Winkler Botanical Preserve Transfers Ownership To NOVA Parks
Grants will support educational programs for children
ALEXANDRIA, VA –The Winkler Botanical Preserve (The Preserve) and NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority) have announced the transfer of ownership of the 44.6acre Preserve to the regional park agency. On Thursday, September 15 at 6:30 p.m., NOVA Parks will host a ceremony with representatives from the Winkler Botanical Preserve (Winkler Organization) and local leaders including City of Alexandria Mayor Justin M. Wilson.* Located in Alexandria’s west end, the Preserve provides public access to nature and protects plants native to the Potomac region. As part of the transfer, the Winkler Organization will provide NOVA Parks with $1 million for capital needs and over $3 million as an operating endowment to support the Preserve’s highly rated educational programs and new improvements. In addition, the Winkler Organization is gifting the City of Alexandria with $1 million to advance community engagement and learning resources for City residents and visitors of the Preserve.
The Winkler Botanical Preserve, which features streams, a pond, a waterfall, and trails, was created in 1979 as a charity aiming to protect natural space in rapidly urbanizing Alexandria. The Preserve, located at 5400 Roanoke Avenue, was established by Catherine Winkler Herman, a philanthropist and avid environmentalist, in memory of her late husband, real estate developer Mark Winkler. The Preserve was designed by their daughter Tori Winkler Thomas, a landscape architect, as a special place to protect native plants such as swamp rose mallow and wildlife such as ospreys and hawks. The Preserve’s distinctive log cabin headquarters, Catherine’s Lodge, long served as the center for the ecological education programs Ms. Thomas designed and oversaw.
“A generation of Alexandria youth, including both of my children, have enjoyed the outdoors at the Winkler Botanical Preserve,” said Justin M. Wilson, City of Alexandria Mayor. “With the funds the City is receiving to help our school-age children go to the Preserve and the renewed programming that NOVA Parks will bring to the site, a new generation will be enriched in this wonderful place. We are profoundly grateful for the generosity of the Winkler Organization to ensure the accessibility of this natural space for generations to come.”
NOVA Parks is a trusted and highly sought out provider of school programs and summer camps, with operations at Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington, and Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. Partnering with the City, new environmental education programs will be developed for school groups, and the once popular summer camps will return to the site.
“The enormity of this gift cannot be overstated. Catherine Winkler Herman’s vision and Tori Winkler’s brilliance have created an unparalleled botanical oasis within our highly urbanized
Northern Virginia,” said Cate Magennis Wyatt, NOVA Parks’ Chair. “NOVA Parks is honored to be the new stewards of the Winkler Botanical Preserve and on behalf of the generations to come, express our eternal gratitude to the Winkler family.”
The Winkler Organization will also make an additional grant of $100,000 to ALIVE!, the oldest and largest private safety net program in the City of Alexandria dedicated to fighting poverty and hunger. This grant will supply food and other basic needs to high-need families living in neighborhoods close to the Winkler Botanical Preserve.
“The Winkler Preserve has been an important part of our family for decades — an oasis in the Northern Virginia megalopolis, Said U.S. Representative Don Beyer (VA-8). “No one ever said, “the great indoors!” Whitman wrote, ‘Now I see the secret of making the best persons, it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.’ Thank you to NOVA Parks for preserving Winkler for generations to come.”
*The ceremony will take place at 6:30p.m. on Thursday, September 15 at The Winkler Botanical Preserve, located at 5400 Roanoke Avenue, Alexandria 22311. Due to limited on-site parking capacity, parking is available a few blocks away at the William Ramsay Elementary School (5700 Sanger Ave, Alexandria, VA 22311). NOVA Parks will operate vans to shuttle attendees to the site.
About NOVA Parks
Founded in 1959 as a conservation organization, NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) represents three counties and three cities — Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Falls Church, and the City of Fairfax. The regional agency will now manage 35 parks with 12,380 acres of parkland.
About the Winkler Botanical Preserve
The Winkler Botanical Preserve was founded in the mid-1970s by Catherine Winkler Herman, a philanthropist and environmentalist who died in 2007. During her lifetime, she gave millions of dollars to charities across the Washington area and the nation. Mrs. Herman established the Preserve with a gift of land and a substantial endowment in memory of her husband, Mark Winkler. Mark Winkler’s real estate development firm operated in the Washington area for more than 60 years before its sale in 2006. Mark Winkler and Catherine Winkler Herman’s daughter, Tori Winkler Thomas, led the Preserve for more than 25 years before her retirement and was responsible for the Preserve’s design, including the distinctive log cabin headquarters, Catherine’s Lodge, which served as the center for the ecological education program Ms. Thomas founded. This program partnered with the Alexandria school system to serve thousands of Alexandria school children for more than 20 years. Ms. Thomas, a landscape architect and urban planner, established and maintained the Preserve’s emphasis on native plants.
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This so-called park has always been a pawn of a developer and City interested not in preserving nature for public use but more development. Instead of creating a public park in the West End the City allowed a developer to establish a private preserve that was subsequently encroached up by the same developer (with the City’s permission) in order to expand the development. For years the Winkler’s received tax benefits from this private park with changing boundaries. For us to now celebrate this transfer (probably for tax reasons again) is to ignore what really happened to get us to this point and the real environmental impacts to a botanical preserve that was never really more than a proffer to the City that allowed them to build more densely but never really create a public park.
A Preserve of Incivility
Also from this era is the wonderfully appropo statement by Lou Aronica of the Maryland Native Plant Society to former councilwoman Del Depper at a 1995 City Council meeting, testifying on behalf of protecting the WBP from massive development plans by the Mark Winkler Co. itself, “It seems to me that allowing the destruction of 40 acres of irreplaceable native forest, wetlands, and wildlife while praising and encouraging the continuance of the Bradford Pear, chemicalized turf, and pansy medians along N. Beauregard Street is little different than witnessing an impending murder, doing nothing to stop it, but saying, don’t worry, we’ll make the victim look good in the coffin”.
Hear, hear! You should have seen the 120 acres, of which the 43-acre “preserve” was a part of, before 3 of the 4 Oak-Heath Forest and Acidic Oak-Hickory Forest terraces and pristine Magnolia Bog outside the preserve were razed in the 1990s for development (see A Preserve of Incivility), as well as, within the preserve, the unchecked spread of non-native invasive plants and deer overbrowse in the 2000s to present and a 2012 natural channel design stream construction project that cleared a still-undescribed D.C. area forest type. The waterfall, island (storm drain), stormwater detention pond, and berm dam are as artificial as the thick rubber liner under the meadow.
Swamp Rose Mallow, for one, is not native to the WBP! (What naturalist doesn’t know that?) It is as false as the gratuitously Disneyesque, Harvard-trained “waterfall”. A little transparency, please? Can I get a witness here?
It’s not like some quality land wasn’t preserved here – it was – but there’s hardly been an established, solid conservation record with either the Winkler’s or NOVA Parks – in balance – nor a shred of humility. And moving ahead, neither organization has nearly the best conservation and environmental stewardship record in the greater region. Glitzy press coverage is not the same as the gravitas of decades of solid precedence. A good start is to stop believing in one’s hubris – a challenge, I’m sure. Let’s make it so.