Powhatan has big plans for muck fen
Posted: November 13, 2012
The Winchester Star
BOYCE — A 46.8-acre land gift has provided Powhatan School with a rare piece of ecology: a muck fen.
“There are less than 10 in the entire state of Virginia,” said biologist Brian Morse with the Virginia Forestry and Wildlife Group in Charlottesville.
Morse’s company was hired by Powhatan to evaluate the property and create a management plan for the site.
School officials hope that the fen can be returned to its original state and used along with the rest of the land as an outdoor classroom for its students and others who want to learn more about the environment and this unique biosphere.
The two-acre fen site is a part of the land gift from the Crocker family: Agnes Crocker Brengle, Constance Crocker and Isabelle Crocker Osborne.
The Crocker-Carter family has long been a part of the Powhatan School’s history.
Isabelle Carter Crocker gave the house and 14 acres for the school in 1957. The family later donated another five acres to provide athletic fields.
Over the years, the school has been allowed to use the 46.8 acres for outdoor class work.
It wasn’t until Morse’s company did its evaluation, however, that the fen, fed by springs and seeps, came to light. It contains rare herbaceous plants that are especially suited to wet conditions.
This type of vegetation “depends on wet ground,” Morse said. “They like their feet wet, very wet.”
In the past, the area was a cattle pasture, and the livestock did some damage to the fen.
“The site is somewhat degraded,” Morse said.
Cattle wallowed in the damp earth, and over time, landowners dug ditches to try to drain the area.
That hurt the rare plant community, Morse said, and some invasive alien plants have taken root, including reed canary grass.
The boggy soil also serves as a filter for the spring water headed into nearby Roseville Run.
“There is over 1,000 feet of shoreline on Roseville Run,” said Jeff Kelble, the Shenandoah Riverkeeper and a board member at Powhatan.
The donated area also includes about 100 feet of Page Brook, and a section of Spout Run, which is formed by the confluence of the other two streams.
Kelble is proud the school has put a conservation easement on the land, so it can never be developed.
Since the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation is already working on a plan to clean up Spout Run, Kelble said the school’s plan to restore the fen area and its bank restoration work will certainly help the effort to reduce pollution.
Powhatan’s restoration will be a way to help Spout Run “more fully recover,” Kelble said.
This effort has already begun, said science teacher Ray Legge, a 25-year veteran at Powhatan.
And, he said, the students are actively involved. They have built barriers to slow the stream flow, which allows sediment to settle out.
“You can see the difference,” Legge said, looking at the water above and below the barriers.
“This is going to be an important cornerstone to start an outdoor education program,” said Kit McGinnis, the school’s development director.
School Head Susan Scarborough agrees.
“The opportunity for our faculty to elevate experiential learning is exciting,” she said. “This gift allows us to continue to broaden the Nature Enhanced Approach to Learning (NEAL) program and reinforces Powhatan’s commitment to environmental education.”
Legge said the students have already been asked for their ideas on how the land should be used. They have suggested nature trails, cross country courses, even an area for metal detecting.
Scarborough said the students at Powhatan are the beneficiaries of the gift of the land, but also will be its caretakers.
They will, she said, “act as environmentalists, entrusted with using the land appropriately and maintaining its natural habitats, trees and plants.”
Morse is developing a program for restoring the fen habitat, including filling in the ditches and removing the canary grass, which he said “is a pretty stubborn invasive plant. It’s a long-term commitment.”
And, it will take some funding.
Morse said he hopes some grant money can be found to help with the costs, which have yet to be determined.
But the process has begun.
Kelble said his daughter Sydney, 7, a first-grader at Powhatan, had been trying to earn money to have a loft put in her bedroom.
As part of that effort, she decided to search Roseville Run for golf balls lost from the nearby Millwood Country Club.
“She collected a lot of golf balls,” her father reported. She cleaned them and bagged them up by brand and took them back to the country club, where the staff helped her sell them.
She earned $71.50, but the loft will wait.
Sydney has decided to donate her money to the Crocker Conservancy to help with the restoration.
“The theme of the school this year is community service,” Kelble said.
Sydney has taken that to heart.
— Contact Val Van Meter at email@example.com