Wetlands restoration plan in store for Huntley Meadows


When Holly Franz and her dog Puppers run in the morning through Huntley Meadows Park behind her townhouse, they have company on the trail in the form of a fox. Having the park and all the wildlife that thrives back there was one reason she decided to buy in the community off Lockheed Boulevard.

In addition to the fox Franz shares the trail with, she sees deer, owls, birds and a wide assortment of plant life on a daily basis. She describes this brush with the local wildlife as priceless.

The fox and I decide whos going to get the trail in the morning, she said.
As increasing development encroach on the wetlands park, the swampy areas that feed that ecosystem are slowly filling up with silt, raising concern among park officials and Huntley Meadows enthusiasts. The Fairfax County Park Authority recently launched a wetland restoration project to save Huntley Meadows.

Its a wonderful place that can be so much better, said wetlands engineer Gary Pierce.

There is a price tag though, and on a recent wetland restoration walk at the park, attended by park officials, members of the Friends of Huntley Meadows group and civil engineers from Burgess & Niple, the project was examined.

Elements of the project includes silt dams, earthen berms, water retention areas and native fauna, engineered to enhance the ebbing water flow and restore a natural wetland environment.

It is divided into three phases, and Phase I, which cost the county $700,000, will include the silt dam and earthen dam a significant part of the whole project. This money was appropriated in a 2004 bond, said park manager Kevin Monroe. The big responsibility we have here is doing it right, Monroe said.

Phase II, which will be funded in a future bond referendum which officials hope comes in 2008, will entail the creation of the ponds and pump out the excess sediments.

Phase III includes the planting of more native fauna and maintenance. The estimated price of these two phases is $1 million.

What we do here has to fit the site, said Monroe.

A big part of the wetlands at Huntley Meadows is the beavers that are credited with creating the wetlands, and then blamed for adding to its demise as well. When they built the dams, the natural way beavers do, the water pooled and the wetlands survived, although most natural wetlands plants arent supposed to be underwater all the time. Through the years, as the area suffered droughts and more siltation, the beavers became less active, allowing more trees to grow.

We need to find a way to work with the beavers, said Monroe. Were not going to be catching or trapping the beavers, Monroe assured the group.

The beavers are one of three filters that affect the wetlands, said Pierce. The other two are the housing development silt and the geese. The project is fundamentally to remove the filters, he said. We are going to replace the vegetation by taking these filters out, he added.

Barnyard Run
Huntley Meadows wetlands are fed by Barnyard Run from the north and Dogue Creek from the west. Barnyard Run goes through Alexandria and the community of Vantage along South Kings Highway before meeting Dogue Creek in the middle of the wetlands. The engineers from Burgess & Niple are looking for an area on Barnyard Run to put the silt dam that will catch all the increased run-off from the storm drains in Vantage.

As part of this silt catching basin, the engineers are also looking to cater to the muskrat population which is another part of the wetlands ecosystem. And then there are the otters that once lived in this wetland to consider. Each piece of the puzzle is dependent on the other.

Pierce is trying to cater to all the parties involved. He led the walking group along the boardwalk above the wetlands dressed in his swamp outfit: boony hat, rubber boots, and loose shirt.

If they have better nesting soils, there will be more muskrats. Early on in this project, the muskrats might need some help, Pierce said.

He pointed to an area dominated by wetlands plants. The walkers saw a snapping turtle and brown water snake right off the boardwalk. Weve talked about some [pools] going underneath the boardwalk, but added that the current state of Huntley Meadows is not completely out of whack. The natural state of a wetland area includes times of high water and drought. There will still be times when it will look like this, he said.

Civil engineer Dennis Thomas looked at the area along Barnyard Run, in a flat area about 50 yards from the boardwalk. The flatness of the ground around this area is a concern because the still water will cause the sediments to settle to the bottom. It will need cleaning out periodically, he said. The sediments will be dumped elsewhere in the park.

To create the pools, Monroe admitted that some of the trees will have to be cut down, which isnt an easy fact to consider as a park manager. That will be hard on me, a real tree hugger, he said. Ideally, the summer and fall is the best time to do the work because they will not be disrupting new life that starts in the spring.

The president of the Friends of Huntley Meadows, Kathleen McNeil, was on hand as well. The Friends group is made up of volunteers. Without the Friends group, the park would not be able to be what it is today, she said.