Restoring a Rare Ecosystem Pays Off

In 2016, Arlington County's Magnolia Bog restoration project earned the Best New Environmental Sustainability Award from the Virginia Recreation and Park Association. The project is a model of natural resource management in urban areas.

Behind Barcroft Park in south Arlington, just steps from baseball fields, picnic areas and tennis courts, lies a globally-rare ecosystem: Magnolia Bog. It is one of only two-dozen known in the world. It's a priceless fragment of Arlington's all-but-vanished natural landscape. It gets its name from the sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) that grow there.

Magnolia bogs are closely associated with terrace gravel forests made up of soils deposited millions of years ago by the Potomac River. Unlike the peat bog, found mostly in Northern Europe, water infiltration and leaching leaves the Magnolia bog's soil acidic and free of organic materials.

Arlington's 25-acre magnolia bog is fragile. Nearby development, changes in the water table, invasive plants and other environmental stressors have all taken a toll.

The project to restore the bog serves as a model for natural resource management in urban areas by highlighting opportunities to incorporate community groups in environmental stewardship. It's part of the county's Natural Resource and Management Plan (NRMP), which was adopted in November 2010. The NRMP defines natural resource problems and has 19 recommendations for policies and actions to preserve Arlington's documented natural resources. The plan seeks to emphasize the importance of managing natural resources as a unified system and is part of the counties larger Public Resources Master Plan, adopted in 2005.

The Magnolia Bog was designated as a Natural Resource Conservation Area in 2010 by the Arlington County Board. In 2011, the County's Department of Parks and Recreation developed a five-year restoration plan to save the bog. County staff partnered with volunteer groups, including Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, Earth Sangha, Virginia Native Plant Society and others to inventory the bog's plants, uproot invasive plants, build a vernal pool and plant native plants.

"This is a real success story for our County," said Jane Rudolph, director of Parks and Recreation for the county. "The bog is home to wetlands, natural forest and more locally rare plants than any other site in the county. With the help of dedicated volunteers and partners we hope it will be here for generations of Arlingtonians."

Arlington County is in the process of updating its 2005 Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP). The purpose of the PSMP Update is to assess various aspects of Arlington's public space system and provide strategies for the future for the full breadth of public spaces, including all of the parks, natural resource and recreational needs that make up that system.

Chandler Garland