Accenture Workday at Kutner Park and Lanier MS


Accenture joined us again this year for a volunteer workday on their annual Give-Back day! In partnership with the City of Fairfax Department of Parks and Recreation, we began the day working at Kutner Park in Fairfax, off of Jermantown Road near Route 50. Our crew of volunteers pulled vines where there was a dense invasion of English Ivy. They then planted some native vegetation to help enhance degraded areas of the park and prevent invasive species from regaining their footing.


The Accenture volunteers then pickaxed their way through some tough compacted clay soil to prepare the area for Lanier Middle School students to plant.

Accenture Planting with EcoClub Students

The Accenture team then planted the bioretention cell with members of the Lanier EcoClub. Many of these students helped to envision the initial design for the rain garden while on their Stormwater Campus Tour with Lands and Waters. Sweetbay Magnolia and Lowbush Blueberry were two of the native plants selected for this area because of their high wildlife value.

Many thanks to the Accenture team, and James for pulling it all together!


Carlin Springs ES: Bog Expansion and Composting

November 9th, 2012

The bog is happy and healthy — and providing an oasis for the turtles! Students dig up more turf grass so that we can expand the area of our created wetland.

Carlin grub! Learning respect for all living organisms and debunking the myths that cause all those squeamish squeals associated with crawly critters — is at the heart of what we do!

Students planting woodland sedge around the hibernaculum

Learning about the magnificent marvels of the decomposing world through a primer on vermicomposting! Students harvest red wiggler worms from an older composting bin and create a new, roomier home for them. The richly fertile worm castings will provide new life and nutrients for our gardens.

Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 2)

November 2, 2012

Students amend the existing soil with rich, composted leaf mulch.

Students haul amended soil over to the hibernaculum area.

Rich soil is piled over hollowed logs so that there are numerous cavities for the turtles to easily dig themselves safely into the earth for the coming winter.

Ready for burrowing!

While we’re at it — a brush pile to provide shelter for birds and habitat for invertebrates.

Teamwork! An old log becomes a makeshift turtle ladder.

Swamp milkweed in the bog goes to seed.

Wind dispersal — students help to spread milkweed seeds.

Protein-rich Diet Linked to Bay’s Unhealthy State

To take a bite out of the Chesapeake’s pollution, consumers need to watch what they put in their mouth.

By Karl Blankenship

This is the fourth installment in “Growing Concern,” an occasional series about how issues related to growth threaten Chesapeake restoration efforts.

The Chesapeake may be on a “pollution diet,” but one of the most effective ways to make the Bay healthy might be to put watershed residents on a diet as well, according to a number of scientists.

The Bay, they say, is a reflection of what we eat.

The so-called Chesapeake pollution diet, or Total Maximum Daily Load, is aimed at trimming the amount of nitrogen and phosphorus that enters the estuary, where they spur the growth of huge algae blooms that foul the Bay’s water.

Fertilizers and animal waste running off farms is the largest single source of those nutrients, both to the Bay and many other coastal waters, spurring new, and often controversial attempts, to crack down on agriculture.

Part of the reason the Bay is bloated, though, stems from consumer food choices. In recent decades, the populations of the United States and most other developed countries have moved toward protein-rich diets that require disproportionately large amounts of nitrogen to produce. That inevitably means that more nitrogen leaks into the environment, often making it into waterways.

“People think of the person putting out the nitrogen as being the problem, but [that person is] doing it to meet a demand,” said Richard Kohn, an expert on animal nutrient management with the University of Maryland. “Farmers are producing food because people are eating it.”

In addition, people waste huge amounts of food. More than a third of all food produced in the United States is never eaten: It is simply thrown away, spoils or is otherwise unusable, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

92-pound footprint

The influence food consumption has on nitrogen pollution was highlighted recently by an international team of scientists who developed a calculator that allows individuals to estimate their nitrogen “footprint” – the amount of nitrogen that is released into the environment as a result of decisions they make about eating, driving, electricity use and other factors.

The average American’s nitrogen “footprint” is 92 pounds a year, according to their N-PRINT calculator. A whopping 72 percent of that stems from what they eat.

As a result, altering one’s diet can be the most effective way to for individuals to reduce their footprint.

“This is not that difficult a problem,” said Jim Galloway, Sidman Poole Professor of Environmental Science at the University of Virginia, and one of the leading experts on the nitrogen cycle. He helped develop the calculator with Kohn and others. “If people did two things – ate to the protein guidelines that we’re supposed to and really decreased their food waste – then you are talking about a substantial decrease in the amount of nitrogen needed to come into an agricultural system.”

If someone eating an average U.S. diet instead ate the amount of protein recommended by the Institute of Medicine and the World Health Organization, they would slash the food portion of their nitrogen footprint by about 42 percent, according to the N-PRINT calculator. If they followed those guidelines and also cut food waste by half, they would reduce the food-related portion of their footprint by 50 percent.

Like other individual actions, if adopted on a wide scale, the change could make a big difference. A 2002 paper that Galloway co-authored suggested that if Americans adopted a Swedish-style diet, which has about half the meat consumption of the U.S. diet, fertilizer use would decrease 37 percent. If Americans were persuaded to adopt the Mediterranean diet, which has only about a fifth of the meat of a typical U.S. diet, fertilizer use would decrease by more than half. That would, in effect, return fertilizer use rates roughly to where they were in the 1960s, when the Bay was relatively healthy.

Continue reading

YSOP Workday at Burrville ES

October 27th, 2012

In partnership with Living Classrooms of the National Capital Region, we worked on a reforestation project at Burrville Elementary School. In a planting bed adjacent to the front entrance of the school we created a small representation of a forested area. Volunteers from Youth Services Opportunities Project (YSOP) helped us to clear the area of invasive plants and prepare the site for the installation of native plants. Tackling those invasive plants is always a labor-intensive job — thank you YSOP volunteers!

Removing large invasive plants

Loading composted leaf mulch in to amend the soil for planting

Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 1)

October 26th, 2012

How the turtle project began…

Lands and Waters began working with Carlin Springs Elementary School last spring when we were asked to host an after-school program. Upon beginning our work to create a bog wetland habitat, we discovered…

Numerous Eastern Box Turtles were inhabiting the courtyard that was to be the site of our bog creation project. We had heard legends of the duckling eating bullfrogs, but these little scaly gems had crawled under our radar. We wondered how they were surviving in habitat that supplied so few food resources for them. Thus, we had a shift in focus to accommodate this unique teaching opportunity and to provide a better habitat for these magnificent little creatures.

Eastern box turtle populations are severely threatened, mostly due to habitat destruction and roadway casualties. We encourage citizens to create turtle-friendly habitat in their backyards and to rescue turtles when you see them trying to cross the road. They get their name because they are the only turtle that can completely “box” themselves in when threatened by predators. Thus, this defense mechanism may be great against foxes and raccoons, it is no match for those lumbering piles of steel and rubber that take us to the grocery store. So when you see a turtle crossing the road, be a good samaritan and kindly give her or him a lift safely to the other side — just make sure it is in the direction they were already heading!

Back to Carlin Springs — the turtles were not at all shy about accepting our offerings of fruits and vegetables.

We began enhancing the courtyard and creating a better habitat for eastern box turtles. We brought in some rich compost and leaf litter to amend the soil. Also large logs rescued from a fallen snag to decompose and provide habitat for insects, fungus, and other yummy turtle snacks.

Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum

A few large hollowed out logs are brought into the courtyard to provide a protective sanctuary for the turtles during the coming chilly winter months.

Members of the Carlin Springs Nature Club work in their courtyard to prepare the turtle hibernaculum. By combining leaf compost and shredded leaf litter students create rich soil that will retain moisture, conditions that are preferred by eastern box turtles. The mixture is then stuffed into the decomposing logs, which will also provide habitat for insects.

Although it is about the time for eastern box turtles in our area to begin nestling down for the winter, we still find a few of them wandering around the courtyard bog and chomping on selections from the platters of shredded vegetables and fruits we offer them. We often call it hibernation, that’s technically a process for mammal. Turtles and other reptiles “brumate,” when due to cold temperatures, the body metabolism slows down to use less energy — they are still awake during this time but become very sluggish.

However, an understandably grumpy turtle was very unhappy that we woke him! We made sure to tuck him into some rich soil and cover him with leaf litter so that he could quickly burrow himself back into the earth.

[   Go to Carlin Springs ES: Creating a Turtle Hibernaculum (Part 2)   ]

Anacostia Watershed Walk (Day 2)

October 25th, 2012

The second day of our “Follow the Water” program at Kimball Elementary School, funded by the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. This time Ms. Williams’ 5th grade class learned about their local watershed as they followed a stream to the Anacostia River.

And a hearty thank you to our volunteer leaders — Michelle, Bill, Kelly, Vessie and Nick!

Also, many thanks to the local Yes! Organic Market for donating lunches for our volunteer leaders!

Native Planting at Tyler ES with Living Classrooms

October 24th, 2012

In partnership with Living Classroom of the National Capital Region, Jeanette and Kris work to create a sponge garden at Tyler Elementary School. In an area receiving runoff from an asphalted playground, a stormwater snake is installed near a drain to help infiltrate and filter water. Working with the second graders, the area was mulched and planted with grey sedge. There is still much work to do and many plants to be installed, but we are off to a great start!

Anacostia Watershed Walk (Day 1)

October 23rd, 2012

The first day of our newly developed “Follow the Water” program, where students of Ephraim Kimball Elementary School learn about the ecological health and conservation issues associated with their local watershed as they follow a nearby stream to the Anacostia River. This educational program was funded by a grant from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. On day one, Ms. Brummell’s 5th grade class was the first to make the journey.

Students listen to Sean as he gives a short presentation summarizing watershed basics and the watershed address of Kimball students.

Identifying beautiful — yet problematic — non-native, invasive plants. A student holds a specimen of porcelain berry (Ampelopsis brevipedunculata), originally from Asia. This aggressive plant climbs over vegetation, strangling out native plants and monopolizing habitat.

Where does city rain go? Storm drains line the streets along our walk, the litter, road pollution and illegal dumping that flows into them leads straight to the Anacostia River. Students ask why they are not covered to prevent trash from going in, but the unfortunate choice is pollution in the river or flooding.

Exploring a rain garden

Joyous faces as onlookers watch their fellow students burn some energy and run down a hill slope.

An unloved stream

Yes! Organic Market generously donated lunches for our volunteer leaders. Thank you, Yes!

Thank you! And a hearty thanks to our volunteer leaders — Michelle, Cindy, Vessie, and Jose! We could not have done it without you.

Kimball ES: Stormwater Campus Tour and Water Quality Testing

As part of their “Follow the Water” program stormwater educational program, Ms. Burmell and Ms. William’s 5th grade classes learn how to monitor water quality.

Students set up a kick net to find macroinvertebrates, which are studied to measure the health of streams.

Students sort through the leaf litter and detritus on their nets to find macroinvertebrates. Once they are gathered and identified, they are returned to the stream.

Water testing for temperature, turbidity, oxygen, sediment, nitrate and phosphate

Bullfrog tadpole from Fort Dupont stream in the Anacostia watershed

Thanks to the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District for their assistance!

Thank you to the Chesapeake Bay Restoration Fund, whose generous support made this program possible!