Field Notes: Restoration Planting at the Mariners’ Museum and Park

By Meghan Mulroy-Goldman, VDOF Community Forester

Photography by Amanda Shields, The Mariners’ Museum and Park

Right in the heart of Newport News, you will soon be able to see a shortleaf pine forest. On a perfectly sunny March day, 700 shortleaf seedlings from the Virginia Department of Forestry’s (VDOF) nursery found a new home at the Mariners’ Museum and Park.

Volunteers planting shortleaf seedlings

With an historic range covering parts of twenty-two states and 282 million acres, shortleaf pine (Pinus echinata) is one of four pine species that were once prevalent in the Hampton Roads area. The species was found in a variety of forest types including pure stands, loblolly-shortleaf, and shortleaf pine-oak. However, thanks to fire suppression, land use changes, and a preference for the faster growing loblolly pine, shortleaf is now found in just a fraction of its original range. It is now considered a diminished species throughout much of the Southeast.

The planting project was the result of a partnership developed between VDOF and the Mariners’ Museum and Park that began last year. The park approached VDOF to create an updated management plan for their approximately 300 acres of forested land—a beloved escape from the urban setting of Newport News. While completing the plan, I noted that the park contained stands of pine, mixed pine and hardwood, and mixed hardwood. Interestingly, all four of the native pines – loblolly, shortleaf, Virginia and some young planted longleaf pines – were present. I also found several areas where invasive species had overtaken the native vegetation, as is common in urban parks. One such area had also been damaged during Hurricane Isabelle in 2003 and had a sparse overstory. My advice was to clear the invasive species and do a restoration planting in these areas.

Given the decline of shortleaf pine in Virginia, the park staff chose it as the species to plant. The sparse overstory made the species a good choice for the site. The park received a Virginia Trees for Clean Water Grant to assist with the planting. To prepare the site beforehand, Dave Kennedy and Graham King from the Mariners’ Museum and Park set to work with volunteers, clearing out the Callery pear, Japanese privet, English ivy, and other invasive species.

Invasives were cleared from the understory before planting day

On the day of the planting, volunteers from the Peninsula Master Gardeners and Newport News Master Gardeners, led by Dave Kennedy, Graham King, and Erica Deale from the Mariners’ Museum and Park, worked diligently to get the bareroot seedlings into the ground. VDOF staff Scott Bachman, Kendall Topping, Stephen Jasenak and I all came out to assist with the planting as well.

Who are those masked crusaders? The planting crew, of course!

The VDOF Blackwater team looks forward to seeing the seedlings grow and continuing to build this partnership with the Mariners’ Museum and Park.

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

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.

A Christmas Present for Stony Creek

The walking track in Sussex County’s Stony Creek Park is a well-used community resource. Citizens use it for exercise, and for years, the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) has used it for firefighter pack tests.

Walking the open track in the summer heat gave Zach Dowling, Senior Area Forester for VDOF’s Waverly work area, an idea. Last summer, Zach mentioned to town council member Mike Moody that shade trees would be a great addition to the park. In addition, planting trees in the park would be the first step in establishing a riparian buffer along Stony Creek, which flows into the Nottoway River.

The town didn’t have the money for trees, but VDOF’s Urban & Community Forestry (U&CF) program offered Water Quality Impact Assessment (WQIA) funds to support the planting project. Zach presented the idea at a town council meeting in August, and the members unanimously approved it.

Lara Johnson, VDOF Urban & Community Forestry Program Manager, came up with a plan for spacing trees through the park surrounding the track. Species were chosen for site suitability, shade potential, and seasonal color. They included willow oak, baldcypress, downy serviceberry, Eastern redbud, sweetbay magnolia, river birch, eastern hophornbeam, and black gum. The grant not only paid for the trees, mulch, stakes, and cages, but also allowed for a contractor to pre-dig the planting holes.

VDOF planters at work

On December 2, a team of local VDOF staff planted 25 balled and burlapped trees purchased from a Richmond nursery. The planting crew consisted of Zach Dowling, Travis Tindell and Austin Babb (Area Foresters), Jim Blackwell and Jay Bassett (Forest Technicians), Lara Johnson, Molly O’Liddy (U&CF Partnership Coordinator), Brian Lacy (Pine Resource Specialist), Jim Schroering (Southern Pine Beetle/Longleaf Pine Coordinator), and Bryant Bays (Eastern Regional Forester).

A cage helps protect a newly planted tree from deer and mowers.

The group planted, mulched, staked, and caged all 25 trees in three hours, creating an early Christmas gift for residents of Stony Creek to appreciate for years to come. Future VDOF pack testers will also breathe a little easier in their shade!

Fourth Edition of the Virginia Tree Steward Manual Now Available

The Virginia Department of Forestry, Virginia Tech, and Trees Virginia are excited to announce the release of the newest edition of the Virginia Tree Steward Manual! The manual is available to view and download on the Trees Virginia website: https://treesvirginia.org/outreach/tree-stewards

This manual serves as the main resource for Tree Steward groups working across the state. It was last updated in 2009, and a lot of the materials were outdated. The group needed a new, updated resource for training volunteers to care for their community forests. Updates includes high-quality images and graphics, additional sections, and featured stories from Tree Stewards across the state.

Lara Johnson has been looking forward to an updated manual since she first took her position as VDOF’s urban & community forestry program manager two years ago. She is especially excited to share this new resource to support the volunteers who perform critical community forestry work throughout Virginia.

Funding for the revision was provided by Trees Virginia, Virginia Department of Forestry and the U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program.

Photo: Arlington/Alexandra Tree Stewards

Field Notes: Out of the Ashes

By Joe Lehnen, Forest Utilization & Marketing Specialist

Until about two years ago, the fate of trees removed from the urban forest in Harrisonburg, Virginia was predetermined. The trees, no matter how large they might be, were either destined for the firewood pile or had a future as mulch via a giant tub grinder. Like many other municipalities across the Commonwealth, urban trees that were removed due to natural mortality or development were viewed as “woody debris.” Unlike many other communities, Harrisonburg has a substantial component of ash within their urban forests. In one park alone, the city is in the process of removing four hundred ash trees that have been killed, or are in the process of dying, due to the emerald ash borer (EAB).

            In 2018, Harrisonburg began developing an urban wood program by working cooperatively with the Virginia Department of Forestry’s Urban Wood Project. According to Green Space Manager Jeremy Harold, “We wanted a better use for our urban trees beyond firewood and wood chips.” Harrisonburg launched this initiative with the production of a video which featured the plight of the city’s ash trees, but also containing a message of hope of a positive future for these majestic trees.

            Over the past two years, Harrisonburg’s Rocktown Ash™ has become a popular commodity among architects, wood workers and business owners. This ash wood came from the trees that were harvested by city crews in 2019 from Westover Park. Logs deemed to have potential commercial value were offered for sale on www.publicsurplus.com  Rocktown Urban Wood, in collaboration with Willow Run Custom Lumber, purchased all sixty logs. 

Recently, this wonderful urban wood has been included as part of the interior furnishings for the Sage Bird Ciderworks and Magpie Diner, situated across from each other on North Liberty Street. Sage Bird owner Zach Carlson selected and finished his own piece of Harrisonburg ash that he purchased from Rocktown Urban Wood, creating an awesome store-front bar top.

Source: City of Harrisonburg

Magpie owner Kirsten Moore has included eighteen urban ash wood tables in her establishment for customer dining. These ash tabletops were constructed by the talented staff at Rocktown Urban Wood. According to Brad Wroblewski (formerly with Rocktown Urban Wood, now with KnochedVA), “Kirsten Moore and I had been talking for quite some time about her ideas and thoughts concerning her new business venture. Eventually she reached out to me and we went over ideas for her tables. She liked the idea of using local wood from a local business and loved the look of ash”.

Source: City of Harrisonburg

Brad continued, “I have noticed of late more interest in ash from our customers. This interest includes local folks living here in the Shenandoah Valley, to customers as far away as Philadelphia. I believe people in woodworking are hearing more about the destruction caused by the EAB and the inevitable loss of the ash trees. Knowing that something may be going extinct intrigues people and in turn they want to preserve and save some part of the history of the trees through their work”.

Additional information about Harrisonburg’s Urban Wood Program can be found at https://www.harrisonburgva.gov/urban-forestry-program

Information on the Virginia Urban Wood program is located at: www.vaurbanwood.org

Abigail the Green Ash in Alexandria

On July 22, VDOF’s urban & community forestry (U&CF) manager Lara Johnson traveled to Alexandria, Virginia to visit a well-known green ash tree. This ash, located in a courtyard between two apartment buildings, is likely hundreds of years old and is one of largest ash trees in the nation.

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Abigail’s trunks (right and left) each had a circumference of 12’ 9” and 11’ 6” respectively. The tree’s base measured 21’.

Abigail (so named by property managers Mike and Olivia) is the current Virginia State Champion and was once the National Big Tree Champion in the ash category (dethroned only because of qualification adjustments for multi-stemmed trees).

During this visit, Lara was able to remeasure the tree with the assistance of Andrew Benjamin, an arborist with the City of Alexandria. Abigail’s trunks (right and left, as in the photo) each had a circumference of 12’ 9” and 11’ 6” respectively. The tree’s base measured 21’. Lara will report these measurements, along with the tree’s height (78’ 6”) and crown spread, to the Big Tree program.

Protecting Ash
But remeasuring Abigail was not the primary reason for the visit. Lara was there to support the tree’s on-going treatment against emerald ash borer (EAB) – an invasive pest threatening ash trees across the state and beyond. Insecticidal treatment can protect individual trees from the damage and eventual death caused by EAB.

The City of Alexandria had been providing treatment for the tree, but in recent years VDOF was able to offer financial support toward trunk injection treatment of this tree through a grant program developed to protect ash. Using this funding, Lara and Fairfax County staff first treated the Champion tree in 2018. But such funding is limited, and the chemicals and labor required to perform treatment can be costly for landowners, particularly for large trees like this ash.

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Abigail the green ash tree & the 2018 EAB treatment team.

Fortunately, plant health company Arborjet offered to take over treatment of this historic ash tree. Through their “Saving America’s Iconic Trees” program, Arborjet donates treatment against pests and disease for high-profile, iconic trees, like this ash, across the country. Community leaders and homeowners can nominate iconic trees for potential inclusion in the program. These treatments with an Arborjet technician serve as educational opportunities and are open for other professionals to observe.

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A panoramic view of Abigail. To the right in the photo is local arborist Mike Cochran, on-site to observe the application of the injection system and chemical for potential use in his own operation.

Arborjet’s Eastern Technical Manager and International Society of Arboriculture-certified arborist Trent Dicks was on-site to perform the treatment with Lara’s support. Treatment began early in the morning to increase effectiveness. Both Lara and Trent agreed that the high temperatures that Virginia has recently experienced could make treatment challenging because it relies on transpiration – the tree drawing up water (and the chemicals) through the roots into the phloem.

Trent first measured the tree to determine how much chemical was needed for treatment. Then, a series of 34 holes were drilled into the tree’s base as close to the root flare as possible. This presented a challenge, as the tree is below grade and surrounded by a small retaining wall and has very thick “alligator bark” which can be difficult to penetrate.

A plug was placed in each hole, into which a needle would be inserted and pressurized tubes pump insecticide into the tree. The plugs remain in place and a healthy tree readily heals over them.

The duo finished the work quickly as temperatures rose. After less than two hours, treatment and measurements were complete and the small crowd that had formed to observe had dispersed.


Historic Trees
While almost any ash tree in the landscape has potential to be a good candidate, it is the large, historic and rare ash specimens that are often prioritized for on-going treatment because costs can be high.

Did you know?: Green ash trees are a riparian species, and this historic tree is indicative of the relic wetland landscape that once covered northern Virginia.

Abigail is a beloved tree on a “charming, historic property” says property manager Olivia. In the 1940s, the buildings were essentially built around the tree, which serves as a centerpiece in the courtyard and provides shade for residents enjoying time on the patio. “It’s remarkable that this tree survived construction of the buildings. Normally that activity would damage a tree’s root system, but this tree was obviously well-established and the roots were able to recover,” says Lara.

Olivia and Mike explained that they frequently have to clean out the gutters because Abigail’s canopy extends over the roof, and although a bit “high maintenance”, the ash tree is well worth the effort.

Abigail receives other care (such as pruning) from arborists during the year, and although there were historically some signs of EAB impacts (i.e. dead wood), the tree has healed nicely since the 2018 treatment. Thanks to treatment and continued care from certified arborists, there’s hope this tree will stand tall in the neighborhood for many years to come!

Saving Pumpkin Ash

In late May, Lara Johnson and Meghan Mulroy-Goldman (VDOF urban & community forestry team), along with the Virginia Beach Urban Forestry Department, embarked on a scouting mission for the rare pumpkin ash in the bottomlands surrounding Stumpy Lake in Virginia Beach (based on information shared from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.)

After traveling through the swampy coastal forest, Lara, Meghan and the Virginia Beach Urban Forestry Staff located nine healthy trees that will be treated this summer to protect them from emerald ash borer.

Pumpkin ash is a rare species, named for its swollen, pumpkin-shaped buttress. VDOF is thankful to the City of Virginia Beach for helping to preserve this species. With the treatment of these pumpkin ash in Stumpy Lake, VDOF will have helped to conserve populations of species of native ash within the genus found across the state. Protecting biodiversity is important for Virginia’s forest landscapes.

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This story is shared as part of VDOF’s participation in the NASF Centennial Challenge, in which VDOF has agreed to treat at least 100 ash trees to protect them against the invasive emerald ash borer.

Restoring Urban Canopy at the James W. Garner Building

On the morning of November 4, a crew of volunteers from Charlottesville Area Tree Stewards (CATS) and a University of Virginia chapter of Alpha Phi Omega (APO) worked with several Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) staff members to plant 16 trees on the VDOF campus front lawn.

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The driveway and the lawn are the first places that visitors see when arriving to the VDOF James W. Garner building in Charlottesville; these native trees welcome visitors to our building, so their care and maintenance are especially important.

Earlier this season, several unhealthy trees were removed from the front lawn; CATS helped source appropriate trees to restore the urban canopy on this part of the campus. Trees planted included one bitternut hickory (which was especially difficult to source), three sweetbay magnolia, two cucumber magnolia, two Kentucky coffeetree, two catalpa, two osage-orange and three redbuds.

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CATS has helped with tree plantings and care on the VDOF campus for many years, including assistance with two major plantings on campus during the past five years. One of the future goals for CATS is to help the VDOF campus gain a Level I arboretum designation, which will entail an inventory of the species on the VDOF property, labeling 25 woody plant species and developing a master plan to reach the minimum requirements for arboretum designation. VDOF staff will develop the plan, label the trees and provide the CATS crew with the necessary tools and information to conduct an inventory in the coming year.

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Some of the trees planted on campus (including some planted along the VDOF campus nature trail) already have QR codes that visitors can scan to get more information about the species.

Lara Johnson is appreciative of all the dedication and support from CATs –  from their assistance with tree planting, pruning and general care to their management of the new small-scale tree nursery at the VDOF headquarters. At this location, CATS grows seedlings sourced from the VDOF nurseries and later sells them at seasonal native plant sales.

VDOF staff look forward to watching the newly planted trees grow big and strong in the coming years. It is with the support of volunteer naturalist groups like CATS that VDOF can perform these special projects.

CATS offers trainings for new members each fall. They also host tree- and forest-related events throughout the year. Learn more about getting involved with CATS:

www. charlottesvilleareatreestewards.org/