Archive for the ‘Parks and Trails’ Category

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.
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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

Get Prepared for Discussion of the Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge CCP

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 by February 21):
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New Federal Plan Proposes Opening (Someday…) Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge

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:
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