Archive for the ‘Parks and Trails’ Category

George Washington National Forest – How Should We Manage It?

Ever hike, fish, or hunt in Massanutten?  Been to the vista point at Big Schloss, or enjoyed the view of the forested mountains as you travel on I-66 or I-81?

The US Forest Service is revising the Forest Plan for resource management over the next 10 to 15 years of 1.1 million acres of land in Virginia and West Virginia.   Lands for the George Washington National Forest were acquired, starting in 1912, to protect the watersheds of navigable rivers.  The entire national forest is located within the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and today it contains 1,171 miles of perennial streams (of which over 700 miles support a cold water fishery).

The Forest Service’s preferred alternative, Alternative G, would protected the water quality by blocking most uses of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) for drilling natural gas wells.  The Marcellus Shale underneath the forest is not the richest in hydrocarbons, but there is still the potential for drilling…

Comments on the draft Forest Plan must be submittted by September 1.  Send them to


Public Access to Public Lakes and Rivers – Progress in a Forward Direction

Prince William County plans to provide public access to Lake Jackson, creating a canoe access point near the dam.

The Federal government also plans to create 300 additional public access sites in the Chesapeake Bay watershed over the next 15 years.  One of those could be at Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) – if the US Fish and Wildlife Service decides in the Comprehensive Conservation Plan to provide public access to the Potomac River, as well as to wetlands within the refuge.

The National Park Service is asking for input on improving public access to the water, as part of the process to create the “Chesapeake Bay Region Public Access Plan” by 2012.   Tell them what you think, and feel free to highlight the opportunity for the US Fish and Wildlife Service to create public access to the Potomac River at Featherstone NWR.

POSTPONED – April 12 (Tuesday) Public Meeting On Deer Management Plan at Manassas Battlefield National Park

UPDATE from National Park ServiceThe previously scheduled meetings regarding a White-tailed Deer Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement (plan/EIS) for Antietam and Monocacy National Battlefields and the Manassas National Battlefield Park have been postponed. The meetings were originally scheduled for April 12-14. No new dates have been set, and additional information will be released as soon as it becomes available.

The National Park Service has Bambi in the cross-hairs – finally.

There are waaaaaay too many deer at Manassas Battlefield, Antietam, and Monocacy Battlefield parks.  We have altered the natural pattern of field and forest, creating habitat on the battlefields that white-tailed deer just love.

The deer are eating themselves out of house and home, chomping down on all the vegetation they can reach.  There’s a browse line on the trees, and underneath the trees the native plants are being wiped out by grazing.  Other animals that depend upon those low-level plants are disappearing.  For example, wood thrush nests are exposed to predators, because the low-level vegetation that used to provide screening has disappeared.

During the 1800’s, local residents kept deer populations down through hunting.  The National Park Service has maintained some aspects of history at the Manassas Battlefield – old buildings, fences, and fields – but has not perpetuated the historical activities that controlled the deer.

Too many deer at the park have gone past being “cute” and become a nuisance.  Now the National Park Service is confronting the issue, preparing the environmental impact statement to assess the alternatives of no hunting, “controlled harvest,” or other mechanisms to protect the natural setting as well as the human history at three Civil War parks.
Continue reading

Lake Manassas – Will the City Council invest in public access or a lawsuit?

UPDATE April 7, 2011 — At Manassas City’s budget mark up session on Wednesday, April 6, Councilmen approved $80,000 to hire a policeman to patrol Lake Manassas. This is in addition to funding a lawsuit aimed at keeping Lake Manassas closed. How much is Manassas prepared to spend to keep the Lake closed?

UPDATE February 20, 2011
— According to the Washington Post, the Manassas City Council has rejected partner support, including Brookfield’s offer to donate land for a public access point and the Game Dept. offer to invest $100,000 for infrastructure. Councilmen claimed the $16,400 investment to cover the gap was too much for the City to pay… but they are apparently willing to invest significant public funds to ensure the Lake stays closed to the public.

July 2010While the Manassas City Council continues to drag their feet, public and private partners have stepped up to the plate with commitments to fund most expenses.  The Virginia Dept. of Game & Inland Fisheries (DGIF) has committed $100,000 to build a boat ramp, parking lot and finger pier. DGIF also says they would provide an operations stipend to offset costs for a concession stand and monitor the Lake. Continue reading

Is recreation getting in the way of our roads?

UPDATE: March 23 2011 — Despite the Board of Supervisors direction that the Park Authority work with the County Transportation Dept. to prioritize improvements to the front entrance to Hellwig Park (see below), the Park Authority Board is scheduled to vote approved a resolution approving a lease agreement with the Northern Virginia Soccer Club for their use of the property purchased to improve the front entrance to Hellwig Park.

According to the staff report, the lease agreement covers a five year period at $1/year and would renew by mutual consent. Click here to read the staff report and proposed lease agreement.

UPDATE: September 15 2010 — Supervisors voted unanimously to deny the Park Authority’s proposal to build a new public road from Aden Rd. to Hellwig Park. Citizens from the surrounding area and civic groups, including LOCCA and MidCo, did an outstanding job researching and presenting key issues.

The Park Authority continued to claim they are responsible stewards of environmental resources, despite considerable empirical evidence to the contrary, and confirmed that they have no funding to build either their proposed public road from Aden or to improve the front entrance, which was recently approved by the BOCS.

The BOCS said that, rather than buying land for an unfunded new road, the Park Authority should focus on completing the improvements for the front entrance on Bristow Rd. and directed the County Transportation Dept. to work with the Park Authority to make this happen. Continue reading

Bluebird Trail at Chinn Park Needs Volunteer Monitors

You can help the Bluebirds and have a great time too! We need volunteers to help monitor the Bluebird Trails at Chinn Park and Merrimac Farm.

Chinn Park Volunteer Training – Trail Leader Amy Wilson
When: Sunday, April 3 at 4:00 pm.
Where: We’ll meet at the back of the parking lot at Chinn Park Library, 13065 Chinn Park Drive, Woodbridge 22192

Bluebirds are a dramatic environmental success story. In the 1960’s habitat losses, pesticides (including DDT) and competition from introduced species resulted in dramatically decreased populations of Bluebirds. A few folks who remembered the Bluebirds took direct action and provided nest boxes. The word spread… lots of people began to put out nest boxes and brought Bluebirds back to our region and beyond.

Responsibilities include working with other volunteers to check the nesting boxes each week and gather data about what’s happening at each box. We hope you can help with this important project.

Click here to read more about the Bluebird Trail at Chinn Park. For more information and to register, email or call 703.499.4954.

Featherstone Refuge – Comment period on draft management plan closes

The FWS Comprehensive Conservation Plan (CCP) is the first step toward opening the refuge after decades of public ownership with no public access. The Plan includes a Compatibility Determination that resolves the key debate: opening the refuge to public access will not harm the wildlife resources.

Click here to read comments submitted by Northern Virginia organizations, including the Prince William Conservation Alliance, Northern Virginia Bird Club, Sierra Club Virginia Chapter, Elizabeth Hartwell Environmental Education Fund, Audubon Naturalist Society, Prince William Wildflower Society and the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia.

NEW TOUR DATE! Satuday, March 12, beginning at 8:00 am. We hope you can join us and see what all the fuss is about for yourself! Click here to register or here for more information.

Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge Q&A

Some places should be left unvisited, without people. Is Featherstone one of those places?

  • The FWS Compatibility Determination resolves the key debate: opening the refuge to public access will not harm the wildlife resources. Featherstone NWR is not so sensitive that the land and water must be left undisturbed in order to protect its natural assets.
  • That Compatibility Determination is consistent with the National Wildlife Refuge System Improvement Act of 1997, which established 1) wildlife-dependent recreational uses involving hunting, fishing, wildlife observation and photography, and environmental education and interpretation, when determined to be compatible, are legitimate and appropriate public uses of the Refuge System and 2) these compatible wildlife-dependent recreational uses are the priority general public uses of the Refuge System.

Would opening the refuge impact wetlands and wildlife?

  • Trespassers already damage Featherstone NWR.  FWS can’t patrol the site all the time, so people ride motorcycles and ATV’s without getting caught. If the public was allowed to use the site, then local residents and others using the trails legitimately will provide more “eyes and ears” to protect the refuge, report violators, and reduce the current damage.
  • Opening this site to wildlife-dependent public uses would also help generate, as it has at the other Northern Virginia Refuges, a sense of community stewardship, enhancing efforts to protect the quality of natural areas.
  • FWS knows how to locate trails and manage recreational use by individuals and groups. They demonstrated that capacity when FWS opened Occoquan Bay NWR to public use, just 5 weeks after acquiring the land from the Army in 1998. Continue reading

Important Plant Communities at Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge

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. Continue reading

The Featherstone Refuge – Public access to public places

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 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. Continue reading