Thursday, April 7, 2016

Controlled Burn Planned at Gilbert’s Corner

If one day soon you see smoke by the traffic circles at Gilbert’s Corner, don’t panic. The Piedmont Environmental Council has announced that as soon as the Forest Service thinks the weather and wind conditions line up they will have a controlled burn of the land between the three traffic circles at Route 15, Howser’s Branch Drive and Route 50. That land and the adjacent farm were donated to the Piedmont Environmental Council in 2013. The corner of the land stranded when Howser’s Branch Drive was built has lain fallow since the traffic circles were built and now needs to be cleared.

Image from NASA
The burn will be carried out by the Virginia Department of Forestry, and was originally planned for this past winter, but the weather has not cooperated. They were again trying for last Thursday, but once more the winds picked up and the burn was cancelled. It will happen soon before the weather turns hot and dry though the precise date is dependent on the Department of Forestry finding appropriate wind and weather conditions.

The Piedmont Environmental Council was given the141-acre farm at the southeast quadrant of US Route 50 and US Route 15 known around here as Gilberts Corner by a citizen group led by Scott Kasprowicz, a former member of the PEC Board of Directors. The group, Roundabout Partners, raised the funds and purchased the property to prevent a planned development. Then, to ensure protection of the property, Roundabout Partners donated the land to the Piedmont Environmental Council for conservation purposes.

The triangle of land became stranded by the installation of the Route 50 traffic calming improvements and the building of Howser’s Branch Drive. Now, the future of the farm is being incorporated into a larger vision at Gilberts Corner that includes the establishment of the 155-acre Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park on the north side of Route 50, and the creation of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area.

The plans are for the farm to be restored while enhancing wildlife habitat and protecting the property’s streams and water resources. For more than a decade, this area has been left fallow and is now unusable for agricultural production due to invasion of the open pasture by red cedar and non-native invasive species such as Japanese honeysuckle, multiflora rose, and autumn olive. To eliminate these plants and as part of the restoration of the farm, they will have what is known as a controlled or prescribed burn of the approximately 20 acres located at the property’s northwest corner, within the triangular area bounded by Route 50, Route 15, and Howser’s Branch Drive.

Controlled burns are considered a natural resource manager’s most cost-effective tool available for managing natural communities. They help control invasive shrubs and trees. Fire is used to clear the ground of existing vegetation in preparation of seeding and planting more desirable plant species. Burning allows the seeds to make better contact with the soil and therefore improves the chances of successful germination. Fire is used to reduce the competition between weedy species and native species as a restoration area matures to encourage better establishment of the native vegetation which slowly displaces the weeds. Controlled burning also returns nutrients to the soil, making them readily available for the next generation of vegetation growth.

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