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Entering Blake Lane Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Park Authority has some new financial muscle behind its efforts to clear invasive plants from Blake Lane Park in Oakton.

A $20,000 grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation will enable the agency to clear an additional 1.2 acres of land and replant it with native shrubs and trees, the FCPA announced last week.

The invasive plant removal efforts will specifically target Ailanthus altissima, also known as tree-of-heaven, a tree native to China and southeast Asia that got introduced to the U.S. in the 1700s.

In addition to being prolific and difficult to remove once it takes root, tree-of-heaven is a host for spotted lanternflies, according to the park authority. The winged pests secrete a honeydew substance that can attract other insects like wasps and ants and spur mold growth, ruining forests and crops.

Since a spotted lanternfly made its way to Fairfax County via a grocery store shipment in Annandale in 2021, the park authority has urged community members to kill the insects immediately.

According to the Jan. 4 news release, Blake Lane Park was chosen for the grant to the Fairfax County Park Foundation “due to the high density of Ailanthus altissima, and strong community volunteer support” for the FCPA’s Invasive Management Area program (IMA).

“Conservation and restoration of our parks and woodlands requires a communitywide effort and our Invasive Management Area program is a shining example of a community-forward approach to achieving those aims,” FCPA Resource Management Director Laura Grape said. “We are very grateful to Dominion Energy and to our community volunteers for their tremendous dedication to environmental stewardship and helping us make a lasting difference at Blake Lane Park.”

The grant went to the Fairfax County Park Foundation, which raises private funds and obtains grants for the park authority to supplement its public funding. The FCPA will match the grant to “provide long-term maintenance and community engagement” at Blake Lane Park, according to the release.

Located at 10033 Blake Lane, the 10-acre park features a forested trail, a dog park, two soccer fields and an open play area. It was targeted for development as a new elementary school, but resident opposition — and the realization that the Dunn Loring Center could be converted instead — nixed that plan.

The park is one of 65 sites in the IMA program, which recruits volunteers to help remove invasive plants and restore habitats. Program Manager Patricia Greenberg previously told FFXnow that 70 to 75% of the county’s parkland is covered by invasive species.

The park authority says the grant for Blake Lane Park will cover enough seedling purchases to plant 100 stems per acre.

“We know how important it is to care for our air, water, and land — including the wonderful parks in our communities,” Dominion Energy spokesperson Peggy Fox said. “We’re proud to support the Fairfax County Park Foundation with an education and stewardship grant to enhance our local parks.”

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Kids hold bags of seeds (via Fairfax County)

Fairfax County’s annual seedling sale begins at 10 a.m. tomorrow (Tuesday).

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District sells the seeds through its Native Tree and Shrub Seedling Sale, but they often sell out in the first week.

“All species sold are native to Virginia and are important to bees, as well as serving as valuable food sources for wildlife,” the county said on an informational page.

The program was interrupted in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic and resumed last year with measures to reduce to the spread of the virus, such as no in-person purchases, mandatory mask wearing and contact tracing.

Those efforts are continuing this year, and customers will be able to pick up their orders from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. April 1 and 9 a.m. to noon April 2 at the Sleepy Hollow Bath and Racquet Club (3516 Sleepy Hollow Road) in West Falls Church.

Customers are asked to limit orders to three packages. Each package gets six seedlings for $15. The packages this year are the following:

  • The “Tree-mendous Flowers Package” has seeds for the American hornbeam and winterberry holly trees as well as the Canadian serviceberry shrub.
  • The “Un-bee-lievable Blooms Package” has seeds for the eastern redbud tree as well as Indigo bush and silky willow shrubs.

“Don’t wait to place your online order at 10 am on Tuesday, March 1,” the Virginia Native Plant Society said in an online post. “All seedlings sold out quickly last year.”

Photo via Fairfax County

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