which simply washes into the nearest sewer drain with the next rain shower—or, worse yet, when the homeowner turns the sprinklers on full blast.
Adria Bordas is a Virginia Cooperative Extension agent in Fairfax County, where she works with local chapter of Virginia Master Gardeners and conducts horticultural clinics for homeowners. Bordas hears from many residents misled by fertilizer commercials airing on TV in the spring. “Almost every call I get, people think it’s time to put the fertilizer on in the spring,” she says.
“I encourage them to fertilize in the fall and give them the reasons why: Not only is it better for the plants themselves, but it’s good for the environment. By the end of the phone call, they understand that fall is really the best time for fertilization, with very little in the spring if at all.”
Outreach is Bordas’ biggest challenge. Fairfax is home to one in seven Virginians, and a third of those residents speak a language other than English in the home. She estimates that her office, with the aid of 300 volunteer master gardeners, contacts 33,000 of the county’s million residents each year. The most receptive take part in an eco-savvy garden program, which certifies yards as gold, silver or bronze based on the use of fertilizer, water and native plants.
The Fairfax Extension office also conducts clinics for landscape professionals. “There is a large number of people who don’t even touch their lawn,” explains Bordas. “They have a lawn care company and they don’t even know what the company is putting on their lawn.” Many lawn care professionals are receptive to homeowner requests for environmentally friendly services. In fact, the companies have an economic incentive not to waste fertilizer.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always a motive for homeowners, according to Bordas. “A lot of people really don’t have that much lawn in Fairfax County … maybe 200 square feet, but they still go out and buy the huge bag of fertilizer to dump on their lawn every year. So, it’s those folks we’ve got to get in touch with and help do it at least at the right time of year.”
Following are some tips to help Virginia homeowners keep nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients in the yard, where they do the most good.
Ricky Clagett has worked a variety of construction jobs for Hampton Roads contractor LTD Enterprises—remodeling kitchens, expanding homes—but nothing like this. On a steamy spring day at First Landing State Park, he is putting the finishing touches on an authentic Algonquian Indian house, fastening sweet gum poles together with twine to create a bed frame. “This is totally just going back to nature,” says Clagett.
“It’s been pretty fun, better than the other stuff,” he quickly adds. “It’s just pretty hard work because you’ve got to peel all these trees by hand. And we’re tying every single connecting point, so it’s pretty tedious.”
The traditional Algonquian lodge, or yeehawkawn, is now one of two at this Virginia Beach park, with others planned in the months ahead. Part of an interpretive project dubbed The Old New World, the yeehawkawns will feature prominently in a series of special events scheduled through 2007, including a reenactment of the arrival of English settlers on April 26, 2007, the 400th anniversary of the event.
“The audience will watch the reenactment, then go to the other side of the park for Indian interpretive programs,” explains Staci Martin, a district program specialist with Virginia State Parks based at First Landing. “People from the Nansemond Indian Tribe will be out explaining about making rope, how they built their houses, how they would stretch hides and store food.”
Curious Virginians don’t have to wait until next year. The yeehawkawns open to the public this July, with a companion brochure and signage for a self-guided tour. “People are going to be allowed to go into them for an up-close look,” says Martin. “We’re also going to develop a special Indian program for school groups,” she adds.
Before undertaking this novel project, LTD owner Lee Lockamy, himself a member of Virginia’s Nansemond Tribe, studied archeological excavations and consulted historians. “We’re doing authentic reproductions from archeology,” he explains. “These are based on sites right around the corner from the Great Neck site [in Virginia Beach], so these are very authentic.”
“This is like a hunters’ camp, where they would stretch out deer hides and tan them on poles, hang the meats and things from the rafters,” says Lockamy. “Probably six to eight guys would share this.”
“They would probably have 10 to 12—a family or maybe two families—living down there in the big one,” he says of the finished yeehawkawn a short walk away. “The villages were dispersed. It wouldn’t be too far to actually have that hut there and then have trails over here where they would maybe do some cleaning of meats or flint knapping—making tools—in this setup. They would have fields of plants and herbs in between.”
The Algonquians who once lived throughout Virginia’s Coastal Plain built yeehawkawns from young hardwoods, oftentimes incorporating standing trees into a structure’s frame. They buried poles like fence posts, bent and lashed them together at the top. Horizontal poles were added, and mats of woven reeds layered atop the frame.
“We tried to build them how a normal Indian would, using methods I think the Indians would have used,” Lockamy explains as he drives a long wooden needle through the structure’s wall to tie down the reeds. Look closely at some joints, however, and you will see metal screws hiding beneath the twine—a modern compromise to extend the life of the structures.
Although it took three weeks to build their first yeehawkawn, on the grounds of the Virginia Aquarium, Glagett now estimates, “We could get it done in a week.” Luckily for Glaggett and Lockamy, hand-woven reed mats have been imported from the Philippines. In traditional Algonquian culture, women would spend much of the winter weaving mats from dried, flattened reeds and twisting cordgrass to create twine. Children also helped build yeehawkawns by scaling the frame and tying mats into place, up to five layers thick so as to ensure a waterproof home.
“It’s rained but hasn’t gotten anything in here, so they’re doing really good waterproof-wise,” says Glaggett. And in the event of a hurricane? “Supposedly the mats won’t make it but the framing will.”
The yeehwakawns at First Landing State Park front the Cape Henry Trail, named for the point of land where English settlers first stepped ashore in 1607. “That’s such a highly traveled trail,” says Martin. “A lot of the locals use it for working out and biking, so it serves to remind them that the park is also an educational site.”
Cape Henry itself is now part of the adjacent Fort Story Military Reservation, where Lockamy and Clagett will soon build another set of recreated yeehawkawns, including an elaborate chief’s house.
Like many Virginia Indians, Lockamy is determined that the commemoration of Jamestown’s 400th anniversary help improve understanding of Virginia’s Native Americans. Historians agree that without the aid of the Algonquians, and in particular their paramount chief Powhatan, the English colonists at Jamestown would have starved.
At First Landing State Park, patrons have already expressed curiosity about the park’s newest structures. “People seem to enjoy looking in them and checking them out,” says Lockamy. “We’ve even had people ask if we’re going to rent them out for camping.”
When not overseeing day-to-day management, Virginia State Parks Director Joe Elton has been studying their history, gearing up for a summer of speechmaking and ceremony occasioned by the system’s 70th anniversary. As Elton sees it, the story behind Virginia’s state parks illuminates core principles that are just as important today as they were in 1936.
“Developing parks was not originally part of the charge of the Civilian Conservation Corps,” he begins. “Shortly after the corps got started in ’33, it is reported that Roosevelt was visiting the Rapidan Camp.”
Here Elton gives the first of several asides: It was William Carson, the first chairman of Virginia’s Conservation and Development Commission, who convinced Herbert Hoover to construct a presidential retreat, known as the Rapidan Camp, in the Blue Ridge Mountains. An avid fly-fisher, Hoover was lured by the promise of Virginia’s trout streams.
“So anyway, in ’33 Roosevelt ends up at the Rapidan Camp. He was in that presidential cottage, which is not unlike some of the rustic cottages in our park system … It was reported that Roosevelt asked Carson: ‘What do you think of my Civilian Conservation Corps?’ Carson was reported as saying he thought it was a fine bit of work the boys were doing in the forest, planting trees and dealing with erosion, but he thought there would be a more lasting legacy for the county if the president would put the boys to work building parks.”
Elton relishes his story, speaking deliberately as though savoring the words. “You’ve got to imagine the setting: It was evening, they’re in this cabin where the only source of heat would have been the fireplace. Roosevelt is probably in a wheelchair, and you hardly ever saw him without that cigarette holder. My guess is he had some sort of beverage.”
“Roosevelt thinks for a moment and says: ‘If I get you the manpower and the money, can you get the land so that you might build a model park system for the nation?’”
“Carson, who had been talking about building a state park system since the late ‘20s, said: ‘Yes, I’ll get the land, and I’ll take the camps as fast as you can give them to me.’” Three years later, on June 15, 1936, Virginia simultaneously opened its first six state parks.
“Would there have been more than 500 parks built nationwide by the CCC had Will Carson not made that comment to the president? I don’t know,” Elton muses, “but I think it demonstrates pretty extraordinary planning and leadership.”
Elton’s anecdote comes with a caveat: “I’ve told the story so many times, I’m not sure how much of it I’ve invented.” However, he makes no apologies for the lessons he draws from history.
“In the ‘30s, with the industrial revolution and cities growing the way they were, there just wasn’t any access to the rivers, the lakes. It was all privately owned land.” Rifling through a collection of period news clippings and documents from the state archives, Elton retrieves the text of Gov. George Peery’s 1936 speech dedicating the state park system.
Three days of entertainment—including a 30-piece orchestra and a water ballet— brought some 5,000 people to Hungry Mother State Park for the dedication. Peery told the crowd:
The working man is entitled to more than a bare existence, so it is the duty of government, either state or national, to bring to him some of the pleasures the world has to offer. State parks are for all the people, and not only will they afford recreation for our own people but will bring tourists from other states. A movement of this kind is the answer to those who argue that we are going backward. There is no place for communism, Nazism or fascism in the country, but there must be recreational opportunities available to the rich and poor alike. I believe these parks will contribute greatly to the national good as we go forward to the splendid destiny that awaits in the future.
Reading Perry’s remarks, it is clear that Elton too believes in the necessity of parks and in their power to create a brighter future for Virginians. “Pretty heady thinking,” he says, adding what Peery could not have known: that five years later, the disciplined young men of the CCC would be mobilized to defend democracy in the second World War.
As Elton puts it, researching the history of Virginia’s state parks has affirmed his belief in parks as “a core element of our government.” He concludes, “I would propose that it’s a necessity that we maintain the quality of life and offer these services on a variety of fronts, not just to be healthful—it’s good for the environment, it’s good for the economy.”
From its inception in 1926, Virginia’s Commission on Conservation and Development, led by unpaid Chairman William Carson, identified potential parkland across the commonwealth. Several states had established park systems since Illinois pioneered the concept in 1908. A joint meeting of the Virginia Academy of Science, the Garden Club of Virginia and the Izaak Walton League called for Virginia to follow suite in 1929, but prospects soon dimmed with the onset of the Great Depression.
Carson, who had spearheaded land acquisition for Shenandoah National Park, lept into action in 1933 when President Franklin Roosevelt offered to develop parks in Virginia through the newly established Civilian Conservation Corps. Within a matter of weeks he secured land donations for four of Virginia’s first six state parks.
First, the Douthat Lumber Company agreed to give the land that became Douthat State Park. Roanoke newspaper publisher Junius Fishburn provided 4,868 acres for Fairy Stone State Park, making it the largest of the six. A collection of citizens, chief among them the Lincoln brothers of Marion, Va., donated the land for Hungry Mother State Park.
In Norfolk, a group of citizens had been buying up land on the Chesapeake Bay for what they envisioned would be a national park, but Carson convinced them instead that it should become Seashore State Park, now First Landing State Park.
Carson then went to the General Assembly and with the support of governor-turned-senator Harry Byrd Sr., secured $50,000 to acquire land between George Washington’s birthplace and Stratford Hall for Westmoreland State Park and to buy land between the Dan and Staunton rivers for Staunton River State Park.
In April 1936, Director of Parks R. E. Burson sent a letter to Wilbur Hall, then chair of the Commission on Conservation and Development, describing the skills required of Virginia’s first six park custodians, the equivalent of today’s state park managers.
“It is obvious that the custodian must be able to courteously greet the visitor,” wrote Burson. “His personality must be attractive and impressive to a degree that will command the respect of the employees.” In addition, Burson wrote, a custodian:
“Unless these qualifications exist,” Burson concluded, “I do not feel I can recommend for your consideration the appointment of any man for the position.” Perhaps miraculously, Virginia hired a custodian for each of its six parks, in addition to rangers who worked on both a seasonal a yearly basis.
Since the emerald ash borer was identified in Fairfax County in 2003, the county has successfully averted an outbreak. Photo by David Cappaert.
Kudzu is a famous roadside nuisance in the Southeast. Photo by Jil Swearingen, ForestryImages.org.
The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries recently announced the eradication of zebra mussels from a quarry in Prince William County. Photo from USGS archives.
The telltale eggs of hemlock woolly adelgid. Photo by Michael Montgomery, ForestryImages.org.
In the wake of a two-year investigation, which culminated with the release in December a statewide management plan, the Virginia Invasive Species Council recently unveiled a new website: www.vainvasivespecies.org. The site details the threat posed by non-native species such as hemlock woolly adelgid and phragmites - a sap-sucking insect and fast-growing reed, respectively - and gives case studies that are by turns alarming and encouraging.
“Hemlock woolly adelgid showed up in the U.S. right here in Richmond on plant material that came from Asia—on an Asian Hemlock,” explains Tom Smith, director of DCR’s Natural Heritage Program. “Now, you go to Shenandoah National Park and we’re losing all the old growth hemlock trees. And this is spreading. It’s up into southern New York now. It’s a prime example of the need for better monitoring of what’s coming into the country… That’s a huge part of the invasive species game: being able to detect something quickly when it arrives and then respond to it.”
Virginia Deputy Secretary of Natural Resources Nicole Rovner agrees. “The thing we have to get better at is early detection and rapid response.” She points enthusiastically to a May announcement by the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries that zebra mussels were successfully eradicated from a quarry in Prince William County. “That’s a pretty big deal; they’ve never been eradicated in a water body before,” explains Rovner. “It took a while to put the funding together,” she cautions. “It could easily have spread, but we’re thrilled it hasn’t.”
Rovner has been involved with the Virginia Invasive Species Council from the outset. As an employee of The Nature Conservancy, she supported a proposal—first envisioned by students at the University of Richmond— to create an interagency council to address the burgeoning presence of non-native plants and animals in Virginia. In 2003, the General Assembly tasked eight agencies, including DCR, to examine the quandary.
“The threat of invasive species is an issue many agencies have to deal with,” Rovner said. “The council increased that awareness and the opportunity for coordination.” The inclusion of Virginia’s departments of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Transportation, and Health illustrates the complexity of the issue and its potential impact on Virginia’s human population.
Nationwide, nonnative species cost an estimated $137 billion annually, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Of the more than 50,000 invaders in North America, a relative handful—fewer than 100—cause a majority of those losses. The prime culprits target agriculture and forestry; among them are soybean rust, gypsy moths and leafy spurge. A few threaten industry, such as zebra mussels that can clog pipelines. Others, like Africanized honeybees and West Nile Virus, imperil human health.
The damage invasive species do to native ecosystems is more difficult to quantify, and may take years to fully manifest. The Asian imports kudzu, bamboo and tree-of-heaven line many Virginia highways, but it is their increased presence in our forests that concerns biologists. Not only do these plants consume resources formerly left to their native cousins, but in return they provide very little habitat or food for native animals. Meanwhile, imported pests, like the fungi that cause chestnut blight and sudden oak death, fell the indigenous trees that anchor our native ecology.
Rovner is skeptical when asked if public awareness of the invasive species quandary is on the rise. “I’m not sure,” she admits. “Increasing the public’s awareness is a significant challenge.” However, there are steps average citizens can take to deter the spread of invasive species in Virginia. “It may be something as simple as cleaning off your hiking boots before returning from a trip out west or especially out of the country.”
Not all invaders arrive as stowaways. Kudzu was famously introduced to help control erosion. Virginians can also help contain invasive species by carefully selecting the plants they use in landscaping. “That’s a key issue, for people to take a little time to think about what they buy and where they plant it,” Smith explains. “If I put this plant in my flower garden, am I going to spend a huge amount of time weeding it out every year, and is this going to jump over into the adjacent woodlot and take off?”
Finally, Virginians can also learn to recognize non-native species—there are nine profiled on the council’s website—and inform land managers if they spot the culprits in the wild. Visit www.vainvasivespecies.org to download Virginia’s Invasive Species Management Plan or learn more about steps you can take to halt the spread of non-native species on Virginia’s natural landscapes.
Who, or what, is a Virginia master naturalist? It’s a fair question, and one that Michelle Prysby has heard a lot lately. As coordinator of the Virginia Master Naturalist Program, which debuted this spring, she has explained the concept to volunteers and natural resource professionals across the commonwealth.
“A Virginia master naturalist is a volunteer who is providing education, outreach or service dedicated to the beneficial management of natural resources or natural areas within their community,” says Prysby. Certified master naturalists complete training courses in ecology and natural history. They also perform at least 40 hours of volunteer service annually, ranging from classroom education to field research.
More than 20 states have master naturalist programs, and Virginia’s is modeled on Texas’ “community based” example. “Volunteers will be really focusing their efforts on improving, and teaching people about, the natural areas that exist in their own communities,” Prysby explains. DCR partnered with several agencies to bring the program to Virginia, including Virginia Cooperative Extension, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Virginia Department of Forestry and the Virginia Natural History Museum. Local chapters, however, are at the heart of the program.
Virginia begins with 10 inaugural chapters scattered throughout the state, each with an advisory committee. Two of the chapters are closely affiliated with state parks—Douthat and York River—and every chapter coordinates with local parks and natural areas to identify stewardship and outreach opportunities.
“I’ve already been extremely impressed by the number of citizens who’ve really stepped up and volunteered to get these chapters started.” says Prysby. “It’s a lot of logistics,” she explains, “so it’s not the most glamorous part of the program.”
“We have had many volunteers step up and be willing to do that kind of work to bring this program to their community.” The Virginia Master Naturalist Program hosted its first training session this May at Douthat State Park. Chapter coordinators shadowed park staff on interpretive hikes and practiced field identification skills on the park’s forested hillsides. In classroom sessions, attendees made plans for local master naturalist training this fall.
Upon joining their local chapter, aspiring master naturalists complete a series of training workshops in a “core curriculum” that includes biology, geology and the writings of influential American naturalists. The next step, volunteer service, takes them into the field.
Master naturalists can opt to serve as “citizen scientists,” monitoring water or wildlife. They can also volunteer for stewardship activities such as habitat restoration or trail building. Finally, they are encouraged to share what they’ve learned with students and the public, leading guided tours or designing interpretive displays.
Holly Walker, environmental program manager for Virginia State Parks, foresees a lasting partnership between state parks and Virginia’s new crop of master naturalists. She describes a “win-win” relationship. “Parks are ideal venues for master naturalists because they have sites around the state people can meet in. So they can do the trainings at those sites, then, on top of that, have projects at the parks,” she says. “The projects can run the gamut … which is good for us.”
“I think there’s a lot of potential for state parks to make use of the volunteers,” Walker adds. “A master naturalist is a person whose expertise we’re able to use, and sort of a quick, easy way for park staff to find someone to share their knowledge of the environment with the public.”
To find the master naturalist chapter nearest you and learn more about how to get certified as a master naturalist, visit www.virginiamasternaturalist.org.
Virginia’s Natural Heritage Program received international recognition this April when NatureServe named the DCR program winner of its annual Conservation Impact Award. NatureServe is a nonprofit group that facilitates the collection and exchange of information on rare species and ecosystems in the Western Hemisphere.
“NatureServe makes valuable information readily available to people who are making conservation and land use decisions,” explained Tom Smith, director of DCR’s Natural Heritage Program. “They provide support to 75 heritage programs throughout the United States, Canada and Latin America.”
The Conservation Impact Award recognizes the 2005 achievements of DCR’s Natural Heritage Program, including the development of a database that makes information on rare plants and animals available to conservationists, land trusts and local governments.
The online searchable database features information gathered by Natural Heritage staff, who have conducted biological inventories of almost 2,000 sites containing more than 6,300 rare-species populations and natural communities.
Those extensive field surveys led to the discovery of 23 species formerly unknown to scientists and almost 200 species never before documented in Virginia. Many of those species are now protected through Virginia’s system of 46 natural area preserves, which the program also manages.
When announcing the award, Gov. Tim Kaine praised the program’s statewide reach. “Virginia’s Natural Heritage Program plays an important role in preserving the rich biodiversity of our Commonwealth. This work also is a great help to local governments, conservation groups and businesses in protecting signif
icant habitats and landscapes across the state,” said Kaine.
“This is really nice recognition of the hard work we do here every day,” Smith acknowledged. “To be recognized that way by your peers all the way from Canada to Latin America is a good thing … Virginia has something we can be really proud of in terms of efforts to protect rare species and special habits.”
Virginia State Parks celebrate 70 years all summer long with a variety of special events, including guided hikes, canoe trips and interpretive programs. For a list of activities and events by park, visit Click here.
The Chesapeake Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point host three summer workshops for Virginia educators: Estuarine Aquarium Keeping, July 18–19; Water Quality, July 25–26; and York River Habitats, Aug. 9–10. Teachers will learn to help students appreciate estuarine ecosystems and to generate scientific data on water quality. For more information, visit www.vims.edu/cbnerr.
Virginia Girl Scouts and the United Way offer Bay Ventures, an educational summer camp in Northumberland County, weekly June 25–Aug. 4. Open to all girls entering grades 5–12, Bay Ventures lets girls canoe in the Chesapeake Bay, conduct science experiments and take part in environmental service projects. The cost is $195. Details at www.comgirlscouts.org.
Grassroots is published four times a year by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation for those interested in conserving Virginia's natural and recreational resources. DCR's public relations staff edits the newsletter. You can conserve Virginia's natural resources and reduce DCR's expenses by viewing Grassroots online instead of receiving it by mail. The online version is available sooner, is in color, and has more stories and links.