James River Association Proves Rewards of Restoration at Chapel Island

The James River Association is a long-standing lead member of the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force. JRA adopted Chapel Island as its project focus area, having already begun management work there in 2014, the year before the task force’s inception.

An “after” image reveals the natural beauty and vibrancy released when overwhelming invasive privet was controlled.

The JRA/Chapel Island project showcases the impact of the long game that is invasive plant management and restoration ecology. Learn more about this 11 acre downtown gem in Restoring Chapel Island: Uncovering History and Restoring Habitat along the James River.

Be a Hero: Volunteer and Help Save Our Trees

Every year since 2017, the James River Park System Invasive Plant Task Force has hosted a week of special events to observe National Invasive Species Awareness Week the end of February. This year is, of course, different. No kick-off event with guided botanical walks and information booth with “name that invasive plant” quizzes and native plant giveaways ideally situated near RVA Goats. And no crowded wrap-up party where we enjoyed a well-earned beverage, each other’s company, and music from The Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra.

NISAW 2021 is instead an opportunity to put the park system’s (and all of Richmond’s) trees in the spotlight, offering ample opportunities to save the life of a park tree while learning how to do the same for trees in your own neighborhood. Task Force members will be leading volunteer events—with limited numbers of participants— at Belle Isle, Pony Pasture, Chapel Island, Reedy Creek, Buttermilk Trail, and Huguenot Flatwater the rest of February. Find out more on our JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force home page where you also can access the volunteer calendar for details and contact information.

These trees covered in English ivy vines are not happy or healthy. They aren’t really able to even be trees. Many mature trees in Richmond, both inside and outside our parks, are plagued by invasive English ivy and winter creeper vines.
After the storm: trees covered in English ivy came down on Riverside Drive
near Buttermilk Trail while others lean precariously.

Our double-whammy storms are demonstrating what the weight of snow and ice can mean for trees already weakened by infestations of invasive winter creeper and English ivy vines. Trees suffer many hardships that put them at greater risk of falling as a result of snow, ice, wind, and saturated soils; the grip of choking, smothering invasive vines is one indignity we can spare our trees. You can learn more about the threat invasive vines pose to Richmond’s trees in this article.

Snow blankets ivy-covered trees on Riverside Drive in the winter of 2017.

The JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force invites you to join the ranks of our volunteer tree heroes in the fight to save Richmond’s tree canopy. Please join us at one of our JRPS project areas for hands-on “Free-A-Tree” experience throughout the rest of February. Then bring those skills back to your neighborhood. We can save Richmond’s urban canopy, one tree at a time. Volunteer now.

Laura Greenleaf is a Certified Virginia Master Naturalist and a founding steering committee member of the James River Park System Invasive Plant Task Force. She lives near the Pony Pasture section of the park system.

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.

Rainy Day Virtual-Visit to Chapel Island with JRA

The James River Association is a lead organizational partner of the JRPS Invasive Task Force and has been stewarding Chapel Island since 2014!

Check out what’s blooming on Chapel Island this month and enjoy some scenes from the James River in this video by Amber Ellis, JRA’s Senior Watershed Restoration Manager.

Amber Ellis, JRA

Watch:  Rainy Walk on Chapel Island

For more information on garlic mustard, including how and when to remove it, you can find a fact sheet at Blue Ridge PRISM.

2/23 – 2/29: Task Force Hosts National Invasive Species Awareness Week Events!

For the third consecutive year the JRPS Invasive Plant Task Force will make National Invasive Species Awareness Week a local happening. Please join us at one (or more!) of our volunteer opportunities, walks, or talks. Check the calendar for details (coming soon!).

SUNDAY 2/23  1:00-4:00 p.m.  Pony Pasture

  • Invasive Ecology 101: stop by our tent for an introduction to why invasive plants are a problem, how to identify the most common local bad actors, and what to do about them for healthier habitat.
  • Volunteer opportunity (Free A Tree and more! See calendar)
  • Guided walks with professional botanist and Task Force member Robert Wright at 1:30 p.m. and 3:15 p.m.
  • Did we mention goats?  Yes, if you’ve been feeling goat-deprived, you will get the chance to see RVA Goats in action and learn about the role they can play in invasive plant management.

MONDAY 2/24 — THURSDAY 2/27  

More volunteer opportunities at:

  • Chapel Island/Great Shiplock Park (Monday 1:00-3:00 p.m.)
  • Texas Beach (Tuesday 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.)
  • Buttermilk Trail (Wednesday 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m.)
  • Belle Isle (Thursday 9:00-noon)

FRIDAY 2/28, 7:00-10:00 p.m.: PARTY at The Westover (formerly Westover Station), 5047 Forest Hill Avenue

Experience the music of the Richmond Indigenous Gourd Orchestra and get to know your fellow invasive plant warriors over your favorite beverage instead of your favorite pruners or handsaw.

SATURDAY 2/29, 10:30 a.m.-noon: Reedy Creek Headquarters/Nature Center (4001 Riverside Drive)

“Heritage Matters” with Rob Evans, Natural Areas Protection Manager, Division of Natural Heritage, VA Department of Conservation and Recreation Learn why “heritage matters” when it comes to selecting plants for your own yard and how to control invasive plant species as you nurture your own corner of heavenly habitat. 30 minute lecture followed by ID walk and optional field work.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sometimes Invasive Plant Warriors Are Four-Legged

The JRPS Invasive Task Force recently enlisted professional help with battling invasive plant cover, primarily wintercreeper vines and Chinese privet shrubs, at Huguenot Woods Flatwater, the  westernmost unit of the James River Park System.

A job well done; time to ruminate.

Twenty-one goats and sheep plus “watchdonkey” Ruth Ann from RVA Goats were stationed for nearly two weeks near the canoe and kayak launch within a large electric fence enclosure.  Their task:  to knock back the dense vining groundcover and understory shrub thickets that have obliterated native plant populations, easing the next stage of management for their human colleagues.

The RVA Goats work site is just a small part of the 36.4 acre Huguenot Woods Flatwater park system unit.

Huguenot Woods Flatwater may be the park system unit most severely impaired by invasive plant species cover. Most of the area is “in the red” with invasive plant  impacts exceeding 75% cover as demonstrated in the 2015 Baseline Study inventory map.  The Task Force inventory team  identified 21 different invasive plant species during the late summer 2015 assessment.

The impact on Huguenot’s tree canopy is the most horrifying with nearly every tree heavily cloaked in choking, draping wintercreeper vines.  These trees are certain to die prematurely and to not be succeeded because seedlings and sapling struggle to survive, let alone thrive, under the impenetrable carpet of vines that also rob trees of water and nutrients.

Conditions at Huguenot Woods Flatwater make it an ideal location to deploy an advance team of workers who tend to eat just about anything.  There is little risk of collateral damage to native plant populations because in areas of invasive  monoculture  there aren’t surviving native species communities of herbaceous plants (i.e., grasses, vines, and spring, summer, or fall wildflowers) or shrubs.

You might find Huguenot Woods Flatwater discouraging . . . or you might find it inspiring.   We never heard a complaint from any of the goats and sheep (even through the late September heat wave) and we’re pretty sure that if they could speak our language they’d say, “Could you give us a hand? How about two? Come save a tree!”

Rootstock Revival at Pony Pasture

Sometimes giving biodiversity a boost comes down to the simplest ingredients: digging a hole, watering it, and popping in a scrappy little bundle of roots.

Next spring and summer the demonstration restoration area by the rapids and kiosk at Pony Pasture should have some added color – the purple of Virginia Spiderwort (Tradescantia virginiana) and the yellow of Green and Gold (Chrysogonum virginianum). Rescued “rootstock” of both of these locally native species came to us from a site slated for development; members of the Riverine chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists took the opportunity to diversify the herbaceous layer in this area where volunteers have been working to remove invasive wintercreeper ground cover.  Both species are well-suited to wooded, riparian habitat.

Might the root system be the source of the “spider” in the common name “Spiderwort”? We thought they resembled calamari!

We soon will be adding new volunteer days this fall to continue reclaiming this area from wintercreeper.  Be a habitat hero and join us!  Details will be posted on the Task Force calendar.

 

Fall/Winter Volunteer Days Begin Again at Pony Pasture

Sure, everyone loves just hanging out by the rapids, contemplating the force of the river, soothed by the sound of the roaring water. But . . . How can you truly relax knowing the park right behind you is being eaten alive by invasive plant species!?!?  That’s how I feel anyway.   So come join me and other Riverine chapter Virginia Master Naturalists as we expand our restoration area next to the Pony Pasture rapids by continuing to remove the carpet of wintercreeper and plucking out the resprouting wintercreeper in the section now thriving with native perennials, shrubs, and trees.   We will be there most Tuesday mornings starting at 9:00 a.m. between now and mid-December plus Sunday afternoon, November 11th. (We’ll add new winter dates after that.) Be sure to check our calendar: http://www.calendarwiz.com/calendars/list.php?crd=jrpcalendar&op=cal&month=10&year=2018

Showing your love for our park system by helping to save it makes the sound of those rapids even more like music to the ears . . .

 

Restoration Expands at Pony Pasture

On a clear, bright, and breezy Sunday afternoon five volunteers eased into the soil at Pony Pasture Rapids over fifty plants of species native to riparian areas in our region.  This is the second annual fall restoration planting in this area previously infested densely with invasive wintercreeper. Removal work is ongoing. 

We planted: Heuchera americana (Alumroot), Lobelia syphilitica (great blue lobelia), Lobelia cardinalis (cardinal flower), Amorpha fruticosa (indigo bush), Corylus Americana (hazelnut), Itea virginica (sweetspire), Clethra alnifolia (sweet pepperbush), Magnolia virgninica (sweetbay magnolia), Aruncus dioicus (goats beard), and  Onoclea sensibilis (sensitive fern).  We will be adding one more species, Packera aurea (golden ragwort), in another couple weeks when we’re prepared to clearly mark its presence to differentiate it from garlic mustard, an all too common invasive in this part of Pony Pasture with potentially lookalike leaves to the ragwort.

The November 19th planting was a project of the Riverine chapter of Virginia Master Naturalists.  All plants were sourced from our local native plant nurseries Garden Gate Landscape (Montpelier) and Reedy Creek Environmental (Richmond City).  Many thanks to Beth Farmer of Garden Gate and Bill Shanabruch of Reedy Creek!

Planting Time Has Arrived

Our work at Pony Pasture resumed the end of September and on November 19th members of the Riverine chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists will lead a planting project in an expanding restoration demonstration project near the parking area kiosk.   The plant list isn’t finalized yet, but we will be selecting shrub and herbaceous  species native to our region and suitable to riparian habitats.  For the past month and a half a small team of dedicated volunteers have alternated between tending to trees strangled by wintercreeper and English ivy vines along Pleasants Creek Trail and pulling wintercreeper ground cover in the restoration planting area; this means plucking out re-emergent wintercreeper in the area we planted one year ago and continuing to pull up the dense carpet of vines adjacent to it.  It’s vigorous work, but produces tangible results and reveals hidden treasures.  From under that mass of invasive vines we freed multiple spicebush shrubs, an American holly, and an ash sapling—-all native flora that can now thrive and support our native fauna.

Before

After