Guest post by Charles Smith, Prince William Wildflower Society
Prince William County is a highly developed county. This is obvious to most of us. What is less obvious is that the majority of the areas of the county that have not been developed have had the vegetation removed and the soils disturbed in the recent past. The result is that many of our plant communities are of poor quality.
Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge has some of the best and most unique plant communities left in the county. The refuge contains one of the last tidal freshwater wetlands in Northern Virginia. In addition, much of the upland area at Featherstone, although not pristine, has not been disturbed by land clearing activities in a long time, leaving good soils and mature forest.
Featherstone is a rare gem. During the open house for the refuge in June 2010, amateur botanists discovered the only known occurrence of Prince William County of the state rare plant river bulrush (Schoenoplectus fluviatilis). The bulrush itself was an exciting discovery, but what it represents is the presence of a healthy wetland community type called high-marsh which is very rare in our region. Read more…
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is hosting public meetings on the draft management plan for the Featherstone Refuge on February 2 from 2:00-4:00pm and 6:30- 8:30pm at Potomac Library, 2201 Opitz Blvd., Woodbridge. Send written comments to email@example.com by February 21.
Years ago, back when the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge was still the former Harry Diamond Lab facility, that biologically diverse natural area was closed to the public but open to some for wildlife surveys and public tours, much as the Featherstone Refuge is today.
I helped with programs and tours at the soon-to-be Occoquan Refuge, and had permission to visit at other times. I went there one spring day, I can’t remember why but my ten year old son needed to accompany me. He was unhappy about this and complained all the way to the washed out bridge area, where a major wetland system drains into Occoquan Bay.
In an effort to engage him, I gave him waders and nudged him toward the water. He was soon standing in the inlet… legs apart, hands on hips and still giving me the business – he had people to see and places to go and this was not one of them – suddenly a three foot Longnose Gar swam out of the wetland, right through his legs and out into Occoquan Bay.
After a moment of stunned silence, he smiled at me and said, “Well… never mind.” Thanks to the Longnose Gar my son and I shared a day to remember, one everyone should have the opportunity to put in his satchel of memories. Read more…
Wildlife refuges are for both wildlife and for people, and finding the right balance is a challenge.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) stated clearly in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for Featherstone and Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuges that “[p]ublic access is the overarching issue at Featherstone Refuge.”
The Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) has been closed to public use ever since the first land was acquired in 1979. After over 30 years, that might finally change. Public meetings to discuss the Comprehensive Conservation Plan for Featherstone and Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuges will be held on February 2 and 3.
Here’s what you ought to know, if you intend to attend a meeting or submit comments to the FWS (send to firstname.lastname@example.org by February 21):
After almost four years of planning, the US Fish and Wildlife Service finally has released the draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for the Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge (NWR). The refuge includes 325 acres, with a mile of waterfront along the Potomac River – and has been closed to public use for over 30 years.
Two public meetings to discuss the Comprehensive Conservation Plan have been scheduled, February 2 in Woodbridge (Potomac Community Library, 2:00-4:00pm and 6:30- 8:30pm) and February 3 in Lorton (Gunston Elementary School, 6:30-8:30pm). Comments on the draft plan will be accepted through February 21.
The draft Comprehensive Conservation Plan offers two options for managing Featherstone NWR over the next 15 years. The primary management issue at the Featherstone refuge involves public access.
Since acquiring the land in 1979 (and another 161 acres from Prince William County in 1992), the US Fish and Wildlife Service has kept the refuge off-limits to public use. The reason for posting the equivalent of Public Land But Keep Out Anyway signs was never explained.
Local conservation groups have gone on record to encourage the Federal agency to open 325 acres of public land to public use. Concerns about staffing limits have been mentioned as a constraint - but when the US Fish and Wildlife Service acquired the Occoquan Bay refuge, additional staff was “found” to open that site to public use quickly.
Within the draft planning document, there is good news and bad news:
Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge and Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail Plans
The US Fish and Wildlife Service has committed to complete the Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) for Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge.
The planning process started in 2007, and the first promised date for public review of the draft was April 2008. Now the Federal agency says “the draft CCP will be released for public review and comment before the end of the year with mid-November being the expected timeframe.” For 30 months, the agency has delayed the planning process for a variety of reasons.
The grand mystery: what’s so complicated about opening up this publicly-owned wildlife refuge to the – ugh, public? For 40 years, the Fish and Wildlife Service has kept the place closed to fishing, bird watching, and walking along the shoreline of the Potomac River.
The action plan for the Chesapeake Bay Executive Order makes clear that it is Federal policy to expand and maintain public access within the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The National Park Service is already accepting public comments on their draft plan for the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail, which was designated by Congress only in 2006. Deadline to comment is November 5 – and feel free to suggest Featherstone should be a jewel on the John Smith trail, rather than locked up forever.
Unless the Fish and Wildlife Service can document that wildlife-dependent recreation is not compatible with the purpose of the Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge, a decision to open these 325 acres of public land to public use ought to be a no-brainer.
When: Monday, September 13 at 7:30 pm
Where: Manassas City Hall, 9027 Center Street, Manassas
What: Speak at Citizen’s Time to support efforts to re-open Lake Manassas and request a work session to update the public on progress. Numbers count – help jump-start City Council action to Re-Open Lake Manassas!
Absolutely cannot attend? Email Councilmen at CityClerk@ci.manassas.va.us.
The City Council is on the hook, now it’s time to reel them in. Currently the Council has put this project on the back burner — despite significant support from partners that creates an unprecedented golden opportunity to Re-Open Lake Manassas now.
- The VA Game Dept. has committed $100,000 for a boat ramp, finger pier and parking lot as well as long-term management support.
- The developer of the Saranac community has committed to donate land for a public access point.
- George Mason University wants to operate a concession stand to ensure safety and education opportunities.
Lake Manassas is a significant publicly-owned resource in a densely populated area that is short on recreation opportunities. It is a reservoir that provides water to City of Manassas residents… no different from the Occoquan Reservoir, which provides water to nearly 1.7 million Northern Virginia residents and offers unrestricted access to boaters for fishing and fun. Read more…
Paving Over a Forest at Hellwig Park to Subsidize a Developer – Just How Rich Is the Park Authority?
The county Park Authority must have discovered a sofa in the office that was filled with change behind the cushions. They want to spend money on an unplanned road, one that is not needed. There’s a rumor running rampant that some people are experiencing a recession and some government agencies are struggling for money… but the Park Authority thinks it is rich.
For over four years, the Park Authority has been planning new ballfields at Hellwig Park. Prince William adopted an ambitious 20-year Transportation Plan six months ago that will require $3-$4 billion in new funding to build 700 more miles of road over the next 20 years. Until very recently, the Park Authority was clear on what it needed – and no plans included bisecting the park with a new Hellwig Highway to Aden Road.
Now, the Park Authority has discovered they just gotta build a new road. On June 2, the Planning Commission approved the long-planned new entrance for the park on Bristow Road, but rejected the unplanned connection to Aden Road. On September 14 the Board of Supervisors will consider the Park Authority’s appeal of the Planning Commission’s decision.
Why would the Park Authority be so anxious to add a new project to an already underfunded list of new roads, and redirect scarce park bond money to a road project? Hint: This new road would provide access to unbuilt lots in the Liberty Oaks subdivision, saving the developer the cost of building their own road. Bonds sold to develop public parks will instead be used to subsidize a private developer.
Even more interesting, the Park Authority has committed to pay the developer who needs access to the unbuilt residential lots $315,000 for the land where the road will be built. That is significantly more than the asking price for other lots in that development. Whoever sat in that Park Authority sofa, spilling change out of their pocket, must have been loaded.
Two months ago we wrote an article and posted photos showing how the Park Authority is protecting environmental resources at Hellwig Park… which is to say, not at all. You can see this for yourself in the video above, which was filmed by a neighboring landowner yesterday.
Two months ago we also filed complaints with the County, the state agency that oversees stormwater issues (DCR) and the VA Dept. of Environmental Quality. All three agencies found violations and the Park Authority received a list of action items needed to fix the problems.
To date, the Park Authority has failed to address the problems and uncontrolled stormwater runoff continues to damage wetlands, woods and ponds on both Park Authority land and neighboring properties.
Despite all this, the Park Authority is moving forward with a proposal to build an unnecessary new road in this same area – right between the wetlands their poor development practices are currently damaging. The Planning Commission voted to deny the proposal but the Park Authority filed an appeal with the BOCS. Supervisors are scheduled to vote on this on September 14.
Should County construction projects be held to the same standard as developers and other private property owners? And, given the Park Authority’s consistent poor stewardship, can we rely on them to protect publicly-owned environmental resources? Should the BOCS transfer County-owned natural areas to an agency that has the expertise to protect publicly owned environmental resources?
Email BOCS@pwcgov.org to share your views with Supervisors today.
According to today’s News & Messenger, City of Manassas Mayor Hal Parrish supports opening Lake Manassas BUT only after the City “resolves a lawsuit” aimed at opening the Lake to public access. This position begs the question… if the City does in fact support opening the Lake, why invest significant funds fighting a lawsuit aimed at doing just that?
Here’s what we know. At the City Council’s June 30 meeting, most Councilmen strongly appeared poised to close the door on discussions aimed at opening Lake Manassas to the public, despite significant support offered by partners.
The Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has committed $100,000 to build a boat ramp, parking lot and finger pier. They would also monitor the Lake and contribute an operations stipend to offset costs for a concession stand.
The developer of the Saranac community on Lake Manassas wants to donate land for a public access point. They have been working diligently but without success to gain access to the Lake for their development, as allowed in the property deed. Their offer to donate land confirms their preference to open the Lake through partnerships, not litigation. Read more…
When: Saturday, July 24, 8:00 to 10:30 am
Where: Meet at the Rippon VRE station parking lot, Farm Creek Dr. & Rippon Blvd, Woodbridge
RSVP appreciated to Prince William Conservation Alliance, 703-499-4954 or email@example.com,
For the Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge, 2010 marks the 40th anniversary of public ownership with no public access. While trail and other improvements would be positive additions in the future, none are currently needed to open the Refuge to the public.
In a July 15th letter to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Congressman Gerry Connolly called for immediate action in opening the Featherstone Refuge to the public. “This Refuge is owned by all Americans and they should have access to it now,” said Connolly in his letter.
At the start of the July 24 tour, a representative from the US Fish & Wildlife Service will provide an update on the status of efforts to open Refuge. The Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries, a potential partner for opening Featherstone, will also be at the tour.
The Featherstone Refuge covers 325 acres of bottomland forests and freshwater tidal marshes. It’s great place to watch birds and other wildlife.
Tour guides include representatives from the Prince William Conservation Alliance, Prince William Wildflower Society and Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.