Potomac News Online | Volunteers get to root of the problem

After a brief tutorial on how to recognize the invasive species they were about to battle, about a dozen volunteers sallied into the Julie J. Metz Wetlands Bank on Saturday morning in pursuit of the enemy.

Donna Dixon, and her sons Tory, 15, and Drew, 17, were among the volunteers hunting polygonum perfoliatum, more commonly known as the Mile-A-Minute plant.

“Kim Hosen showed us,” Dixon said of Hosen, the executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance and organizer the little expedition.

“It has leaves that look like little elephant ears,” the Prince William substitute teacher said

“It vines around everything,” Dixon, 45, said of the plant that can grow up to six inches a day and climb as high as 20 feet.

The Mile-a-Minute, native to eastern Asia, thrives in sunny, moist locations, so the Metz Wetland, near Leesylvania State Park, suits the invasive species.

In the forest, the plant grows up trees to form a dense canopy that blocks sunlight and prevents regeneration of native species.

“Finding it is hard. I thought there would be a lot more than there is,” Dixon said.

“The object is to get it by the root. That’s kind of hard, but you just start pulling and it takes you down the bottom,” she said.

The volunteers searched just under two miles of trails that wind through the 227 acres of natural and reconstructed wetlands, and filled about 12 large garbage bags with the non-native plants.

Volunteer Ashley Briggs, 15, of Osbourn Park High School, said she was surprised at the diversity of the wildlife and scenery she saw while she looked for Mile-A-Minute to pull.

Hosen said the 10 species of butterflies find habitat and food among the flowering Queen Anne’s lace, New York iron weed, goldenrod and purple Knapp weed at the de facto preserve on Neabsco Road.

Marsh Mallows, members of the hibiscus family, grow head high at the wetlands, and sport flowers as big as soup bowls in red, magenta, lavender and white.

Cardinals, chipmunks, ospreys, frogs, turtles and snakes are at home there as well and are easily spotted by even the casually observant.

Construction of the Metz Wetland Bank began in 1995 and is part of a program approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to mitigate the loss of wetlands to development in other areas.

According to a pamphlet available at the entrance to the Metz Wetland, mitigation banks are areas of “constructed, restored, or preserved wetlands consisting quantified value units termed, ‘credits,’ that can be purchased by developers in advance of anticipated wetlands losses due to construction activities.

Sean Connaughton, R-At Large, chairman of the Prince William Board of County Supervisors, contributed a fair amount of sweat to the effort Saturday explained.

“This is one of the wetlands banks,” Connaughton said after the work was done.

“Where road projects, building projects have impacted wetlands, they have to then compensate for the loss,” he said.

The trails were a byproduct of the project and are all but invisible to motorists on the way to Leesylvania State Park.

Someone walking the trails could easily spend a couple of hours among the Black-Eyed Susans, beaver lodges and great blue herons.

“One of the things they’ve done here that’s made this a very successful project is that they are actually reconstructing wetlands next to existing wetlands and it makes it viable,” Connaughton said.

“It is truly one of the hidden treasures here in the county,” Connaughton said.

For more information on native and invasive species in the Commonwealth, visit www.vnps.org and search the links.

Staff writer Keith Walker can be reached at (703) 878-8063.

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