Opinion: Tree Canopy Restoration Needed Around Reston National
Reston Patch
Michael O'Connor
February 11, 2022

RESTON, VA — Over the past year, the Reston National Neighborhood Study Group has conducted meetings with our neighbors to share preliminary data on the condition of the tree canopy both on the Reston National Golf Course and in our community. Recently, following the multi-year assessment of the land in and around the course, environmental experts have concluded their study and documented the scale of key problems. Additionally, they have suggested a strategy to preserve the areas of healthy canopy, while restoring those that have significantly degraded over the years, threatening maturing native forest in many areas.

Among the most significant problems identified in the assessment, the impact of non-native invasive plant species that have overgrown the neighborhood is unavoidable. Uncontrolled invasive species have choked-off natural vegetation, increased soil erosion and accelerated the decline of the tree canopy.

In 2020, the owners of Reston National hired Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. (WSSI) — a leading environmental research and restoration organization, to perform a detailed assessment of the course's tree canopy. Their findings were significant and led in part to the founding of the Study Group. In May 2021, the Study Group began presenting WSSI's findings to clusters and groups of adjacent homeowners. These meetings shed additional light on the severity and complexity of the problem. So, for additional insights and third-party perspectives, we engaged Biohabitats, an ecosystem restoration firm, to join the team.

All of Reston, indeed most of Fairfax County, is facing some threat by non-native invasive plant species. The Reston National Neighborhood, however, has some uncommon characteristics that make it more vulnerable.

In the United States when homes are built next to golf courses, they are generally designed for the maximum unobstructed views of each other. In sharp contrast, Reston National's design obstructs residential views from the course, using the tree canopy as a privacy buffer. Of the nearly six miles of more than 50 intersecting property lines that Reston National shares with other residential owners, roughly 80% is separated by a shared tree or vegetated buffer. As a result, a maintenance "no man's land" has evolved over 50 years, contributing to the challenges we face today.

By no means does the study uncover the whole problem. But it, along with the conversations we've had with our neighbors, has uncovered opportunities and provided hints to a solution.

First, invasive plant species don't respect property lines, making their impact hard to fully understand. The neighborhood is about 331 acres roughly split evenly between the course and the neighboring properties that include adjacent single-family homes, townhouse cluster land, and Reston Association land with a total tree canopy of 206 acres. Only 30 percent of the tree canopy is on course land, while the remaining 70 percent is on neighboring property. The research team assessed all 60 acres of canopy on the course and 40 additional acres on adjacent land. This leaves 105 acres that require an assessment before we can fully understand the scope and cost of our problem.

Second, saving and restoring the tree canopy, after methodically eradicating the invasive plant species, is possible and will need to be a neighborhood-wide effort. Because the ecosystem is interconnected, any attempt at remediation in single areas will fail if all stakeholders aren't invested in a comprehensive program. This will include forming a consensus among all stakeholders; completing an assessment of the entire problem; creating a remediation and management plan; a multi-year treatment effort; and then replanting trees, native grasses and vegetation at a scale that ensures success.

Third, remediation will be expensive and take years to accomplish. Initial estimates for a multi-year remediation program range up to $6 million excluding the streambed restoration near Lake Thoreau. In considering costs, however, property owners must assess the impacts on home value and curb appeal of a dying tree canopy and obvious uncontrolled invasive species.

With this study complete, the scale of the problem and the path forward are better understood. The problem isn't as simple as pulling up weeds and replanting native species. Some invasive species have complex root networks and seed banks, and grow at an astonishing rate. Without proper planning and execution, replanted vegetation and trees would be quickly overwhelmed by the species we're seeking to eradicate.

The first step for the Study Group will be to fund a first-of-its-kind pilot program to establish the best practices for bioremediation, maintenance, and revegetation of the landscape with native plants and trees. A pilot will provide detailed and real-time information on how to fix the issues in our neighborhood. Neighbors and other stakeholders are invited to follow the process on the Reston National Neighborhood Study Group website.

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