Friends of Dyke Marsh aim to clean up natural wetlands

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Friends of Dyke Marsh aim to clean up natural wetlands
The Friends of Dyke Marsh help to preserve the habitat for its many species. (Courtesy/Friends of Dyke Marsh)
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By Laura Van Pate | lvanpate@alextimes.com

Friends of Dyke Marsh is a nonprofit organization that has spent more than four decades with one mission in mind: to make the Dyke Marsh as beautiful as it can be. 

Dyke Marsh is a freshwater wetland consisting of 485 acres of tidal marsh, floodplain and swamp forest in Alexandria. It’s one of the largest wetlands remaining in the DMV area. Officially maintained by the National Park Service, the Friends collaborate with NPS to keep the area clean. 

Formed by Ed Risley and Jed Bryne in 1976, Friends of Dyke Marsh has long done work on the historic Alexandria wetland, such as hosting trash cleanups and advocating for the conservation and restoration of the marsh. 

“Friends of Dyke Marsh started because Risley and Bryne realized that there were a lot of problems with the marsh, such as commercial fishing, and that the marsh was eroding away,” Glenda Booth, the current president of the Friends of Dyke Marsh, said. “The organization has done many great things to preserve the marsh and that’s a reason I joined.” 

One of the reasons why Friends of Dyke Marsh wants to preserve the area is because of its environmental significance. 

“We believe it’s important to preserve Dyke Marsh because of its predominance of not only being a national park but also because it’s one of the largest remaining freshwater tidal wetlands in the Washington, D.C. area,” Booth said. 

Removal of invasive plant species is a key component of Friends of Dyke Marsh’s efforts. The organization sends out a group of volunteers twice a month to remove invasive vegetation which harms Dyke Marsh’s flora and fauna. 

Friends of Dyke Marsh also shares the beauty of the marsh by hosting bird walks every Sunday, where those interested can find and identify birds that live in the area while guided by an expert bird watcher. 

“I definitely feel like our efforts to preserve Dyke Marsh have been useful to the Alexandria community, and we’re doing everything we can to keep Dyke Marsh beautiful,” Booth said. 

The organization has remained active for almost half a century because of its nearly 400 volunteer members of all ages. 

“We have great diversity in terms of the ages of volunteers who work with us,” Jim Gearing, a seven-year volunteer of the organization, said. “People that are older work with high school volunteers, and even kids as young as six years old come to help out with their parents. Overall, it’s just a great time, and it’s for a great cause.” 

Gearing said he felt called to volunteer with the Friends because of his upbringing. 

“I grew up near the swamp areas in Florida, which inspired me to help protect the environment,” Gearing said. “When I moved to Virginia, I ended up living near Dyke Marsh and I wanted to help preserve it because of my love for swamp areas.” 

As is often the case with volunteering, those who sign up to help out often find themselves receiving as much as they give. 

“I’ve met some of my best friends through Friends of Dyke Marsh,” Gearing said. “It’s really amazing to think that I wouldn’t have met these people if it wasn’t for our organization and the environment.” 

Friends of Dyke Marsh is one of the many environmental groups in Alexandria that works to preserve natural areas in the DMV. There are several other groups in Alexandria cut from the same cloth, including Friends of the Mount Vernon Trail – which focuses on preserving the Mount Vernon Trail – and the Four Mile Run Conservatory Foundation, which promotes nature, culture and community at Four Mile Run Park. 

Friends of Dyke Marsh has volunteer opportunities beyond their twice-a-month removing invasive plant species project. Those interested in volunteering or learning more about Friends of Dyke Marsh can email info@fodm.org. 

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