Letter to the Editor: Don’t forget about Dyke Marsh

Letter to the Editor: Don’t forget about Dyke Marsh
(Photo by Aleksandra Kochurova)

To the editor:

We welcome your Sept. 27 article in the Alexandria Times, “Taking a Time-out in Alexandria,” but in the discussion of recreational areas you missed a critical park. You included the Mount Vernon Bike Trail, Jones Point Park and Fort Hunt Park, but you omitted another important one in that corridor – the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.

Dyke Marsh is a freshwater, tidal preserve on the Potomac River just south of Alexandria, a natural jewel which former U. S. Senator John Warner called “a magnificent little oasis.” The 485-acre preserve, managed by the National Park Service, is one of the last tidal wetlands on a river once lined with marshes. Tidal freshwater marshes are rare, says Dr. Elizabeth Wells, a retired botany professor.

This wetland complex is one of the most significant temperate, tidal, freshwater, riverine marshes in the national park system. Thus, it is a national treasure as well. Congress added Dyke Marsh to the national park system in 1959 “so that fish and wildlife development and their preservation as wetland wildlife habitat shall be paramount.” Today, it has 300 known species of plants, 6,000 arthropods, 38 fish, 16 reptiles, 14 amphibians and more than 230 birds. Like all wetlands, Dyke Marsh provides ecological services: flood control, water quality enhancement, habitat, fish nursery, shoreline stabilization and recreational opportunities.

It’s been excavated, dumped in and invaded by non-native plants. Because dredging hauled away more than half the wetland from 1940 to 1972, the whole system is destabilized and Dyke Marsh will be completely gone by 2035 without action, concluded the U.S. Geological Survey. After many years of deliberation and fits and starts, NPS has finally started restoration.

Dyke Marsh is “the nearest thing to primeval wilderness in the immediate vicinity of the city,” wrote naturalist Louis Halle in 1947. Northern Virginians can enjoy a little slice of wilderness daily for free. Fall is an opportune time to observe many birds migrating through or arriving for the winter.

Because the federal government had the foresight to save it and locals tenaciously advocated for its survival, Dyke Marsh, while injured, has not fallen prey to the bulldozer and asphalt spreader. Visit www.fodm.org and www.nps.gov/gwmp to learn more.

-Glenda Booth, president, Friends of Dyke Marsh