High Bridge rail-trail | Greenways, trails conference | News from Director Maroon | Two registers add Sky Meadows | Research project takes managers to source | Bay assistance staff merger news | Rice Center hosts BioBlitz | VLCNA tool added to land protection arsenal | Marl Creek Trail dedicated | Stewardship Virginia fall campaign | Virginia Envirothon team takes second
Civil War buffs, greenway trail enthusiasts and Farmville area residents might soon have reason to cheer if all goes well on a possible future rail-to-trail conversion. Norfolk-Southern Corp. plans to abandon and donate to the state a 33.5-mile stretch of fairly level railroad track that more or less parallels U.S. Route 460 and runs over one of the Civil War's final battlefields.
If the conversion takes place, the new rail-trail, to be operated by DCR, would cross aptly named High Bridge; it is 2,400 feet long and towers 160 feet above the Appomattox River. Once decking and side rails are added, visitors would for the first time have access to the bridge, from which they would command a unique view of land where more than 1,200 soldiers died in a skirmish on April 6 and 7, 1865.
The bridge over which the track now runs is not the original structure, but the first bridge's pylons remain and are easily seen. Interpretive signs would be added to tell the whole story.
The clash at High Bridge took place soon after the battle at Sailor's Creek. That battlefield's land now makes up a namesake state park managed by DCR. Both encounters took place as Robert E. Lee's army retreated from Petersburg after a siege that lasted more than nine months. Because rebel forces failed to destroy High Bridge, federal forces were able to pursue them through Farmville to ultimate surrender two days later in Appomattox.
Civil War buffs, however, wouldn't be the only beneficiaries of the potential trail conversion. Students and others near the growing community of Farmville also would profit. If converted, the new trail would be an excellent alternative commuter bike route, said DCR recreation planning staff member Bob Munson, who is working on plans for the project.
"It's important to bear in mind that this project can't begin until the U.S. Department of Transportation's Surface Transportation Board approves a rail banking for trail use condition," cautioned Munson. He added that DCR would have a better idea of what to expect in the next few months.
After that, if no one else makes a viable offer, a 180-day public use condition is granted. During that time, DCR and Norfolk-Southern negotiate what is removed and what remains in place on the property.
So far, the Virginia Department of Transportation has awarded DCR $180,000 to plan for the trail. Such work begins with an engineering study, an environmental review and a property survey. Also, a master plan will be written.
Some of the grant has been set aside for gates and signs to secure the trail until it is open to the public. If funding is provided, development could commence next year. Trail development will include improvements such as trail surfacing, decking and side rails, information kiosks, restrooms, trailhead parking areas and so on.
Opening the trail to public use is contingent on staffing and operational funding. In the meantime, DCR will coordinate activities with local law enforcemnt and communities along the railroad's path. This includes county planners, recreation professionals, businesses and others in Appomattox, Cumberland, Nottoway and Prince Edward counties.
The rail-trail would connect Pamplin to Burkeville and run through Prospect, Farmville and Rice, each of which has unique history and assets.
May 1-4, 2005
Take in workshops and field sessions on greenways, blueways, trails, funding, recreation, tourism, multi-modal transportation and community design. There's also an optional all-day technical workshop on May 4. Mark your calendar now for this special event, sponsored in part by DCR. Call (757) 229-0507 or visit www.bikewalkvirginia.org for details.
DCR has been actively engaged in improving Virginia's nonpoint source programs for several years. Over the past year, we have significantly improved and expanded our efforts. Some of those changes are highlighted below.
The latest state budget has given the agency's water quality efforts a significant boost. Gov. Warner and the 2004 General Assembly used several sources to fund $10.5 million to fight nonpoint source pollution this fiscal year and $7.5 million for 2006. The money will help farmers, landowners and communities across the state install runoff pollution control practices.
The majority of the funds will be used to install agricultural best management practices (BMPs), and to establish streamside forest buffers, wetlands and buffers through the state's Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP). Some funding will also be distributed through grants to local governments and private entities for urban nonpoint source and low impact development projects, and some will be used to fund Virginia Department of Forestry buffer programs. Cost-share and grant programs require that recipients match a portion of the funds, effectively multiplying the amount of cash spent to improve water quality in Virginia's rivers, streams and the Chesapeake Bay.
In addition, DCR recently refined its partnership agreement with Virginia's 47 soil and water conservation districts regarding administration of the Agricultural Cost-Share BMP Program. These refinements, which we have worked out in conjunction with the leadership of the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts, should provide greater targeting and results from the current and future state funds that become available for this purpose. Here are examples:
Districts can use up to 15 percent of the annual funding for the cost-share program to recoup certain expenses incurred through program implementation.
No less than 90 percent of remaining funds must be given to farmers participating this year.
Districts must fund BMPs in high priority agricultural and TMDL watersheds (as ranked by DCR), and they must approve practices that achieve the greatest nutrient and sediment reduction.
More than $3.7 million in agricultural cost-share is available in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and about $2.5 million is available for other watersheds. New funds will enable DCR to expand the CREP program in Virginia's southern areas, where it has been very popular. Also, two CREP bonus programs have been added in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. One is for 100-foot-wide buffers, and the other is for creating wetlands.
Language in the 2004 budget bill also directs DCR to conduct an extensive study of cost-shared BMPs implemented through Virginia's SWCDs, and to identify potential improvements to water quality and soil conservation programs. DCR staff will be working with the Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board and the 47 districts in preparing this two-year report. The study will be coordinated with a review by the Joint Legislative and Review Commission of the effectiveness of Virginia's nutrient management planning efforts and any planned review of associated regulations.
These are very significant efforts that should ultimately lead to a more cost-effective pursuit of Virginia's water quality goals. DCR's activities will help determine the future health of the Chesapeake Bay and our rivers, streams and lakes.
Sky Meadows State Park in Delaplane, Va., is one of 25 properties added to the Virginia Landmarks Register earlier this year. The register, administered by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (DHR), is the state's official list of significant architectural, archaeological and cultural resources. The property was also added to the National Historic Register soon afterward.
"Nearly all of our state parks have components that are historically significant in one aspect or another and, in fact, DCR's mission is to protect and conserve both natural and cultural resources," said DCR State Parks Director Joe Elton.
To be considered for the state register, a property must be associated with significant historical events or persons, or possess outstanding archaeological or architectural importance.
Properties are carefully evaluated before being nominated.
Cheryl Hanback Shepherd of Millennium Preservation Services began the research in 2002 with Carol Jordan, a park volunteer and former wage employee.
"Cheryl's research added much to what we know about the Sky Meadows State Park property, and the knowledge greatly benefited the park's historical interpretive program," said Park Manager Jess Lowry.
The two most historically significant buildings at Sky Meadows are the park manager house, built in the late 1700s, and the Mount Bleak Visitor Center, which dates from the 1840s.
The Virginia Landmarks Register raises the awareness of a community or region's historic resources so that well-informed decisions are made about future use. Being listed does not restrict property use. Registration identifies historic resources and encourages preservation.
These DCR sites also have recently been added to the Virginia Landmarks Register: Mulberry Hill (plantation) and the Wade archaeological site and bridge fortifications at Staunton River Battlefield State Park; Taft archaeological site at Mason Neck State Park; Southwest Virginia Museum, which is also a National Historic Landmark.
For the record, a few definitions...
National Register of Historic Places are primarily of state and local significance. National Historic Landmarks have national significance. The processes for listing historic places and landmarks differ. Some properties are nominated for both lists, which the National Park Service maintains.
Is the pollution that can close shellfish beds coming from humans or animals? This question is important for coastal resource managers because in order to fix the problem, you must know the source, and if the source is a septic system, there may be additional bacteria or viruses that could make people sick. A recent research study in Virginia has given the state's coastal managers a better tool for identifying the source of contamination in marine waters.
The study, The Impact of Onsite Wastewater Systems on Water Quality in Coastal Regions, evaluated the use of a fluorometer in detecting human waste in an estuarine environment.
"We wanted two things" from the study, said Mark Slauter, coastal nonpoint coordinator for the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. "We wanted a better way to identify impacts from septic systems, if there are any, and a more cost-effective and time-efficient manner in which to do it."
As a result of the research, coastal managers have modified the state's Shellfish Sanitation Program, and the state has been able to move forward on implementing its 6217 nonpoint source pollution program. Managers say they believe the tool will also be useful in addressing the source of bacteria that can lead to beach closures, and in testing water coming out of storm drains to ensure there are no illegal sewer hookups.
While fluorometers have been used in freshwater environments in attempts to identify impacts from septic systems and to test drinking water, it was unknown if using the device in an estuarine system was feasible, or if it would be effective at detecting human sources of nonpoint pollution.
Charles Hagedorn, professor of environmental microbiology at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University at Blacksburg, explains that a fluorometer detects compounds that fluoresce under ultraviolet light, such as whitening agents in laundry detergents.
There are at least two major potential sources of contamination that could contain optical brighteners. These are leachates from improperly functioning septic systems and leaking pipes from community wastewater treatment systems.
Faulty septic systems may result when homeowners fail to maintain their systems. Hagedorn says, "You will find too often that owners don't know where it is, don't know what type of system they have, or even if they have a septic system."
The potential of septic systems leaching into areas with shellfish beds is a concern because of the possibility that harmful pathogens could be passed on to shellfish eaters. Bob Croonenberghs, director of the Virginia Department of Health's Division of Shellfish Sanitation, says, "The problem with the shellfish program always has been trying to figure out the source of fecal coliform in shellfish-growing waters."
The division collects water samples and conducts bacterial source tracking, but this technology has its limitations. "The beauty of the fluorometer," says Croonenberghs, "is that you get an instantaneous and continuous readout."
To find out its usefulness in helping to identify human sources of nonpoint source pollution, the fluorometer was tested in both the field and in the laboratory by Hagedorn and other researchers at Virginia Tech in partnership with the state Departments of Conservation and Recreation, Environmental Quality, and Health. In all tests, the equipment correctly detected a human waste signature, Hagedorn says. "There was 100 percent agreement between using the fluorometer and using microbial source tracking methods to determine if the source was human in origin or not."
"I think what Dr. Hagedorn has shown us is that there is the potential for more of an impact [from septic systems] than we had really realized there may be," Croonenberghs says. Since the study's completion last year, the state's Shellfish Sanitation Program has purchased for its field offices two fluorometers that they plan to use to help detect small plumes of discharge from failing septic systems in shellfish-growing areas.
Although the results so far "demonstrate that the fluorometric technique could be an inexpensive, fast, field methodology for detecting human-derived sources of bacteria pollution," Hagedorn believes more research is needed to confirm the initial findings and to study how algal blooms and oil-based products may affect the readings. Still, coastal managers say they are pleased with the research so far. "It's not often we get to answer a true research question that could have a drastic impact on how we address water quality issues," notes Slauter.
The Impact of Onsite Wastewater Systems on Water Quality in Coastal Regions is posted at www.dcr.virginia.gov/soil_&_water/documents/czmfnlrep03.pdf. Contact Mark Slauter at (804) 692-0839, email firstname.lastname@example.org, for more information.
One result from the 2004 legislative budget was the merger of the former Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance Department (CBLAD) with DCR. The merger occurred this year on July 1.
Soon afterwards, staff from the newly formed division, the director's office, and soil and water conservation programs began working on a merger report that was due to legislative budget officials by August 31, 2004. The report details progress and identifies areas where better coordination and support will result in better nonpoint source pollution control and improved water quality protection.
Scott Crafton, who formerly served as CBLAD director, will continue to lead the DCR Division of Chesapeake Bay Local Assistance.
As a consequence of this merger, DCR will continue to explore other opportunities to better integrate nonpoint source pollution control and related planning and implementation efforts over the next 18 months. You can obtain a copy of the report from Dave Dowling, (804) 786-2291, email email@example.com or Scott Crafton, (804) 225-3444, firstname.lastname@example.org.
About 100 biologists, naturalists, students and volunteers recently gathered for the state's third BioBlitz, an intense, comprehensive 30-hour effort to tally all the plants and animals that inhabit a given site. The hunt began on June 12 at 9 a.m. and continued through 3 p.m. the next day. It was held at Virginia Commonwealth University's Rice Center for Environmental Life Sciences, which is on the James River in Charles City County
"It's part competition, part festival, part education and part science," said DCR Chief Biologist Chris Ludwig, who coordinated this year's event. "The Rice Center is a good site for surveying the flora and fauna of eastern Virginia."
Biologists work in the field alongside students and even families. Survey teams concentrate on plants, vertebrates and invertebrates. BioBlitzes, initiated by National Park Service scientists in 1996, are now held throughout the country.
As a survey tool, the event provides a snapshot for any group of organisms. But it can yield new state and seasonal records, providing direction for subsequent investigation. The results take some time to compile and complete.
The first BioBlitz in Virginia was at Pocahontas State Park; last year the group descended upon Douthat State Park. Each time, the effort requires enthusiastic volunteers with all levels of expertise.
The Virginia Herpetological Society, Virginia Natural History Society, Entomological Society of Washington, Virginia Academy of Science, Richmond Herpetological and Bug Society, and Virginia Native Plant Society sponsor BioBlitz, and other conservation organization pitch in. Contact Anne Wright in VCU's biology department at (804) 828-1562 for this year's results.
After a brief dedication ceremony on April 30, 2004, fourth-graders from Riverheads Elementary School in Augusta County hiked the Marl Creek Trail of McCormick Farm. U.S. Rep. Bob Goodlatte dedicated the interpretive trail, which highlights riparian ecology and changes in farming methods.
About 20 conservation groups and numerous individuals worked to develop the trail. DCR, the Upper James Roundtable and the Canaan Valley Institute helped fund its development.
If current trends continue, more land in Virginia will be developed over the next 40 years than in the past 400. More and more, citizens and officials acknowledge the need to protect natural resources, rural landscapes, farms and forests. Choosing which properties to protect is critical, especially considering the limited funding available.
DCR has a new tool to simplify the task of protecting Virginia's natural and cultural heritage. The Virginia Conservation Lands Needs Assessment (VCLNA) uses geographic information system (GIS) technology to model and map land conservation priorities and actions throughout the state.
The agency recently finished phase one of this effort, a Natural Landscape Assessment (NLA). It was done for Virginia's "coastal zone," which includes localities that have tidal waters. The NLA is actually one component of the VCLNA; it represents one way of prioritizing conservation lands. Other issue-specific data will be added to the VCLNA to address additional conservation concerns such as natural heritage resources, outdoor recreation, prime agricultural lands, cultural and historic resources, sustainable forestry and drinking water protection.
Assessment maps show more than 2,200 "cores," or un-fragmented natural areas, that are prioritized by ecological significance. Corridors that could be restored to connect key natural landscape fragments also are shown. Other maps show these cores in relation to other features - land already under some form of protection, regions most vulnerable to growth and development, and natural heritage sites that harbor rare plants, animals and natural communities.
DCR natural heritage staff has distributed atlases containing regional data and maps to counties and planning district commissions in the coastal zone. Atlases and GIS data are available online and on CD. Visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/natural_heritage/ to use these new tools. Contact Steve Carter-Lovejoy, (804) 786-8377, email email@example.com, for more detail.
More than 10,000 Virginians took part in 132 Stewardship Virginia events during this year's spring campaign, which ran from April 1 through May 31. The fall campaign began Sept. 1 and runs through October 31. The statewide campaign encourages and recognizes firms, citizen groups and individuals who voluntarily take on projects that have a tangible impact on Virginia's natural resources.
"Stewardship Virginia captures those seasons of the year that are most conducive to the on-the-ground activities it promotes," said Virginia Secretary of Natural Resources W. Tayloe Murphy Jr. "While the stewardship of our commonwealth is a year-round endeavor, Stewardship Virginia focuses on the spring and fall to help promote a conservation ethic among all Virginians."
Virginians take part in the special campaign by landscaping for conservation, adopting waterways, improving eroded trails, planting riparian buffers, preventing the spread of invasive species, improving habitat and through other conservation work. This work encourages people to get out and connect with their land and waterways to better appreciate their importance.
"Stewardship Virginia sends an important message," said Joseph H. Maroon, director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. "Each of us can make a difference in the stewardship of our natural resources, for our generation and generations to come." DCR coordinates Stewardship Virginia with assistance from other natural and historical resources agencies in the state.
Because Stewardship Virginia is statewide, covers so many activities and has two campaigns each year, there's ample opportunity for you, your business or your civic group to get involved. Start or join in an activity that helps everyone enjoy our natural, cultural, recreational and historic resources.
To take part in a Stewardship Virginia activity and be recognized by Gov. Mark R. Warner, just call toll-free 1-877-42-WATER or visit www.dcr.virginia.gov/stewardship to learn more. Register your event now so others can help with your stewardship project.
An Augusta County 4-H home school team representing Virginia finished second out of 52 teams at the 2004 Canon North American Envirothon. Each member was awarded a $2,000 scholarship and Canon products. The awards were announced July 31, 2004.
Josh Salatin, Jill Bourgeois, Leigh Robaker, Lee Kelley and Nate Salatin made up the team. Jennifer Mercer, Augusta County extension agent and Al Bourgeois, wildlife biologist with Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, coached them.
The competition is North America's largest high school environmental education contest. The National Association of Conservation Districts and the Canadian Forestry Association manage the contest.
Teams are tested on soils and land use, forestry, aquatic ecology and wildlife. Judges also rate teamwork, problem solving and team presentations on a given conservation issue, which this year was conservation management in urban areas. Winners of state and province competitions participate in the contest. More than 500,000 teenagers took part this year.
For information about starting a high school, 4-H, ecology club or home school Envirothon team, contact your soil and water conservation district or the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts at (804) 559-0324.