Historical Landscape of James Monroe’s Highland

Property managers at James Monroe’s Highland recently conducted preservation work on the estate’s tree canopy using cost-share funding from the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF). With more than 100 ash trees on the property, Highland has not been insulated from the effects of the emerald ash borer (EAB)– an invasive pest that damages and eventually kills native ash species. To maintain the overall health of their tree canopy, they’ve removed several ash trees that were infested with EAB, trimmed trees damaged by pests or storms, and began a cycle of EAB treatment on select individual trees.

You may know the property as Ash Lawn-Highland – President James Monroe’s estate in Albemarle County, Virginia The property was originally known simply as Highland, with the “Ash Lawn” descriptor as a more contemporary addition from a subsequent owner, likely in honor of the many beautiful ash tree specimens on the property. In recent years, the property’s name has returned to its historic roots.

Still, the ash trees on the property are no less iconic. The driveway leading up to the estate is flanked by rows of ash trees and frequently serves as a backdrop for photographers, particularly for wedding parties. The Peacock Yard, another frequently photographed site, also features stunning ash trees. 

Driveway at Highland. Photo Credit: James Monroe’s Highland

Many of the trees on the property are white ash and are likely 80-100 years old. While these trees don’t date back to the origins of the estate, they do contribute to the beauty and function of the property. Trees, of course, don’t live forever. As they age, they may become weak or susceptible to disease, damage, or pests. 

The EAB infestation has been devastating to ash trees in many parts of the U.S., including Virginia. Treating healthy ash trees to prevent infestation is one option, but it can be costly. Cost-share programs like the one offered through VDOF are one way that property managers can mitigate the costs associated with tree care. 

Nancy Ocasio, Highland’s Business and Operations Manager, says that maintaining healthy trees on Highland is critical to preserving the overall aesthetic and use of the property, so treating the ash trees was ultimately a business decision – it may be costly, but they couldn’t afford the loss of the trees and their benefits.

But not all trees can be saved, and some may need to be removed for safety reasons – trees affected by EAB damage may become hazardous over time. VDOF’s EAB cost-share program gives landowners funding to remove ash trees and replace them with other native species. Nancy says they’re considering American elm or hackberry as replacement options for the trees they’ve had to remove; these species can have a similar branching pattern that will visually match the remaining ash trees.

Broken or pruned limbs from trees on the property are given to local craftspeople who create functional works of art displayed and sold at Highland. Woodworkers have created items such as pens and bowls from ash wood. Other items may be crafted from trees on the property that are significantly older than the ash, including limbs from a white oak and a hemlock that are each more than 300 years old.

During normal operations, Highland is open to the public. Photo Credit: James Monroe’s Highland

These historic trees demonstrate the property’s deep connection to our nation’s rich history. Nancy says that the estate is one of the most interesting places she could imagine working, in part because there’s always so much new to learn, even about events that happened long ago.

During Monroe’s time, and for several generations beyond, enslaved people lived on the Highland estate. The interpretive materials for Highland acknowledge the legacy of slavery inextricably tied to the property, the people who lived there, and the generations of descendants now dispersed throughout the country.

The Highland staff are collaborating with the Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors to curate and reinterpret displays and exhibits on the estate that share a more comprehensive story. For example, while many displays in the Presidential Guest House have focused on the furniture, art, and use of different rooms, the updated displays will center more on sharing stories of the individuals associated with these spaces. The Highland webpage explaining the engagement with the Council states: “Our collaboration makes the stories more relevant to our community and more truthful.” [Read more about the Highland’s Council of Descendant Advisors.]

A rustic trail system weaves along the Highland property, installed by Boy Scout troops decades ago. Volunteers have performed extensive work and dedicated many hours to restoring the trail system. These trails, though not necessarily historic, allow visitors to appreciate and experience the property in a different way. Even the trails benefit from the full lifecycle of the removed ash trees on the property; when the cut trees are chipped, they are used for mulch along the paths.

Ultimately, giving ongoing care to the tree canopy at Highland bolsters the preservation of an historic space that holds the stories of many and diverse generations of Virginians. 

Learn more about James Monroe’s Highland.

Featured Image: Ash in Peacock Yard. Photo Credit: James Monroe’s Highland


Field Notes: (Hopefully Not) Spotting the Spotted Lanternfly

By Katlin Dewitt, Forest Health Specialist

The spotted lanternfly is an invasive, sapsucking insect that was first detected in Winchester, Virginia in January 2018. As a pest of many different plants, it poses a threat to many of our native tree species, such as black walnut, maples, cherries, and many more. Additionally, this pest feeds on numerous commercially important plants like grapes, hops, apricots, plums, and apples.

As a sapsucker, the spotted lanternfly utilizes piercing-sucking mouthparts to feed on sap from woody parts of plants. It takes in an excess of sugary material, which then must be excreted from its hind end. This material is called honeydew and sounds (and feels) like a sticky rain falling from the trees above when spotted lanternfly populations are high! Honeydew can be messy and attracts other problematic pests, like ants and stinging wasps, and also allows for the growth of sooty mold.

Spotted lanternfly adults on tree

One of the ways this pest has spread so far in a relatively short amount of time is through unintentional movement of egg masses on materials and goods. An adult female can lay up to two egg masses and each egg mass can contain 30-50 individual eggs! She will lay her egg masses on any flat or smooth surface protected from the elements; this may be on the underside of tree branches, underneath flaky bark, sides of picnic tables, scrap metal, or even children’s playsets! Egg Masses are quite cryptic in coloration, blending in with many natural elements. Due to their camouflaged appearance and the female spotted lanternfly’s ability to lay eggs on many different surfaces, these egg masses can accidentally be moved by humans transporting firewood, camping trailers, or moving anything that has been sitting outside for an extended period of time.

Spotted lanternfly egg mass on tree

In an effort to prevent the spread of the spotted lanternfly, the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has implemented a quarantine for Frederick County and the City of Winchester. In March 2021, this quarantine will expand to also include Clarke and Warren counties. Loggers who are working near these areas should perform self-inspections to make sure they aren’t spreading the spotted lanternfly to new areas.

The spotted lanternfly overwinters (survives the winter) in the egg stage. This makes February a good time to survey for this insect. The Virginia Department of Forestry’s forest health team, along with eight foresters located around the state, are conducting spotted lanternfly egg mass surveys at high-risk locations. These are sites that receive a lot of vehicle travel (e.g., rest areas, truck stops), areas where people bring outdoor goods and equipment (e.g., campgrounds, hiking trails), or where large amounts of goods are moved (near train tracks, big shopping areas). Since spotted lanternfly will lay eggs anywhere and everywhere, including high up in tree tops, binoculars are a great tool to utilize while doing these surveys. All site data is entered into a Survey123 app that will eventually be merged with VDACS survey data. Hopefully no new detections will be found during these surveys, but if an egg mass is found, early detection allows us to act quickly and remove any outlier populations.

Native Ecosystem Restoration Expanded in Southeastern Virginia

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) and the Meadowview Biological Research Station (MBRS) recently acquired land that expands an existing conservation easement on the Joseph Pines Preserve in Sussex County.  The 196-acre purchase by MBRS increases the preserve property to nearly 428 acres. The easement, donated to VDOF by MBRS, includes the entire preserve.

“This partnership exemplifies the positive impact of multiple agencies and nonprofit organizations working together with a shared vision,” said Virginia Secretary of Agriculture and Forestry Bettina Ring. “As a result of this conservation project we are seeing the restoration of a rare forest community with public access.”

The property, which is open to visitors for low-impact use, is managed to restore a native longleaf pine ecosystem. Longleaf pine’s native range once extended from southeast Virginia to east Texas. Although no natural longleaf pine forests remain in Sussex County, historical forest models indicate that longleaf would have likely been present on the Joseph Pines Preserve landscape. A joint research initiative with the USDA Forest Service in 2018 confirmed the assumption – an old log pulled from wetlands on the property was tested and identified as longleaf pine. 

“Five centuries ago, longleaf pine was arguably the most common tree species in upland southeast Virginia,” said Virginia State Forester Rob Farrell. “VDOF and many of our partners have long recognized the importance of longleaf restoration to environmental and economic health, and we are excited to strengthen our efforts through the expansion of this easement.”

VDOF has held an easement on the preserve’s original 232 acres since 2012. The recent purchase of the additional acreage was made possible by grant funding from the Virginia Land Conservation Fund, the Cameron Foundation, a third anonymous foundation, a loan guarantee from Atlantic Union Bank, and a loan from the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality Clean Water Revolving Loan Fund. MBRS’ goal is to expand the preserve to 2,000 acres in Sussex County, by adding property and amending the easement over time.

“Our mission is to put back parts of the system that were lost, to preserve the history, and restore this land as best we can to what we think it was,” said Dr. Phil Sheridan, Director of MBRS. 

With its collective land holdings, MBRS has one of the largest sources of native Virginia longleaf pine seed. MBRS has been a pioneer of longleaf conservation and research and plans to support their conservation efforts by working with VDOF to harvest an existing loblolly pine plantation on the property and convert it to native Virginia longleaf pine. MBRS and VDOF determined that the native longleaf pine genotype is superior for in-state planting because of greater survival, growth, water-use efficiency, and fecundity over other southern seed sources.

“Our organization is a part of the VDOF family. We have a long history of working together with the department, especially on activities to restore longleaf pine. Our work together ultimately culminated with acquiring land to meet our research and preservation goals,” said Dr. Sheridan

Longleaf Pine Ecosystems

Longleaf pine woods at Joseph Pines Preserve. Photo Credit: Meadowview Biological Research Station

Longleaf pine forests are fire-dependent, meaning fire is required for regeneration by preparing an open and clean seedbed. Longleaf ecosystems host a number of other rare species in Virginia, including red-cockaded woodpeckers and two species of pitcher plants. Intensive harvesting and a legacy of fire suppression in the Southeast caused significant decline of the longleaf forests and other fire-dependent species. Joseph Pines Preserve, for example, was likely fire-suppressed for over 100 years. Preserve managers have reintroduced fire to the landscape and will continue work to restore the native ecosystem through the reintroduction of at least 18 rare plant species and three rare animal species.

Some species found in the disappearing longleaf forests were not preserved in seedbanks and have been lost forever. Among them are two pitcher plant species, making them a primary focus for the MBRS. Joseph Pine Preserve hosts six rescued native populations of yellow pitcher plants, five of which have gone extinct in  Virginia. “Preserving this habitat means we’re preventing extinction and conserving biodiversity,” said Dr. Sheridan.

Importance for Forest Conservation

Restoring longleaf pine to the landscape is important for many reasons. In addition to supporting critical habitat, longleaf can be a commercially valuable tree. They contribute to Virginia’s overall forest health because they may be more resistant to pests (like southern pine beetle) than other species of pine, due to inherent characteristics of the tree and the use of fire in longleaf forest management. Longleaf pine forests can also be important sources of fresh water.

Frequent prescribed burning means less thickets and dense foliage, making it easier to walk along the trails. Numerous coveys of native bobwhite quail (another diminished species in Virginia) may startle the unsuspecting hiker. Preserve managers have also heard calls from the rare Bachman’s sparrow on the property. The Preserve also hosts the only known publicly accessible yellow pitcher plant site. 

“Identifying forestland with significant conservation value is an essential part of VDOF’s land conservation programs,” said VDOF Forestland Conservation Specialist Amanda Scheps. “The Joseph Pines Preserve is an outstanding example of land that contains important habitat and supports important research to restore a diminished species.”

About MBRS and Joseph Pines Preserve

Meadowview Biological Research Station is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to preserving and restoring rare wetland plants, habitats, and associated ecosystems on the coastal plain of Maryland and Virginia.  Land acquisition and management is made possible through the generous support of donors, state, federal, and private foundations, and volunteers. To learn more about how you can help, visit: www.pitcherplant.org

The primary purpose of Joseph Pines Preserve is habitat restoration and conservation. Although the property is open to the public for low-impact permitted activities, visitors must submit an access and use permit prior to entering the property; the preserve is closed during deer hunting season. Examples of permitted activities are hiking and birdwatching, while ATV and horseback riding are prohibited to prevent damage or weed introduction that would negatively impact rare plant species, Plant collection is strictly forbidden.

About the Virginia Department of Forestry

The Virginia Department of Forestry protects and develops healthy, sustainable forest resources for Virginians.  With nearly 16 million acres of forestland and more than 108,000 Virginians employed in forestry, forest products and related industries, Virginia forests provide an overall economic output of more than $21 billion annually.  

Headquartered in Charlottesville, the Agency has forestry staff members assigned to every county to provide citizen service and public safety protection across the Commonwealth, which it’s been doing now for more than 100 years. VDOF is an equal opportunity provider.


Michelle Stoll, Virginia Department of Forestry, (434) 282-4014, michelle.stoll@dof.virginia.gov
Dr. Phil Sheridan, Meadowview Biological Research Station, (804) 633-4336, meadowview@pitcherplant.org

Featured Image: Native yellow pitcher plant at Joseph Pines Preserve, Photo Credit: Meadowview Biological Research Station

Restoring Canopy at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah

The Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) helped Camp Kum-Ba-Yah give some much-needed care to their campground’s forest. The wooded property in Lynchburg, Virginia is owned and operated by the Lynchburg Covenant Fellowship. Camp Kum-Ba-Yah was founded in 1950 by Reverend Bev Cosby. Along with the camp, the property houses the Church of the Covenant, The Lodge of the Fishermen, Common Grounds Café, and Chrysalis Interfaith Retreat Center.

Ash trees on the campground had been impacted by an invasive pest, the emerald ash borer (EAB). The sick trees needed to be removed to restore the health of the camp’s forest canopy. However, the trees will soon be replaced by native tree plantings. Camp Kum-Ba-Yah received funding assistance from VDOF to remove and replace the infested ash trees through the EAB cost-share program.

On January 30, VDOF area forester Bill Perry and crew members from several local tree companies visited the campgrounds. The crews cut down eight ash trees that had been infested with EAB. 

VDOF area forester Bill Perry fells an ash tree at Camp Kum-Ba-Yah in Lynchburg, Virginia.

Though they’re sad to see their forest of ash diminished, the camp’s operations manager Amy Bonnette said they’re “making lemons into lemonade”; removed ash trees have been milled for use in future projects around the campgrounds.

Milled wood from trees removed from the Camp property.

Camp Kum-Ba-Yah has some historical significance in the Lynchburg area, dating back to the Civil Rights Movement. In 1961, when city pools were closed to the public rather than desegregated, the camp’s founder opened their integrated pools to Black families in the area. 

The Lodge of the Fisherman on the campgrounds .

The following year, as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his way to speak at E.C. Glass High School in Lynchburg, he ate at The Lodge of the Fisherman on the campgrounds – one of only two non-segregated dining options in the city. Reverend King would go on to give his well-known “American Dream” speech at E.C. Glass. Listen to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “American Dream” speech, or read the transcript.

The restaurant in the lodge, now called Common Grounds Café, is still in operation and stands as a small piece of American history. Read more about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s visit to The Lodge of the Fisherman.

Field Notes: Fire Season is Coming – Be Prepared!

By Heather Tuck, VDOF Eastern Region Fire Specialist

Happy February! As we move into this month, my mind, along with many others at Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF), turns to preparing for the upcoming spring fire season. It may not look like it outside (there are five inches of glorious snow outside my window right now), but we are quickly approaching fire season in Virginia. As a fire program specialist, my job is to assist with these preparations in any way I can, whether it is making sure our firefighters have the equipment and training they need, helping communities to prepare, or sharing knowledge about fire season and the 4 PM Burning Law.

So why does Virginia have fire season in the spring? Virginia’s fire season takes place in the spring every year. All the leaves that fell last autumn are on the forest floor. The days are beginning to lengthen. Reaching through the leafless branches of the trees, sunlight dries out those fallen leaves, creating a cured fuel bed. These conditions make it easier for fires to catch and spread, making it more difficult for wildland firefighters to control them. Until the new leaves burst forth, we will be on watch for wildfires.

What is the 4 PM Burning law? To help prevent wildfires, in the 1940s, the Commonwealth of Virginia put into place the 4 PM Burning Law. The law states that from the hours of midnight to 4pm, no open air burning is allowed within 300 feet of woods or dry grass, during the period of February 15 to April 30. Humans are the number one cause of wildfires in Virginia, which makes this law a useful tool to help prevent the spread of wildfires.

Why 4 p.m.? Relative humidity reaches its lowest point typically in the midafternoon. At the same time, temperatures have reached their highest point. Generally, after 4 p.m. humidity goes up, temperatures drop, and wind dies down. With these reduced conditions, fires in the evening are generally easier to control, which is why Virginians are allowed to burn after 4 p.m. Of course, occasionally weather conditions are so dry and windy that it is not advisable to burn at all. Always check the weather before burning, so you are not caught in an unsafe situation.

We try to incorporate this information about the 4 PM Burning Law and fire season into training programs and events, so that it becomes common knowledge within Virginia communities. VDOF Five Forks Work Area foresters and technicians did a great job at a recent Junior Emergency Technician (JET) wildland fire training for the junior Powhatan Fire Department members. Not only did they educate teenagers about fire season, but also about the life of a wildland firefighter, wildland fire equipment, and personal protective gear. At the end of the day, these junior fire members gained firsthand experience building a fire line. I think parents were rather impressed to see their kids out in the woods with rakes and shovels, working hard to dig a path that would stop a wildfire. I know that I enjoyed teaching students who were enthusiastic, asked questions, and were willing to get out in the woods and learn.

Fireline raked through wooded area

Another recent event where VDOF was able to spread information about Virginia’s wildfire season was a recent training with York Fire Department. The Blackwater Work Area forester and technician did a great job of teaching recent fire department recruits how to fight wildfires. This included a lecture about the technical aspects of wildfires, as well as a demonstration with a VDOF type 6 engine and fire dozer. At the end of the day, the firefighters constructed hand line, giving them a new appreciation for how fast a dozer can plow fire line. These trainings are great opportunities to share knowledge and experience as well as foster good relationships with the local fire departments.

As VDOF firefighters continue to prepare, please remember this message about fire season. During this time of year, be aware of the risk of burning. Make sure you understand the law and have checked the weather, if you plan to burn. For more information, always feel free to contact your local VDOF forester or look at the VDOF Burning and 4 PM Burning Law FAQ page. Now get outside and enjoy this weather!

In Memory of Page Hutchinson

The Virginia Department of Forestry is mourning the loss of Page Hutchinson, Virginia’s Project Learning Tree Coordinator and member of the VDOF family, after she passed away unexpectedly this week.

Page was a leader in the environmental education community. Beyond the work she did to build Virginia’s PLT program, Page worked with the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality, the Virginia Master Naturalists, and the Virginia Association for Environmental Educators. In 2020, she was awarded the VAEE Outstanding Educator award. 

Page receiving the VAEE 2020 Outstanding Educator Award. Pictured with Dan Cohen, VAEE Chair.

Page believed in getting kids outdoors to learn about the environment in creative, hands-on ways. She gave educators the tools and support they needed to feel empowered to lead outdoor education. She wasn’t afraid to be silly, get messy, or try something in a new way. Her intrepid, vibrant spirit and enthusiasm for nature undoubtedly inspired the next generation. 

It’s impossible to say how many lives Page touched with her work – many generations of young people will benefit from the lasting impression she’s made in the environmental education community. It is a testament to her success as a human and an educator to see the many posts, photos, and stories shared by friends and colleagues this week.

We will miss Page’s creative and joyful presence. Please keep her family in your thoughts during this difficult time. If you can, get outside and enjoy nature to honor Page’s legacy.

Memories of Page

The VAEE created a page where people can share photos and memories of Page.

In this 2019 Field Notes post, Page talks about taking a “poke” around the woods with her friend.

This past year, Page created digital resources to make it easier for families to do environmental education at home.

Field Notes: Catawba Hospital Ford Crossing

By Chad Austin, Water Quality Engineer, Western Region

Members of the western region and water quality team recently installed a GeoWeb ford stream crossing on the Catawba Hospital grounds in Roanoke County. The ford crossing was installed using State Lands funds from a timber sale being conducted by the agency on the hospital’s property. This crossing replaces an extremely undersized culvert crossing that has been a maintenance issue for many years and is in a state of disrepair.

Old culvert in disrepair

Ford crossings, where applicable, are one of the most preferred low-cost alternatives to culvert crossings. Ford and bridge crossings are a preferred option in watersheds where land-use change and impervious surfaces like roads and parking lots make flash flooding and runoff an issue. Preferred sites for fords often include streams with large watersheds where pipe sizing and bridge crossings are impractical due to stream bank widths, and where low, wide banks are conducive to vehicle traffic.

GeoWeb mesh across stream bottom

The new crossing installation at the hospital will be used to educate loggers and landowners who are considering the installation of GeoWeb ford crossings. It was created with the intention of incorporating it into SHARP Logger trainings and landowner educational opportunities. VDOF specialists and field personnel were able to see the various processes and challenges that operators encounter when considering stream crossing options. This experience will aid field staff in making sound water quality recommendations and suggestions in the future.

GeoWeb crossing backfilled with gravel

We would like to thank participants for all the contributions from the region and the agency to make this project successful. Western Region Water Quality Engineer Chad Austin would like to thank State Lands Coordinator Ed Stoots for funding the project; Matt Poirot (Water Quality Program Director), Andrew Vinson, Stuart Sours, Cole Young, Adam Cumpston, and Zoë Sumrall (Water Quality Specialists); David Edwards (Mt. Rogers Technician); Dylan White (Blue Ridge Technician); Ed Zimmer (Deputy State Forester); and Chris Thomsen (Western Regional Forester) for their work on planning, construction, documentation, and logistics. Additional thanks go to Charles Law with Catawba Hospital for the assistance with manpower and equipment needed for this project.