The previous Reston National Golf Course (RNGC) owners fought against Reston residents for the right to develop the golf course into a townhome community. A four-year court battle resulted in a ruling to preserve the golf course as provided in the Reston Comprehensive Plan. In 2019, new owners bought the golf course. They hired KemperSports to manage it and turn it into a must-play course for the region that also promotes native wildlife, trees, plants and pollinators.
Kris Anderson became the RNGC general manager late last year. He enjoys promoting golf in an all-inclusive way, and hopes the golf course’s environmental characteristics will enhance golfers’ experience. He often has tried to bring in red, yellow, and blue colors to golf courses to add visual variety. He notes that RNGC doesn’t have a large deer population, so his plantings don’t get eaten overnight. “Typically, you do see deer on golf courses inside the beltway,” says Kris, theorizing that Reston has other areas where deer feel safer and have more space. Kris is enthusiastic about the multi-year plans to improve RNGC. “We are fortunate to have owners Weller Development and War Horse Cities who have been passionate and aggressive in creating and implementing plans to add natural wildlife” says Kris. “They have provided considerable time, leadership and resources in setting up a 15- box bluebird trail, a riparian buffer around the large pond on hole #7, Carnolian honey bee hives for pollinating and large butterfly gardens. This is not the norm for a golf course owner.”
RNGC has been an Audubon International Cooperative Sanctuary since 2007 (not related to National Audubon Society). It is also one of the busiest golf courses in the mid-Atlantic region. The current owners and managers hoped that Reston residents would embrace a large environmental project that promotes birds, pollinators, bees and meadows, and is continuous with the Reston plan. The challenge, Kris says, is completing the plan soon enough to have an impact in the first year. “We hope much of this work lasts for 30 years, and we want to get it done now!” As Kris hoped, volunteers helped with planting, and qualified experts managed larger projects.
A key expert partner in the native plant project is Claudia Thompson-Deahl, Reston Association’s Environmental Resource Manager for 38 years, who retired from that position last December. In January, Chuck Veatch, who collaborated with Claudia on producing The Nature of Reston, introduced her to RNGC co-owner Scott Plank. Scott is a first-time golf course owner and not a golfer, but he wanted to show people that there are many ways to manage a golf course. He gave Claudia free reign to improve RNGC’s habitat and ecology. “This is where my heart is,” says Claudia. “It’s more of a passion than anything else.”
Claudia asked experienced blue bird monitors, Joanne Bauer and Robin Duska, to organize a Virginia Bluebird Society Trail and they trained three teams to check the boxes weekly. She also introduced local beekeeper Zak Johnson and Asclepias Landscape Design owner Karen Prante to Kris. Claudia is dedicated to improving the golf course habitat, possibly including a Chimney Swift tower and interpretive signs.
Her biggest challenge was learning about the different types of bees native to the area – mining and cellophane. Nick Dorian, who is working on a PhD about unequal cellophane bees, gave a bee tutorial and noted that few areas have these bee types. He recommended delaying a meadow planting that would have destroyed a bee habitat. Other challenges include keeping the plants free from neonicotinoids, which can poison insects, and finding native plants by the planting date to complete a large-scale design. Claudia is grateful for volunteer support, including South Lakes High School students, who were crucial in planting the first meadow.
Owner Scott Plank prioritized listening to and including Reston residents, and is proud that locals were deeply involved in RNGC’s environmental work. He reviewed years of conversation, social media posts and articles about Reston. As a student of city planning architecture, he admired Bob Simon, and wanted to give life to his vision.
The efforts have already paid off. Golfers see the bluebird houses, where Kris has counted 33 eggs, and Kris hears the golfers talk about other birds building nests. Golfers will see the Monarch butterfly garden and the signs explaining the garden, Monarch migration pattern and why Monarchs are endangered. The course has three beehives, but none of the bees will be near the golfers and the maintenance work will not disturb them. They will all be excellent pollinators throughout the golf course and adjoining neighborhood, and will create a superhighway above the trees. Claudia hopes that when the golf course meadows bloom in the summer, people will get excited and add native plants to their own yards. “It’s everyone’s responsibility to spread habitat in their own spaces. I hope it’s a model and an example.”
“Reaction from the community has been fantastic,” says Kris.. “They think it’s amazing that we’ve undertaken this project. I want it for everyone to see and enjoy, and live a healthy life around the golf course. My goal is to create spaces that will be here long after I leave.”