Letter to the Editor: ‘The Value of Chinquapin Forest’

Courtesy photo

ALEXANDRIA, VA – On Nov. 10, The Zebra Press received a letter from Alexandria resident James Clark that concerns the city’s Taylor Run Stream Restoration project. The full text appears below:

The Value of Chinquapin Forest

The City’s plan to re-engineer Taylor Run to reduce phosphorus erosion is misguided because it fails to take into account the substantial value of the mature forest thriving along the stream in Chinquapin Park, a living museum, which the project will devastate.

I support the City’s goal of reducing phosphorus pollution of the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay. Excess phosphorous is an important cause of reduced oxygen levels in the Bay and can cause algae blooms. Everyone agrees that the Potomac and Chesapeake have great value to the region, as an ecosystem and a fishery, as well as aesthetic and recreational value.

If everything works as planned, the City calculates that its $4.5 million project will prevent a pound of phosphorus erosion for every $1,600 spent, a hefty sum. While I doubt whether the project will prevent much phosphorus erosion, pricing out the cost of phosphorus reduction is wise, since it can help the City choose the lowest cost option.

But the City radically understates the true cost of the project because it gives zero value to Chinquapin’s mature forest and rare acidic seepage bog. The City plans to remove virtually every tree near the stream, 269 in all, and to scrape off every shrub and plant near the stream, along with the topsoil, roots, rhizomes, and the seed bank deposited over the decades. Recovering from this radical surgery may take 100 years or more.

One reason for the richness and diversity of the native forest around Taylor Run is the rich, loose, black soil that has developed there from leaf litter over the decades The forest has protected the phosphates naturally in this soil and prevented it from running off in the rain. Another reason for the diversity of the forest is the City’s success over the last 10 years in clearing most of the invasive species that might otherwise have choked out the native trees and plants. The rich and diverse layers of native plants provide food and habitat to insects, animals, and birds.

The City maintains that by replanting saplings and shrubs, it can quickly restore Taylor Run’s environment. But creating a forest from scratch in the wake of bulldozers takes much more than sticking seedlings in the ground. It will take many decades for the tree canopy to return. Some of the trees slated for death are more than 100 years old. The City’s heavy machinery will crush tree roots and transform the verdant soil around Taylor Run into compacted clay. Take a look at the compacted clay around Donaldson Run, a ten year old “stream restoration” project in Arlington. While many of the trees Arlington planted there are growing, virtually nothing else does in the compacted soil.

Just as the Potomac and Chesapeake Bay have value, so does the rich forest in Chinquapin, a diverse and beautiful wild area near the center of Alexandria. Don’t ruin it. There have to be better ways to protect the Bay than to trash our parks.

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