Photo Essay by Tracy Lind
Potomac Conservancy Stewardship & Outreach Specialist
Fifty years ago, while searching for a place to call home, Sally's parents fell in love with the agricultural and forested lands of Frederick County, Virginia. They were in the military, so they were always moving around and couldn't decide where to live permanently. Their search came to an end when they discovered a 200-acre property along Hogue Creek. According to Sally, “When they saw this land, they knew they were here.”
In 2011, Sally (pictured left) and her family protected their land with a conservation easement. Their property is part of a 608-acre tract of protected private land—what we call a "conservation hub." By protecting their land, these easement landowners have helped protect water quality and wildlife habitat along Hogue Creek.
Even though the lands are private, we all benefit from conservation. Wildlife habitat along Hogue Creek ensures that birds, turtles, beavers, and other wildlife that we enjoy seeing and hearing can flourish and have a place to live. Native trees and plants along the water provide us with clean air and filter toxins out of polluted runoff before it reaches Hogue Creek and heads downstream. This leads to healthier waterways for us to fish, kayak, and swim in.
To thank Sally and other local landowners for their dedication to conservation, Potomac Conservancy hosted a Landowner Appreciation Event on Sally's property in April. Eighteen volunteers and conservation easement landowners spent the day planting trees, creating a garden for migratory monarch butterflies, installing birdhouses, and learning about land conservation. The combined efforts of these volunteers will help improve water quality in Hogue Creek, Back Creek, the Shenandoah River, the Potomac River, and ultimately the Chesapeake Bay.
Volunteers planted 25 native trees and shrubs within the riparian buffer of Hogue Creek. Riparian buffers are vegetated areas along a waterway. They play a key role in enhancing water quality and have numerous environmental benefits. Trees and shrubs stabilize the soil and banks, keeping damaging sediment out of the water. They also filter toxins from stormwater and agricultural runoff, making our stream, creeks, and rivers healthier to fish from, swim in, and use for drinking water. They provide shade and cover for aquatic species like brook trout and spring peepers, and give birds, such as belted kingfishers and great blue herons, places to perch and nest. The more native trees and shrubs along a bank the better it is for everyone!
Gerald Crowell, a Shenandoah area forester with the Virginia Department of Forestry, demonstrated proper planting techniques to volunteers.
The first step is to dig a hole about two times the size of the root ball of the tree or shrub. Pat (left) and Suzy (right), both Virginia Master Naturalists, were part of our volunteer crew.
Josie, Sally's canine companion, approved of the holes we dug.
Next, take the plant out of its container by pushing from the bottom and wiggling it out. Never pull the tree out by its branches! This can damage and kill it. Using a knife, make vertical slits in the root ball, like Kristin, a member of the Virginia Master Gardner program, is doing above.
Place the tree in the newly dug hole, fill it back up with dirt, and pack the dirt down around the tree. Lauran, a West Virginia landowner and beekeeper, helped make sure the trees were well-anchored in the ground.
Water trees immediately after they are planted. It is critical that they are well-watered for the first two years. Young trees expend a lot of energy establishing their roots and will have a hard time dealing with heat and drought. It's easy to think more is better, which is why over-watering is a common mistake. Remember: moist soil is different than soggy soil. The Arbor Day Foundation says, "As a rule of thumb, your soil should be moist. Usually 30 seconds with a steady stream of water from a garden hose with a diffuser, per seedling, is efficient." In our case, one bucket per seedling was the perfect amount. Tracy, a Frederick County resident, helped get water out of Hogue Creek.
Place a shelter around each newly planted tree to protect it from deer grazing. Put a stake in the ground, next to the tree, and secure the tube to it. The tube should remain on the tree until it is almost ready to break off on its own. Joe, a ranger at Cunningham Falls State Park in Maryland, helped place tree tubes around all the young trees.
After the tree tube is in place, pour natural mulch, such as hardwood chips, around the tree. Be careful not to let it touch the trunk! Create a ring around the tree with a shallow dip in the center. This will prevent water and mulch from flowing away with the rain. Just like with watering, more is not better. Over-mulching can harm and kill a tree. Using mulch is important because it insulates the soil, helping to protect the tree from extreme weather. It also keeps roots moist, minimizes weeds, prevents soil compaction, and reduces lawn mower damage.
Another project we completed on Sally's protected property was planting a monarch waystation, a garden of native milkweed and nectar plants that will provide shelter and food to monarch butterflies during their life cycle and migration. Monarch butterfly populations are dropping dramatically due to climate change, habitat loss, and pesticide use, so planting gardens such as this are increasingly important. Kristin (left) helped get the native plants in the ground and Joe (right), a recent Appalachian Trail "thru-hiker," made sure they were all watered.
When creating your own monarch waystation, be sure to use native and pesticide-free plants. These plants are hardy and will not destroy native habitats. They are also safest for monarchs and provide the best nutrition.
We also thanked another conservation easement landowner by placing three bluebird boxes on his property, which is adjacent to Sally's. Eastern bluebirds are much loved and admired for their distinctive coloring and song that some hear as "chur-lee, chur-lee." They are fairly common, but their population has declined substantially due to habitat loss and pesticide use. Their numbers have been given a boost thanks to the growing popularity of bluebird boxes. Other birds, such as chickadees or tree swallows, may inhabit the boxes as well.
Thank You To Everyone Who Came Out To Show Their Support For Land Conservation!
One of the Great Things About Volunteering Is That You Come As Strangers, Work As A Team,
And Leave As Friends!
We, at Potomac Conservancy, are fortunate to know and work with landowners who protect their land with conservation easements. We are grateful for their support and for being such great stewards of the land!
Potomac Conservancy would like to thank these groups for their support with this event.
Agua Fund > (a family foundation whose mission is to improve quality of life)
Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy > (information on monarch butterflies, including creating a monarch waystation)
Virginia Department of Forestry > (information on planting native trees/shrubs and riparian buffer opportunities)
Watermark Woods > (native pesticide-free plant nursery located in Hamilton, Virginia)