Environmental Impact

Don’t be misled by suggestions that the golf courses are threatening Reston’s environmental quality

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Reston’s Golf Course Open Spaces – Vital Habitat vs. High-Rises

RA pathways cross both golf courses, making these natural places to enjoy the beautiful natural vistas. People and their dogs hike the trails that run through the course, and it’s the back yard of many homes purchased by people who relied on representations that the course would remain open space. Every Restonian may enjoy the views from the RA pathways.

Since 2007, Reston National has been a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary Program Golf Course, and this recreational space has been part of Reston’s Planned Community since its inception. Learn more about the program that helps golf courses protect our environment at Audubon International. Reston National contains a section of “old field habitat with hardwood cover,” which is one of the most endangered types of habitat in Fairfax County.

Here are some articles about the nature that can be found on Reston’s open space golf courses.

KemperSports,RNGC's golf course management company, wants to make RNGC a premier environmentally excellent golf course. Rescue Reston wants them to achieve this goal.

This article from the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia highlights how KemperSports is making environmentally helpful changes to the Reston National Golf Course property.

Threats to Reston’s Urban Forests and Natural Areas

Historical Perspective

Reston is widely recognized for its extensive tree cover and natural landscaping, as exemplified by its many certifications and awards: Reston has been designated a Tree City by the Arbor Day Foundation each year since 1994, Reston Association has twice received the Gold Leaf Award from the Mid-Atlantic Chapter of the International Society of Arboriculture for Reston’s Arbor Day activities and for educating residents about trees, the America in Bloom Award was received in 2003 for Reston’s commitment to the natural environment, and its 2018 acceptance into the Biophilic Cities Network was in large part based on how its pathways and urban forests connect it residents with nature where they live, work, and play.

But it has not always been that way. In the mid-1900s the property that now comprises the community of Reston was mostly pastureland as it was part of the largest dairy farm in the Commonwealth of Virginia. In 1963, construction began on the new town of Reston. As parcels were developed, the surrounding area was either allowed to reforest or was reforested with native tree seedlings. Management plans were developed for each parcel, and Reston’s urban forests were planted by staff, volunteers, and a youth maintenance corps.

Current Status

Today, more than a half century later, Reston’s urban forests are among its most prominent features and most important environmental attributes (Exhibit 1). These urban forests include 800 acres of natural area parcels managed and maintained by Reston Association, treed commercial and residential lots and cluster properties, and recreational areas (including Reston’s two golf courses).

Exhibit 1: Aerial View of Reston’s Urban Forests

There also are three wooded areas in Reston owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA): South Lakes Park, Stevenage Road Park, and Stuart Road Park. Other significant natural areas adjacent to Reston and owned by FCPA are Fred Crabtree Park and Lake Fairfax Park. The W&OD trail, which is managed by the Northern Virginia Park Authority, runs through Reston. This popular 45-mile trail runs from Arlington to Purcellville with about 10 miles in Reston.

Reston’s 800 acres of natural area are further divided into about 450 separate parcels. The largest wooded parcel is the Walker Nature Center (WNC) which comprises 72 acres. Other wooded areas include the Snakeden and Glade stream valleys, Bright Pond natural area, Buttermilk Creek Trail, North Hills Park, and the Twin Branches Nature Trail area.

Today, nearly 50% of Reston is under tree canopy. The majority of Reston’s existing upland woodlands are mixed hardwoods typically dominated by red and white oaks, yellow poplar, red maple, and blackgum. The 2020 Reston Association State of the Environment Report (2020 RASER) identified the status of Reston’s urban forests as “Fair.” Its status has not changed since the first RASER was published in 2017. Reston and all of Northern Virginia, however, has recently lost a number of its mature oak and ash trees to environmental stressors.

Why Are Our Trees and Natural Areas Important?

There is a growing understanding of the importance of the urban forest to the human condition. Trees in urban areas provide numerous benefits to humans by enhancing environmental, economic, and aesthetic values. Environmental value is provided by ecosystem services such as carbon storage, carbon sequestration, air pollution reduction, and interception of precipitation which can reduce stormwater runoff and erosion and recharge groundwater. Trees also provide substantial ecological benefits to wildlife, serving as food sources, breeding grounds, and cover. Other specific characteristics of urban forests that benefit society include their potential for reducing energy use in buildings by providing cooling shade in the summer and wind resistance in the winter. They also affect aesthetics and enhance property values. Additionally, the influence forests have on the physiological and psychological wellbeing of humans is receiving more attention from the medical community. Spending time in a forested environment has been documented to lower blood pressure and stress hormone levels, to counter depression, and to enhance cognitive functions. The value of Reston’s urban forests and natural areas can hardly be overstated.

What Are the Primary Threats to Our Urban Forests and Natural Areas?

The extent of tree cover alone is not indicative of a forest’s health. Currently Reston’s urban forests are facing a number of threats. These threats include development and re-development activities, competition from invasive plant species, overgrazing and browsing by deer, infestations of invasive insects, climate change, and open space violations such as unauthorized removal of deadwood and dumping. Apart from development and re-development, these threats are common to all of Reston’s urban forests and natural areas, regardless of ownership and location.

  • Development and Re-development

With the expansion of Metro and Reston’s Transit Area Stations and the re-development of some of Reston’s older buildings and properties, trees are being removed and, when replaced, they often are replaced with much younger trees that do not provide the same degree of ecological services that more mature trees offer. In addition, construction activities compact soil and alter drainage patterns that can be detrimental to the remaining vegetation. New construction adds to Reston’s impervious surface area that further disrupts water flow and retention.

  • Invasive plant species

In 2016, Reston Association developed and began implementing a systematic assessment of Reston’s natural areas by RA staff and citizen scientist volunteers. The project is called the “Natural Areas Assessment.” Preliminary survey results indicate that 38 percent of Reston’s urban forest is dominated by invasive plant species. Only 10 percent of the forest contains 0-5 percent invasive species (Exhibit 2). Of the invasive species found in the forest, the two most abundant invasive species are bush honeysuckles (Lonicera spp.) and English ivy (Hedera helix), but many other non-native invasive plants are negatively affecting our forests and natural areas.

Exhibit 2: Invasive Plant Dominance in Natural Areas of Reston

According to EDDMaps (a web-based mapping system for documenting invasive species and pest distribution), Reston has the majority of confirmed reports of invasive plants in Fairfax County. But that statistic should not be interpreted to mean that Reston has a greater infestation than other parts of the County. Rather, it reflects the fact that Reston Association has done more than other communities to survey and report on the status of invasive plants in its natural areas with its posse of volunteer citizen scientists.

  • Overgrazing and Browsing by Deer

In some areas of Reston’s urban forests, the understory is diminished with a paucity of young trees and native herbaceous vegetation owing to too many deer (Exhibit 3) that are now frequently seen roaming our neighborhoods and golf courses. Because they selectively remove many of our native plants, they help drive the proliferation of invasive species, many of which are distasteful to deer.

Exhibit 3: Impact of Deer of Forest Understory (Deer Freely Roam on Left Side of Deer-Exclusion Fencing)

  • Insect Infestations

The mid-Atlantic region is subject to outbreaks of insect pests. Among the most problematic are the gypsy moth (Lymantria dispar dispar), hemlock wooly adelgid (Adelges tsugae), the emerald ash borer (Agrilus planipennis), fall cankerworm (Alsophila pometaria), and orange striped oak worm (Anisota senatoria).  The tent caterpillar (Malacosoma americanum) is a native insect that defoliates wild and ornamental cherry trees, crab apple trees and maples. This defoliation occurs early enough in the spring, however, that trees will re-leaf and the caterpillars will not cause long-term damage.

You may have noticed more dead and dying trees in Reston in the past few years. The emerald ash borer (Exhibit 4) is partly to blame, as most of Northern Virginia’s ash trees have recently succumbed to this invasive beetle. Oak trees are also dying more frequently, and for them climate change is partly to blame, as described in the following paragraphs.

Exhibit 4: Emerald Ash Borer Beetle

  • Climate Change

Of all the stressors, climate change may be the most ubiquitous and challenging. It has the potential to have the greatest long-term impact and is already detrimentally affecting Reston and the rest of the mid-Atlantic states. Increased temperatures will impact a tree’s ability to survive, require more maintenance such as tree watering and pruning and also contribute to a tree’s stress. Trees under stress are prone to insect problems and disease. More extreme weather events, such as droughts, floods, and severe windstorms damage and stress trees. Reston’s older trees that were planted or re-forested in the 1960s are especially vulnerable to such stresses. Climate-driven changes in precipitation patterns and heavier downpours (which can lead to soil compaction and low oxygen levels in the root zone) are believed to be the main causes in the on-going die off of white and chestnut oaks in Virginia.

Climate change, moreover, is changing the composition of our urban forests. The results of climate change vulnerability assessments for native Virginia tree species (using high-resolution models) concur with numerous other investigations that predict the widespread loss of habitat in the southern portions of “northern” species’ ranges. For example, northern red oak, eastern hemlock, and white pine (which are all found in Reston) are expected to decline or become locally extinct in Virginia. The assessments also suggest that Reston’s iconic urban forests may change, with some of our most abundant and important tree species (e.g., white and black oaks) finding less favorable conditions by mid-century. The loss of dominant trees will have cascading impacts through the forest ecosystem. The combination of stressed trees and warmer weather may encourage outbreaks of insect pests and invasive species and loss of native wildlife species which are dependent on these native tree species.

  • Open-space Violations

The unauthorized removal of deadwood and clearing of understory in Reston’s natural areas reduces wildlife habitat and adversely impacts the recycling of essential nutrients and minerals to the forest ecosystem. Similarly, the unauthorized dumping of yard debris and trash into Reston’s natural areas is detrimental to the integrity of our urban forests.

What Is Being Done to Address These Issues?

Both Fairfax County and Reston Association are taking steps to protect our urban forests and natural areas. For example, Fairfax County has developed an Urban Forest Strategic Plan with 24 core recommendations to inventory, protect, improve, and expand the County’s urban forests. Currently the County is finalizing its Community-wide Energy and Climate Action Plan (CECAP) and will be developing a Climate Change Resilience and Adaptation Plan that provide guidance on increasing tree canopy coverage and other strategies to address potentially deleterious impacts of climate change. CECAP is the first effort to involve the community in greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction efforts, and the first opportunity to add individual efforts to existing efforts by the county and to highlight opportunities for county, state, and federal action. The plan includes goals to help chart a path forward for Fairfax County residents, businesses, organizations, and other stakeholders, to reduce our collective GHG emissions. The plan also includes strategies and actions that individuals and organizations can take to help achieve the goals.

Based on the analyses provided by past RASERs, the Reston Association’s Environmental Advisory Committee has issued (and the Reston Association Board of Directors has approved) a 2020 RASER REPORT CARD & RECOMMENDATIONS that lists 19 recommendations for protecting and/or enhancing Reston’s urban forests, native landscaping, and other natural vegetation.

Reston’s Walker Nature Center (WNC) sponsors numerous programs aimed at educating the public about the value and status of our urban forests and open space. The WNC organizes invasive plant removal projects and supports native tree-planting events and native plant sales. Reston’s invasive plant removal projects will continue as they are part of the commitment Reston has made to join the Biophilic Cities Network.

But the problem is not one that can only be addressed by governing authorities. We all share some role in the problem and the potential solutions based on our personal behavior. To this end, the Reston Association’s Environmental Advisory Committee has created a “Biophilic Pledge” that encourages individuals to take personal responsibility to be better stewards of our natural environment.

Reston Cluster Association Boards also may request help from the Commonwealth of Virginia’s Department of Forestry to prepare a 10-yr Neighborhood Forest Management Plan. An Urban Forest Conservationist will prepare the Plan at no cost. Fifty-fifty cost share grants are also an option to fund any recommended work.

You can find out more about the status of our urban forests and natural areas, about the 2020 RASER REPORT CARD & RECOMMENDATIONS, and about the “Biophilic Pledge” on the Reston Association’s Nature & Environment Overview web page: www.reston.org/nature-environmental-overview.

Reston's Public Golf Course: Good for Wildlife, Too!

photo credit: Arthur Hass

Bill Burton, longtime Restonian and member of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, writes about the “vital habitat for a wide range of plant and animal species” provided by Reston’s south golf course. In the April issue of Reston Magazine, Bill takes readers on a virtual walk along Reston Association paths that border and cross the golf course. He starts where the tree canopy is dominated by chestnut oaks, strolls by Links Pond where a resident counted 66 species of birds over a single year, and ends at old-field habitat with hardwood canopy—one of the rarest habitats in Fairfax County. Read the full article at http://bit.ly/Burton-RNGC and plan your own tour early some morning.


Golf Courses Can Be Environmental Assets in Urban Settings

Read Doug Britt’s article, published in Reston Now

100 Bird Species Recorded at Hidden Creek Country Club

photo credit: Arthur Hass

Dave Young is a contributor to eBird for Lake Fairfax and has been a birder since 1974. These are his observations of birds on and bordering the Hidden Creek Country Club over a span of 38 years. Enjoy the accompanying photos from Arthur Hass.

See the complete list of 100 bird species.

Why ALL of the Hidden Creek Golf Course Needs to be Protected as Open Space

 photo credit: Lynne Mulston

Putting housing on Hidden Creek would add to the Wiehle Avenue traffic that is currently bumper-to-bumper during rush hours.  Wiehle Avenue traffic is already expected to worsen because another development company has put in an application to build 2,100 units in the Isaac Newton area (where Reston Association’s offices used to be, behind the Wiehle Avenue firehouse).  That area is within the Wiehle-Reston East Transit Station Area, so new housing development is conceivable there under the approved Reston Master Plan. Add to that the 156 units in new development that has already been approved for Tall Oaks Village Center.

Read full article.

Hidden Creek Nature Walk

In September 2019, Abby Stocking, a naturalist with Walker Nature Center, conducted a Nature Walk through HCCC golf course.

View photos from the Nature Walk

Report from June 2013 Nature Hike at Reston National Golf Course

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