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Volunteers work to save wetland plants

John Farrell is an environmental engineer who didn’t just identify the plants affected when the new Shiloh Park is built in King George County.

On Saturday, he got out his thick gloves, shovel and wheelbarrow and went to the site to move some of the shrubs and grasses from one area to another.

Farrell and the volunteers who helped him weren’t under any legal mandate to relocate the plants, which aren’t considered endangered species.

They just wanted to save a sampling of the wetland inhabitants that will be dozed under when park construction begins later this month.

“It’s not required in the project, but it seemed like the right thing to do,” Farrell said. “Plus, I get a little exercise and it’s a beautiful day to be outside.”

He was joined by six members of the Central Rappahannock chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program. Volunteers with the group help educate others about the state’s natural resources.

Farrell also had help from Ryan Gilbert, a fellow engineer at A. Morton Thomas & Associates, the Richmond company hired by King George County to develop Shiloh Park.

Gilbert said Farrell is always coming into the office with a turtle, plant or other interesting discovery he’s made on the job, which transcends into his hobby.

“He has an eye for things that are endangered,” Gilbert said. Farrell’s love of nature was obvious on Saturday, when he walked beyond the park boundaries to a stream where skunk cabbage grew. He hailed the properties of the plant with vibrant green leaves that resemble hostas.

Skunk cabbage can generate so much heat in the winter, it melts the snow and ice around it to become one of the first signs of green in the spring.

“It’s their way of getting a jump on the competition,” he said.

Most of the plants he and others relocated were in an area of the 33-acre park that will become the parking lot. Shiloh Park is being built at the old King George landfill, off State Route 205.

The hole left, when trash was dug out and taken to the new landfill, will be turned into a bowl-shaped park, with the area at the bottom graded for baseball and soccer fields and a court for tennis, basketball and street hockey.

On Saturday, volunteers loaded the back of Farrell’s company truck with sedges and rushes—tall grasses that thrive in the watery conditions—as well bushes of blueberries and wax myrtle.

“These are nice,” said Jim Scibek, chapter president.

Then, the volunteers walked down the gravel road, past where the park will be, to another wetlands where the relocated plants found a home.

Karen Snape, also a forester in King George, had rallied fellow naturalists to come together on a beautiful spring morning to help Farrell.

She formed the top rung of a “bucket brigade” that carried the plants down the steep incline. Farrell then placed the clumps of grasses and taller wax myrtle bushes at various spots along the marshy ground.

Jessica Alves, Becky Taft, and Ben and Leslie Raterman completed the next step, digging holes in the rich and sandy soil.

Farrell said the group wasn’t saving an entire wetlands; it was simply relocating a sampling of plants in it.

“We just want to help others recognize that native plants have a value,” he said. “They’re often destroyed without anyone knowing about it.”

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425


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