Arlington Earns Award for Restoring Globally Rare Ecosystem

Published on November 08, 2017

  • Successful partnership between community volunteers and staff

  • Restoring natural areas strong County focus

Arlington County's Magnolia Bog restoration project earned the Best New Environmental Sustainability Award in 2016 from the Virginia Recreation and Park Society. The project serves as a model for natural resource management in urban areas by highlighting opportunities to incorporate community groups in environmental stewardship.

"This is a real success story for our County," said Jane Rudolph, director of Parks and Recreation for the County. "The bog is home to wetlands, natural forest and more locally rare plants than any other site in the County. With the help of dedicated volunteers and partners we hope it will be here for generations of Arlingtonians."
Restoring a magnolia bog in an urban setting

Tucked away behind Barcroft Park in south Arlington, just steps from baseball fields, picnic areas and tennis courts, lies a globally-rare ecosystem. Arlington's magnolia bog is one of only two-dozen known in the world. It's a priceless fragment of Arlington's all but vanished natural landscape. It gets its name from the sweetbay magnolias (Magnolia virginiana) that grow there.

Magnolia bogs are wetlands. They are closely associated with terrace gravel forests made up of soils deposited millions of years ago by the Potomac River. Unlike the peat bog, water infiltration and leaching leaves the Magnolia bog's soil acidic and free of  organic materials.

Arlington's 25-acre magnolia bog is fragile. Nearby development, changes in the water table, invasive plants and other environmental stressors have all taken a toll.

In 2011, the County's Department of Parks and Recreation developed a five-year restoration plan to save the bog. County staff partnered with volunteer groups, including Arlington Regional Master Naturalist, Earth Sangha, Virginia Native Plant Society and others, to get the job done.

Volunteers and County staff inventoried the bog's plants; uprooted invasive plants; built a vernal pool; and planted native plants. They found about a dozen types of plants that grow nowhere else in Arlington. Today, the bog and its surrounding buffer area is nearly 90 percent free of invasive plants. Long-lost animals and plants are returning. Spring peeper tree frogs, wood frogs, gray fox, yellow-crowned night-herons, little wood satyr butterflies, and rare plants are thriving.

Stewarding Arlington's natural and historical resources is one of five strategic goals for the Department of Parks and Recreation.  Stewardship is shepherded through the department's Public Spaces Master Plan, Natural Resources Management Plan and Urban Forest Master Plan In 2010, the County Board designated the site a Natural Resource Conservation Area.

Arlington County is in the process of updating the 2005 Public Spaces Master Plan (PSMP). The purpose of the PSMP Update is to assess various aspects of Arlington's public space system and provide strategies for the future for the full breadth of public spaces, including all of the parks, natural resource and recreational needs that make up that system. Learn more and sign up for updates.
Watch a story about the magnolia bog