Volunteers Continue to Transform Rapids Restoration Area

2020 was a year of adaptability and resilience. This was as true for our work in the park system as in every other area of our lives. Once Virginia’s phased reopening allowed for it, the park system and the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force had new volunteer guidelines in place so that we could safely continue our progress in responding to the greatest threat to the health of Richmond’s nearly 600 acre park system–abundant invasive plant cover of more than 50 species system-wide overtaking and obliterating our native flora.

And respond volunteers did! We continued to organize physically-distanced work days for groups, but we also had experienced individual volunteers step up to work independently on approved activities in project focus areas, diligently reporting their volunteer hours to project leaders. The Pony Pasture Rapids Restoration Area, one of the task force is a great example of this ongoing commitment. We steered clear of this area during the time of blooming spring ephemerals, as we would in any year, and doubled down on our efforts starting in the fall. The season of dormancy is the right time to work on invasive ground cover removal, when there is the least risk of collateral damage to native plants.

Volunteers continue to remove dense wintercreeper (Euonymus fortuneii) in at Pony Pasture Rapids
in the fall of 2020.
Gretchen Gorecki (left) and Gina DiCicco (right), members of the Riverine Chapter of VA Master Naturalist, paired up on a fall 2020 work day of their own.

The goal at the Pony Pasture Rapids Restoration Area continues to be removal of wintercreeper (Euonymus fortuneii). Originating as ornamental landscaping, invasive wintercreeper now covers (and smothers) much of Pony Pasture, to the exclusion of anything recognizable as healthy floodplain forest habitat.

Wintercreeper covers the ground–and trees–along Riverside Trail.

At the Rapids Restoration Area, nature is responding to the helping hand our invasive removal has held out. Botanist and JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force member Robert Wright conducted a June 2020 survey and inventory of flora in the two acre restoration area. The results? Fifty native tree, shrub, and herbaceous species to a dozen invasives. Just a few of those natives have been intentionally planted as part of restoration (the task force favors a “watch and wait” approach to allow for natural recovery before careful consideration of planting appropriate native species). In particular, spring ephemerals and other herbaceous plants waiting in the “seed bed” are seizing their opportunity to flourish once more.

Does this mean we’ve succeeded and passed the finish line? Not at all. The task force develops long-term plans for monitoring and managing each of our work areas. We continue to remove residual and reoccurring invasives as well as opportunistic new invasives that are sometimes encouraged by removal of others; Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), already present along the restoration area’s periphery, made incursions into the newly cleared “interior” this year and we responded by pulling it at the right time–before it set seed in late August and early September).

We will continue our work at Pony Pasture Rapids Restoration Area through the winter and early spring. Come out and join us! Just keep an eye on the calendar for scheduled workdays or contact project leader Laura Greenleaf (lauragreenleaf@verizon.net).

Members of American Heritage Girls and their siblings and parents put in an afternoon of hard work to mark the new year.
Tristan Frantz expands the growing debris of wintercreeper (photo by fellow volunteer Henry Prideaux). Frantz and Prideaux are two of the volunteers who have coordinated with the task force project leader to work independently, making an exceptional contribution to the effort.