It’s easy to see why residents of Alexandria’s Overlook community are so attached to their surroundings. The homeowners’ association of more than 400 residences straddles Bren Mar Park and nearby Turkeycock Run Stream Valley Park, providing easy access for nature lovers like Stephen Smith of the Overlook Foundation, Inc. Homeowners Association.
“My family and others in Overlook enjoy walking along the trails in the park,” he said. “I’ve lived here for 20 years and started volunteering in 2015.”
The goal then was to rid their beloved parks of invasive plant species like English ivy, Chinese wisteria and Japanese honeysuckle. Dozens of residents volunteered to help after learning about the harmful effects of invasive plants from a neighborhood husband-and-wife team of naturalists. “The flowers may look pretty, but they overwhelm and kill the trees,” Smith learned.
At first, the Overlook volunteers worked diligently with the Park Authority to remove the persistent, non-native plants and replace them with native species to shore up the parks’ health. After only a few outings, they realized they needed a lot more help.
“We quickly realized it was insurmountable,” Smith recalled. “The vines were growing faster than we could work to solve the problem, and volunteers alone couldn’t handle the acreage.”
Determined to improve the park’s health, the Overlook Foundation Homeowners Association decided to take advantage of a matching grant opportunity through the Fairfax County Park Foundation. To date, the association has donated more than $43,000 to hire a contractor that specializes in invasive plant control, and the Park Authority’s Mastenbrook matching grant doubled the impact of the gift.
“We still have miles to go, and the community is pretty set at budgeting to keep working at it,” Smith said. “Hopefully we’ll keep at it until we’ve won, which will require at least four more years of effort.”
By eradicating harmful, invasive plants, the group’s goal is to ensure mature trees can survive, reestablish native undergrowth and saplings and preserve a healthy neighborhood oasis for generations to come.