An ongoing and in some ways accelerating partnership between NOVA Parks and the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists (ARMN) is enhancing Upton Hill Regional Park.
The park has some healthy areas of mature forest within its 27 acres. But not all that is green is good; some are invasive species.
Invasive plants are those from other parts of the world with few competitors in the existing environment and can take over areas.
These plants provide much fewer habitat values than native plants and choke out the natural biodiversity of a healthy forest, park officials say.
While the Master Naturalists and NOVA Parks have been working on addressing the invasive plants at Upton Hills for some time, the past year has seen increased efforts, with NOVA Parks bringing in expert contractors to complement the efforts of staff and volunteers.
The target area has been about two acres with the highest concentration of invasives.
“Park visitors who know the difference between native and invasive plants will already see a difference, as the natural habitat has been significantly enhanced,” noted Jill Barker of the Arlington Master Naturalists. “We are thrilled with the partnership and progress over the last year.”
Forests go through stages of development, like children growing into adults. Upton Hill has some Climax Oak/Hickory Forest areas, which is one of the last stages of development. It can take 100 years for a forest to reach the mix of species that it will have in its final stage. In 2018, NOVA Parks planted an open area with a mix of trees, shrubs, and grasses that will grow into an Oak/Hickory Forest. Removing invasive plants will allow the ecology of this area to mature into an area with healthy biodiversity.
Nearly 1,000 volunteer hours were logged at Upton Hill last year, and new volunteers are always welcomed. (For information, see the Website at https://armn.org/2022/03/02/transforming-upton-hill-regional-park/.)
The Master Naturalist/NOVA Parks partnership is not limited to invasive plants. In 2020, both organizations started working together along with the Arlington NAACP and Audubon Society to offer a Black and Hispanic Birding program.
“The Master Naturalists are fantastic partners to work with,” said NOVA Parks executive director Paul Gilbert. “The extensive training needed to be a Master Naturalist means this is a group with a deep understanding of the natural systems. They provide time, expertise and passion for helping our parkland be all that it can be.”
In the mid-1970s, the tract along Wilson Boulevard that now is Upton Hill Regional Park was slated to be turned into tract housing before NOVA Parks (then known as the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) purchased it for preservation.
The resulting park features a mix of passive- and active-recreation features.