Habitat Restoration at the Fairlington United Methodist Church

Photo of two volunteers next to shrubs in containers waiting to be planted

Text and images by Leslie Cameron, unless otherwise noted.

On a recent sunny workday in October, volunteers worked to remove invasive plants and plant native shrubs in a habitat restoration area adjacent to the Fairlington United Methodist Church (FUMC), at 3900 King Street in Alexandria.

Photo of an ARMN volunteer posing next to a shrub
FUMC Habitat Coordinator and Extension Master Gardener Anne Wilson, with a Black haw viburnum (Vibernum prunifolium) about to be planted.

In 2018, FUMC designated the half acre of wooded area and lawn near the church parking lot at Van Dorn Street and Menokin Drive as a native habitat restoration area. This parcel of land had been untended for many years, and heavy rains spilled extensive water down the Van Dorn Street hill, creating significant erosion. An initial focus was stormwater management. But FUMC’s long term vision is “to restore and sustain a 1/2-acre habitat of native trees, shrubs, and plants so that the community in the urban area where it is located has access to a place of spiritual rest and renewal, and opportunities for education inspired by the intricacies of the ecosystem.” Extension Master Gardener Anne Wilson and Arlington Regional Master Naturalist Clint Stretch have been the coordinators of the habitat restoration area since its inception. In the first year, paths were created and extensive populations of invasive plants like porcelain-berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), autumn olive (Elaeagnus umbellate), and others were removed. A circle of “stump seats” was added in the second year, inviting not only church members but neighbors from the community to visit. Visitors included children from the Fairlington Presbyterian Preschool across the street, who use the circle for their story time. FUMC welcomes everyone to enjoy the habitat, and many residents in the surrounding communities visit and rest in this space. 

Also, many church and community volunteers continue efforts to restore this area, including ARMN members Carol Weldon, Doug Brown, and Leslie Cameron. While ARMN habitat restoration work is focused on public lands and parks, ecologically significant private property, where the habitat improvements and educational value to the broader community are substantial, may receive special ARMN Board approval, as is the case with the FUMC work.

Grants from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia and Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, working with the City of Alexandria, have funded the installation of native plants, including water-retaining plants to help manage stormwater runoff from the parking lot. 

Photo of a Sweetbay magnolia shrub.
Sweetbay magnolia (Magnolia virginiana) planted near the parking lot to help manage stormwater runoff.

In addition, a recent grant from Virginia Department of Forestry’s Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant Program is funding the planting of native trees to improve water quality, increase the tree canopy, and provide additional wildlife support. On a recent October workday, volunteers planted five black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) and three Black haw viburnum (Viburnum prunifolium) shrubs. Other practices include keeping dead trees standing as “snags” (trees left in place that decompose naturally) and maintaining brush and log piles to support insects, birds, and other wildlife. 

To promote native plants, the church has installed signage explaining the project and is building a demonstration native wildflower rock garden on a bank above the Van Dorn Street sidewalk, including wild geranium (Geranium maculatum), columbine (Aquilegia canadensis), white wood aster (Eurybia divaricata), and goldenrod (Solidago sp.), plus nine redbuds (Cercis canadensis).

Work this year will continue till about mid-November, and Anne and Clint anticipate starting workdays up again in the Spring. Volunteers continue to be needed to pull invasive species and maintain the restored areas. In early spring, FUMC anticipates transplanting numerous small trees to more optimal spaces within the habitat. Anyone interested in joining workdays on regular Tuesday morning events or participating at a different day and time should email Anne Wilson at wilsanne@gmail.com to be added to a workday sign up list.

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