Accotink Gorge Workdays

The Accotink Gorge, an imperiled biological gem and the call to action to defend it.
October 9, 2023, Accotink Gorge Anti-Wisteria Expedition
Fourteen volunteers from Accenture desended into the Accotink Gorge today. This is the third year Accenture has volunteered with us. Thank you Accenture! We had to hack our way through thickets of multifora rose to reach the next dense stand of wisteria vines. Patiently clipping and sawing, we freed several trees large and small while expanding the area where we can see progress against the wisteria. The Park Authority will follow up in the spring with herbicide treatment on any emergent reprouting vines.

Accenture volunteers hold aloft their trophy.
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October 31, 2022, Accotink Gorge Anti-Wisteria Expedition


Despite earlier forecasts of dry weather, the skies opened in a steady rain as soon as the volunteers had gathered. After 20 minutes of sheltering under our awning, the rain stopped and we were able to proceed. It was just as well we were delayed getting started because a timing mixup meant we had arrived well before our Park Authority herbicide support was on hand.

Our seven volunteers descended the slopes of the gorge into the jungle of Chinese wisteria. Encouraged by the sight of dying vines from the work done October 10th, the volunteers toiled with loppers and saws to enlarge the area of clearing. When we finished, severed slithering vines lay in heaps beneath the trees they had threatened.

Two volunteer quotes from today describe just how challenging this terrain can be: "It was more humiliating than hurtful to find myself tripped up and landing facing the tree canopies." & "I usually go to the weight room on Mondays, but found I both did not need to nor did I have the energy"

An unexpected sight today was two mating box turtles, both with unusually striking patterns on their backs.

Bent and broken by the horror of the insatiable vines, this young native tree was rescued today.
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October 10, 2022, Accotink Gorge Anti-Wisteria Expedition
The volunteers of Accenture returned to continue their work of last October. For three hours, ten volunteers hacked and pruned and sawed their way through the twisting wisteria vines. We had herbicide support from the Park Authority. The dye in the herbicide painted on the freshly cut stumps left the forest floor looking like a constellation of blue stars.

Accenture volunteers after their assault on the vines.

April 30, 2022, Accotink Gorge Anti-Wisteria Expedition
We had a group of eight volunteers who put in three hours clearing resprouting wisteria. We did not have herbicide support from the Park Authority because the season was not optimal. Neither did we see any clear results of the herbicide applied last fall in the same area. The wisteria has again resprouted vigorously, so we spend our time working the same patch several times. We will persevere.

Final gathering of volunteers at the conclusion of their labors

November 24, 2021, Accotink Gorge Anti-Wisteria Expedition
Thirteen volunteers descended into the Accotink Gorge to confront the Chinese Wisteria vines today. The weather was favorable, with clear skies and seasonably cool temperatures. Following up on our October 11th expedition, the volunteers worked with saws and loppers to extend the perimeter of the cleared area.

This late in the season, with leaves rapidly dropping from the vines, identification was sometimes a challenge. We hope we didn't overlook many. However many vines we removed today, the task remaining is still daunting, as the dense wisteria infestations extend for miles upstream and downstream.

Today we enjoyed herbicide support from the Fairfax County Park Authority. Applying a dab of herbicide to the freshly cut stems of the vines is the surest way to prevent resprouting. Our work area was turned into a constellation of these little blue dots of wisteria doom.

In addition to the plague of wisteria, this site is a target of illegal dumping. The volunteers hauled the four tires we found beneath the vines out of the gorge, where the adjacent Costco tire shop was good enough to take them for recycling.

Volunteers display large wisteria vines - See more expedition photos

October 11, 2021, Accotink Gorge Anti-Wisteria Expedition
A group of 8 volunteers from Accenture marched down into the Accotink Gorge on an overcast, but mild day just right for outdoor work. They were soon swallowed in the thickets of Chinese Wisteria that threaten to likewise swallow all the native vegetation. With loppers and saws, the volunteers hacked and slashed at the tangled vines, slowly creating open spaces where before it had been impossible to even walk.

As they worked, the volunteers were gratified to liberate the small native trees that had been bent over double by the pull of the vines. These trees now have a chance to grow in their natural upright form. Without this relief, many of these trees would eventually die, robbed of light by the curtain of wisteria vines. One such liberated tree turned out to be a native American Persimmon bearing fruit. None of the volunteers could be tempted into tasting the not-quite-ripe fruit, known for being highly astringent.

An unexpected discovery was a Box Turtle. For safety, we placed it inside a nearby discarded tire while we worked. Unfortunately, trash and illegal dumping are also a plague in this part of the Accotink Gorge.

As they departed, the Accenture volunteers were presented gift packets of wildflower seeds and a lucky pair also won the impromptu "raffle" of native plant books. Thank you, Accenture!

Soldiers of the Accenture Army display their weapons - See more expedition photos

September 1, 2021, Accotink Gorge Gorge Article in the Sierra Club Cascade newsletter
"Call it a mini-wilderness in the heart of Fairfax County"...Read the rest of the article HERE

April 5, 2021, Accotink Gorge Anti-Wisteria Expedition
A group of 18 volunteers gathered on a sunny afternoon to again attack the extensive infestations of Chinese wisteria. Descending into the gorge, we were greeted by the depressing sight of dozens of tires and other rubbish dumped down the slope from the parking lot. [Luckily, much of this trash was removed a few days later as part of the Potomac Watershed Cleanup.] Entering the heart of the wisteria thicket, the volunteers spread out, chopping, sawing and clipping wisteria vines wherever they were found. It was hopeful to note that there appeared to be little resprouting (so far) from the vines cut here last December.

After tiring ourselves out, the group proceeded on a brief guided tour of the gorge. A bonus was discovering one of our group was a geologist, who explained the origin of the mica schist outcroppings that line the gorge goes back to the closing of the Iapetus Ocean some 300 million years ago as ancient continents collided.

Preparing to do battle with the wisteria - See more expedition photos

December 12, 2020, Return to the Fray
On an unseasonably sunny and mild late fall afternoon, the Friends of Accotink Creek returned to battle against the Chinese wisteria infestation threatening the exceptional native flora of the Accotink Gorge. The hiatus since our last anti-wisteria expedition has been too long.

A group of 14 volunteers turned out, including a contingent from the Lewis High School Junior Class. Thank you, Lewis H.S.!. We observed covid precautions, with everyone in masks and gloves, watching our distance, and plenty of sanitizer available.

Descending into the gorge, the unsuspecting volunteers were lured into the center of the spider's web of tangled vines and told their only hope of escape was to cut their way back out. Braided wisteria vines from pencil thin to biceps thick blocked the way, but the volunteers cut away at them with loppers and saws for three hours, opening up their escape route. Too bad there is no escape for the native habitat, which must stay rooted to the spot, enduring the steady creeping encroachment of the smothering, strangling wisteria.

As if the Chinese wisteria infestation were not enough, the worksite today was also thick with Multiflora rose, Oriental bittersweet, and Porcelainberry, each of them an aggressive exotic invasive species.

Another discouraging sight today was the carelessly stored pile of winter salt left exposed to the elements in the parking lot adjacent to the gorge. We shall endeavor to have the situation corrected by the property owner.

Socially distanced group photo - See more expedition photos

March 16, 2018, Accotink Gorge Wisteria Workday
Snow flurries dropped a few scattered and quickly melting flakes as we gathered, accompanied by blustery chill winds. Once we descended into the gorge, however, the air was still and comfortably cool.

Our team fanned out, attacking vines large and small with loppers and saws. Herbicide applicators followed close behind, treating each stump to prevent resprouting. Chinese wisteria is notorious for responding to cutting by sprouting multiple new stems, much like the Hydra of Greek mythology.

And just as slaying the Hydra was one of the twelve labors of Heracles, clearing Chinese wisteria from the Accotink Gorge will be a Herculean task. Continued effort over a period of years will be needed, followed by monitoring and mopping up indefinitely. We have only begun.

Team Accotink saws through a huge Chinese wisteria vine

October 10, 2017, Accotink Gorge Wisteria Workday
The day was rather warm, with temperatures in the 80's, but the humidity was remarkably high and uncomfortable. Still we persevered. Four volunteers did the vine cutting, while three professionals of SOLitude Lake Management provided the support of qualified herbicide application.

The cutters moved from vine to vine, lopping and sawing, while the applicators followed behind, giving an immediate squirt of glyphosate to each fresh stump. Over a period of weeks, the herbicide will be drawn down deep into the roots, permanently ending each wisteria vine's hostile attack on the flora of the gorge. Vines ranged in size from mere seedlings to well-established monsters four and five inches in diameter, climbing into the canopy.

We worked in two groups. One group focused its efforts on "The Headland", the place here where Accotink Creek is joined by a small tributary from the north that has been identified as the most in danger of losing its uncommon flora to the advancing vines. The second group moved across the creek on a precarious log to eradicate the larger vines there that might spread their seeds to the Headland. Only one voluneer fell in, and only up to the knee.

Anti-wisteria team after their afternoon of vine cutting

August, 2017 - Wisteria management begins in the transmission right-of-way

Movement against wisteria in the Accotink Gorge by Dominion Energy, which has commenced mowing beneath the power lines, to be followed by future targeted spraying of resprouting wisteria. Mowing is not an adequate description for this work, as the machines grind everything to dust right down to the ground. All the native perennials may be expected to readily rebound by next spring.

Dominion Energy machines at work in the Accotink Gorge

December 2016 - Encroaching development or preservation for the Accotink Gorge?
A 10.4 parcel of private land including a portion of the lower end of the gorge is on the market. How great it would be to find a way to preserve this land, which borders park lands and includes a stretch of the creek. Any angels with deep pockets out there? Real estate listing information

Our October 15, 2016 Wisteria Workday:

A small band of FACC volunteers, taking on invasive Chinese wisteria vines in a targeted area, and getting a lot done! Wisteria poses a significant threat to the existing native forests and meadows in Accotink Gorge - its abundant growth smothers and stifles native plants, competing for resources and reducing available habitat.

Wisteria vines spiral up tree trunks, burdening trees. Over time the vines constrict around the growing trunks, compromising the trees’ health, and leaving obvious grooves when removed. In many cases the vines look like taut ropes anchoring the tree to the ground, and can be several inches thick - too wide for loppers to cut. But we also had pruning saws!

We clipped as many vertical vines as we could, reducing the burden on the trees and providing a temporary setback to the wisteria's ambitions of dominance. However it is nearly impossible to completely eradicate wisteria this way - there are long networks of roots stretched across the forest floor that will continue producing vines, requiring a professional invasive management strategy.

FACC is leading invasive workdays and awareness walks in the Accotink Gorge in order to build public awareness and engagement on this important issue, while building our capacity and effectiveness as a team of volunteers - this is a very ambitious project for us, and the scale of the challenge can be overwhelming. But as shown this weekend, a few people can make a meaningful difference with a few hours work!

We are working on an agreement with the Fairfax County Park Authority that will allow us to engage more directly on this issue, and we appreciate their willingness to work with us. We also welcome partners and volunteers to work with us on this campaign to Save Accotink Gorge!

Our April 26th, 2016 Wisteria Workday:
A small scale trial run against Chinese wisteria took place on the "Headland", the part of the gorge identified as the best place to halt the advance of the alien vines before they overtake this zone especially rich in uncommon native plant species.

The steep slope here presents an obstacle to effective action. Volunteers found it challenging to maintain their footing while simultaneously accessing the vines. The perils included avoiding treading on the very plant species we are trying to protect, and sliding downhill, leaving areas bared to future erosion. It seems only the most cautious and concerned volunteers should be selected to work this particular spot.

Two methods of control were employed - pulling up small seedlings by the root and clipping off established vines near the ground. Future efforts, if they are to be effective long-term, will need to incorporate licensed herbicide application to stumps.

The effort against the beast that is Chinese wisteria conjured up images of characters in Greek mythology - Heracles battling the Hydra or Laocoon set upon by giant serpents.

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Our October 24th, 2015 Wisteria Workday: Something of a non-event, with no cutting (due to permitting delays), no naturalist guides (due to health issues), and few of the most exceptional native plants at their seasonal best.

Nonetheless, a number of stalwart volunteers did show up and went on three treks into the gorge - to the critical highland, to the meadow habitat under the power lines, and upstream to the "Great Falls" of the Accotink. We were impressed, however, by a small display of Purple passionflower fruits. It unfortunately paled in comparison to the uncountable thousands of Chinese wisteria seedpods to be seen.

Unable to attack the Wisteria, our volunteers went into cleanup mode, removing bag after bag of thoughtlessly discarded trash. Among the trash was a fresh illegal tire dump, which we labored to haul up the slopes out of the gorge.

The Accotink Gorge, an imperiled biological gem and the call to action to defend it.