Many thanks to all the volunteers who planted the trees and shrubs at the EMJ farm on Saturday!! We were very pleased with the turnout and the enthusiasm everyone showed installing the riparian buffer. Students from James Madison University and University of Virginia carpooled to Luray and were joined by several folks from northern Virginia as well as local citizens who heard about the planting through Robert Jennings and the Chesapeake Bay Foundation (CBF) who organized the event.
Mr. Jennings kicked off the morning by explaining the benefits of improving local water quality which also happens to benefit the Bay. He pointed out that the need for clean water is something we can all agree on and it takes everyone working together to achieve. Cory Guilliams with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) described the virtues of installing riparian buffers; they include helping to decrease the amount of pollution that reaches the stream through runoff, providing habitat for native species, providing shade/food/habitat for aquatic life and stabilizing stream banks to decrease erosion. Scott Plein, owner of the farm and chair of the White House Farm Foundation thanked everyone for coming and for their interest in conservation and water quality, encouraging all the volunteers to come back and see the planting in a few years when it is flourishing. Chris Anderson with the White House Farm Foundation described the many best management practices that Mr. Plein has installed at the farm such as rotational grazing systems, planting cover crops, stream exclusion for cattle, stabilizing an eroded slope, installing the trees and shrubs and even experimenting with 10 acres of non-GMO soybeans.
In 2011, the farm was the site of an agricultural stewardship act complaint, meaning that it was in a serious state of degradation. Many head of cattle were confined in a small area and had full access to the stream adding to the bacteria load through direct deposition and increasing erosion by loafing in and around the water. An aerial photo from April 2011 reveals a complete lack of vegetation next to the stream. Last fall, the area was planted with a mixture of warm and cool season grasses and wildflowers. Combined with the trees and shrubs the soil will be well protected even during high water events.
We are really excited about this restoration project to improve water quality in Big Run which flows for 900 feet through the farm. Alston Horn, also with NRCS, showed volunteers the proper way to plant the bare root seedlings and how to install the shelters and weed barrier mats. In all, 231 trees and 712 shrubs were planted in a swath 50 feet back from the water’s edge on both sides of the creek.
Native hardwood species planted include swamp chestnut oak, black gum, black oak, black willow, northern red oak, apple, cherry, persimmon and sycamore. We worked with the Virginia Department of Forestry to determine the species best suited for the site. Shrubs were also chosen to stabilize the soil quickly; these include arrowwood viburnum, sassafras, redbud, buttonbush, red osier dogwood and elderberry.
The volunteers did a great job planting steadily through the day. At one point, shovels ping-ed on buried cobbles – the group had found the old road bed which wound through the Massanutten settlement, the oldest European settlement in Page County (some historians say the Shenandoah Valley), dating to the 1730s. When the German and Swiss immigrants reached the Shenandoah Valley they must have been well pleased with the land along the Shenandoah River and with the large areas of land that had already been cleared by Native Americans who managed forests and grasslands with regular burning. Family roots were set deep in the rich soil of the Page Valley three centuries later, which continue to grow into large family trees.
As steady rain fell on Monday following the Saturday planting, the moisture helped settle the soil around the recently planted tree roots, creating a riparian legacy which will also continue for centuries to come.
CHECK THIS OUT! Marian Cutler wrote this wonderful blog post about her and her daughter’s experience on Saturday: http://cmshawstudios.blogspot.com/2014/04/the-8th-grader-saves-bayin-luray.html