Wildlife effort comes to fruition

Posted: September 28, 2013

The Winchester Star

LEFT: Jim Lawrence of Winchester, project manager for the Opequon Watershed Inc., hikes a section of trail at the newly opened Redbud Run Wildlife Management Area in Frederick County during a dedication ceremony on Thursday. At 33 acres, it is the state's smallest wildlife management area. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
BELOW: Trout Unlimited member Dave VanBenschoten of Berryville looks over an informational display during the dedication ceremony. VanBenschoten volunteered his time to help build the upper trail on the property.

WINCHESTER — The fruits of a nine-year collaborative effort were on display Thursday at a dedication ceremony for the Redbud Run Wildlife Management Area in northern Frederick County.

A place where conservation and Civil War history unite, the 33-acre area is the smallest wildlife management area in the state and protects Redbud Run — a five-mile-long stream in the Opequon watershed.

The dedication at the site — where Union and Confederate armies suffered more than 8,500 combined casualties during the Third Battle of Winchester on Sept. 19, 1864 — marked the formal opening of a new parking area and public access point on Woods Mill Road, just northeast of the city.

Officials at the ceremony emphasized the effort by many local, state and federal agencies and organizations to protect the area from urban development.

“This is a true partnership,” said Jim Lawrence, project manager for Opequon Watershed Inc.

Winchester Trout Unlimited, Shenandoah Valley Battlefields Foundation, Civil War Preservation Trust, the Department of Forestry and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF) are among those involved.

Lawrence said the collaborations made it possible to navigate numerous roadblocks, including budget issues.

“It took everybody stepping up to get us over that hump,” he said. “All locals, including the Virginia Department of Transportation, pitched in. It’s a good community asset, so it was an easy sales pitch.”

Numbers and estimates for the project cost and the contributions by organizations were not available.

Work on the project ranged from creating the parking area to clearing brush and planting trees.

Steve Reeser, a fisheries biologist with the VDGIF, said the project is conservation-minded to benefit the community, and a new endeavor for his organization.

Hunting or trapping will not be allowed on the property and the stream is catch-and-release only. The two main activities for the public will be wildlife-watching and fishing, Reeser said.

Much of the bottom of the small spring-fed creek is covered by a limestone marl and it has a wild rainbow trout population that is not native to Virginia.

The VDGIF also has tried to introduce a population of wild brook trout into Redbud Run by several means, including a trout-in-the-classroom program.

Mark Zimmerman, coordinator of that program for the Winchester chapter of Trout Unlimited, said the wildlife management area is like an outdoor classroom for students.

The educational program — in its eighth year — allows students to raise brook trout in a classroom aquarium throughout the school year before the fish are released in the stream. The schools have 20 aquarium tanks this year.

Zimmerman said Redbud Run is a key part of the program, adding that students learn about the stream and environmental issues. “I think it gives them ownership of our waterway and I think they are going to become the protectors in the future.”

Susan Courneya, 45, a Frederick County resident who has watched the area go through major changes over the years, attended Thursday’s ceremony.

She said she was happy to see part of the area saved for wildlife. “It’s just a little bio-gem and I’m really glad the county grabbed a hold of it, along with the community. [Today’s] a day to have your heart soaring with the beauty of the park.”

Lawrence said much work remains, including renovations to an old barn that will eventually become an education center.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com