By Deborah Snyder
There’s a little-known treasure three miles south of Rt. 7 on Blue Ridge Mountain Road near Bluemont in westernmost Loudoun County.
Not visible from the road, and with a badly rutted lane leading to a locked gate, Blue Ridge Regional Park sits on 168 acres on a high ridge overlooking Loudoun Valley. On a clear day, Dulles Airport can be spotted in the distance.
The land was donated to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority in 1988 by Wilberta and Carlton Savage. Since 2009, Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, an organization established in 2007, and dedicated to preserving, enhancing and celebrating the mountains, has mounted twice-yearly stewardship efforts to eradicate invasive, non-native vegetation from the park.
When Mr. and Mrs. Savage donated the property, it was improved with a frame house and guest cottage they used as a weekend mountain retreat during Mr. Savage’s long public service as assistant to Cordell Hull, President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s Secretary of State. He cited the beauty, fresh air, and quiet solitude of the land as its draw: “It’s just a little closer to Heaven than any place else.”
When asked why he donated the land, he characteristically replied, “I wanted to give it where it would do the most good for the most people for the longest period of time. I love Loudoun County, and I wanted to give it for perpetuity.” Mr. Savage intended the park to be marked with a plaque stating, “Wilberta Ripley Savage and Carlton Raymond Savage gave to the public this land they love for the benefit of future generations. 1988.” Carlton Savage died at age 92 in 1990, but his intended legacy lives on.
The buildings at Blue Ridge Regional Park are mostly gone. The only remnants are a large stone wall, and the stone fireplace, which the Park Authority stabilized and incorporated into a covered picnic shelter about four years ago. According to Karl Mohle of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, in 2007, a $5,000 grant from REI was used for improvements, including tent pads for Boy Scout camping and a kiosk. The Scouts blazed trails through the woods for a number of years. However, long-ago plantings of bamboo and other non-native species such as mile-a-minute and oriental bittersweet, while attractive, indiscriminately choked out native vines and wildflowers.
Such was the park’s appearance in 2009, when Al Van Huyck and Vern Conaway, board members of the fledgling Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, heard about it and, out of curiosity, visited it. They found it in poor condition, but recognized a great opportunity for FBRM to adopt the Park and help clean it up. So FBRM contacted the park authority, which supported the idea, and actively cooperated with FBRM to get the twice-a-year volunteer days started. FBRM then reached out to Robin Williams of the Virginia Native Plant Society (someone who knows what is native and what is invasive) to gain expertise to guide the work. She became a regular source of help. Also, the Virginia Department of Forestry staff was asked to visit the park, and prepare a forest management plan. Later, FBRM was contacted by Amelia Gavurin, a senior Girl Scout seeking a project for her Gold Award. Her efforts, supported by FBRM, resulted in identification and labeling of 22 trees, and a brochure providing information about them. Ms. Gavurin achieved the Gold Award, the Girl Scout equivalent of the Boy Scout Eagle rank.
The twice-yearly volunteer work days conducted by FBRM, creation of the forestry plan, and work on the Girl Scout project led to Blue Ridge Regional Park’s receipt in 2013 of the Stewardship Award from the Virginia Department of Forestry. Comprising the award are a sign posted at the Park noting it is a “Stewardship Forest,” and a plaque for the NVRPA office reading, “The Thoughtful Land Stewardship You Practice Leaves A Better World Than You Found To Those Who Will Follow.” Blue Ridge Regional Park is the first NVRPA park to receive this award.
Renewed efforts by FBRM during the Stewardship Volunteer Days to maintain the trails and control invasive vegetation have had a positive effect. The precious tiny wildflower seeds, long dormant in the undergrowth, have finally seen the light of day and come forth in a profusion of native flowers. But as any gardener knows, because invasive plants perpetually compete for space, controlling them also is an ongoing job.
The next Volunteer Day is Saturday, Oct. 15. To sign up, contact James Remuzzi at (202)746-1649 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Deborah Snyder is secretary of Friends of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a 501(c)(3) organization. For information about FBRM and Blue Ridge Regional Park, go to friendsofblueridge.org and novaparks.com/parks/blue-ridge-regional-park, respectively. In Our Backyard is compiled by the Loudoun County Preservation and Conservation Coalition. To learn about the organization, or to participate in the Rural Roads Initiative, go to loudouncoalition.org.