Volunteers Plant Trees Along Occoquan Reservoir


The newly-planted trees on county-owned land near the bridge crossing the Occoquan Reservoir are just saplings, but in time, they will grow and create a little ecosystem.  

“After probably the second year, you’ll start seeing birds on the young trees,” said Tim Hughes, an environmental specialist with Prince William County Public Works Environmental Services Division. “Then, the natural vegetation and grasses start growing. Once the forest grows in, after about five years, it looks natural.”

Volunteers from Girl Scout Troop 1719, out of Lake Ridge, and the NOVA Chapter of Climate Reality Project, under the guidance of master gardeners from the Virginia Cooperative Extension-Prince William, or VCE, recently planted 110 native saplings at 6320 Davis Ford Road. Redbuds, sycamores, flowering dogwoods, river birches, pin oaks, swamp white oaks, red maples, paw paws, hornbeams, black gums, strawberries and tulip poplars are now homed in the space.

The volunteers planted the trees in a resource protection area, or RPA. RPAs contain perennial streams or bodies of water critical to the watershed. Prince William County is required to protect RPAs in accordance with the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Act.

Restoring RPAs through reforestation helps keep water clean in Prince William County and beyond. “It helps in so many ways,” Hughes said. “We’re restoring a resource protection area, and we’re protecting water quality. In this case, the Occoquan Reservoir is a source of drinking water for several million people locally. It reduces stormwater runoff and protects the streams, banks and waterways that feed the Potomac River, which feeds into the Chesapeake Bay. Anything we can do to reforest and restore the RPA contributes to all things good.”

In addition to planting the saplings, the volunteers planted 150 tree cuttings called live stakes along the water’s edge. “They root over time and hold the banks together,” VCE Education Outreach Instructor Nancy Berlin said of the live stakes.

Reforestation projects offer financial and environmental benefits to the county. “It saves the county money because we’re no longer paying to manage or mow the turf areas. We’re converting it into forest with native trees. Of course, it helps with air quality and carbon sequestration too.”

The project is part of Prince William County’s overarching plan to plant more trees. “We usually do three or four resource protection areas a year, so it is part of a bigger plan to increase tree canopy in the county,” Berlin said.

The Girl Scouts got a lot out of participating in the project. “Not only do the girls get some hours for their community work, but they also receive a patch for doing the Girl Scout Tree Promise,” Troop Leader Amy Jordan said of the Girl Scouts’ national effort to plant five million trees across the country by 2026. “It’s also important to get them out and about. It was a project that was easy and family-friendly. We were doing something fun on a beautiful Saturday, and we did a good deed,” Jordan said.

Environmentally-aware members of the NOVA Chapter of Climate Reality Project saw a chance to do something tangible for the environment. “We have a thorough understanding of climate change, so this was a great project to do something to address climate change positively,” said Natalie Pien, the group leader for the climate reality project. “I was happy to be doing something good rather than just raising the alarm bells. It was a great family activity. It was a great day.”

The trees and live stakes cost the county’s public works department about $2,000. The volunteer labor was free. In all, it took 30 workers less than two hours to complete the project after a two-year effort to eradicate non-native wisteria from the site.

Contractors will soon plant another 550 native trees on the 1.6-acre site that includes the one-third acre the volunteers recently planted.

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