The Virginia Association of Counties (VACo) recently recognized Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation’s (DPR) Barcroft Magnolia Bog Restoration Project with a 2016 Achievement Award. VACo described this innovative program “as a model for natural resource management in urban areas by highlighting opportunities to incorporate community groups in environmental stewardship activities.” http://www.vaco.org/pressreleases/16releases/16programdescription.pdf.
The Barcroft magnolia bog occurs as a collection or mosaic of 18 separate springs that create wooded wetlands within a 25-acre undeveloped portion of Barcroft Park in South Arlington. The bog ranks as one of only two dozen such bogs known in the world and gets its name from the Sweetbay Magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) that grow naturally there.
The bog area lies just steps away from baseball fields, picnic areas, and tennis courts in Barcroft Park. Nearby development, changes in the water table, invasive plants, and other environmental stressors have all taken a toll on this globally rare ecosystem.
The bogs were identified by botanist Rod Simmons in 2004 and brought to the attention of Greg Zell, then chief naturalist at the Long Branch Nature Center. Zell and Simmons immediately began a series of field studies to document the presence of both state and globally rare wetlands. Several dozen locally rare wetland plants were found that grow nowhere else in Arlington. As a result, a plan to protect and restore this natural treasure was drafted. The draft became the basis for DPR’s five-year-long Barcroft Magnolia Bog Restoration Project. The goals of the plan were to:
- Preserve high-value natural lands through removal of nonnative plant species and targeted reforestation of extant species.
- Restore degraded wetlands through re-introduction of historically appropriate native plant species and wildlife.
- Stabilize the hydrologic regime to former conditions where possible to favor long-term stability of wetland plant communities.
- Develop a holistic plan that favors an ecosystem approach to ecological management of the site.
To implement the plan, Arlington County staff partnered with AmeriCorps and volunteers from ARMN, the Windgate townhome community, Earth Sangha, the Virginia Native Plant Society, and the Remove Invasive Plants (RIP) group to inventory the bog’s plants, remove invasive plants, build a vernal pool, and install locally sourced native plants. The work extended to areas around the bog to stabilize and protect it.
In 2011, DPR also received a grant to restore an additional 13 acres of the Barcroft magnolia bog area and to provide for outreach to Arlington residents about invasive plants and the restoration work. In 2012, AmeriCorps helped the County expand existing wetlands near the bogs, release Wood Frog eggs in the new vernal pools, conduct further inventories at the site, and help to lead additional volunteer events. In 2013, County staff and ARMN members re-introduced local ecotype native species to the bog area.
Today, the bog and its surrounding buffer are nearly 90-percent free of invasive plants. Long-lost animals and plants are returning. New colonies of Spring Peepers, Wood Frogs, Gray Fox, Yellow-crowned Night Herons, and Little Wood Satyr butterflies, as well as uncommon plants such as Dwarf Ginseng, Bloodroot, and Wood Anemone, are expanding their range inside of Barcroft Park. Long-term success will be measured through periodic plant and animal surveys.
“This is a real success story for our County,” said Jane Rudolph, director of Parks and Recreation. “The bog is home to wetlands, natural forest, and more locally rare plants than any other site in the County. We want it to be here for generations of Arlingtonians to enjoy.”