The caretakers of Virginia’s small ponds and streams play an important role in maintaining Virginia’s freshwater resources. Throughout the commonwealth, Virginia Cooperative Extension Master Gardener volunteers work to empower communities to better steward natural resources through research-based education and outreach. In Loudoun County, Extension Master Gardeners have developed a unique aquatic site assessment program to assist property owners with ponds or streams as they manage threats from erosion, runoff, and invasive species.

In 2021, this aquatic site assessment program helped identify Trapa bispinosa, a new and highly invasive aquatic plant with the potential to choke out native species and obstruct the navigation of waterways.

For their community outreach work protecting Virginia’s water resources and the Chesapeake Bay watershed, Loudoun Extension Master Gardeners earned the Achievement Award from the Virginia Association of Counties and a commendation from the Virginia House of Delegates at the 2022 General Assembly session.

“Local efforts like this can help bring the importance of protecting the Chesapeake Bay closer to home,” said Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke, who submitted the resolution for commendation at the session. “I have a fondness for native plantings projects and, of course, the Chesapeake Bay, so this project hit on two of my interests. Projects like this are important for helping teach people about the value of native plants.”

As part of their aquatic site assessment program, specially trained Loudoun County Master Gardeners visit properties to assess ponds, soil erosion, or stream bank areas. They take photos and samples of plants, and they survey the surrounding landscape to provide property owners with a variety of suggestions for remediation and maintenance.

“The program has been very successful. Since its inception in 2017, the site assessment program has reached 40 clients, totaling over 36.5 acres (streams excluded), and provided 40 actionable reports to clients,” said Barb Bailey, Loudoun Extension Master Gardener coordinator. “The department had a 100 percent success rate in meeting the requests, even through 2020, when we were working through the pandemic.”

“We have a long waiting list of property owners who want our assistance, and we maintain a network of people we’ve helped in the past,” said Bailey “That’s how we were able to identify Trapa bispinosa in Loudoun. I reached out to our list of contacts to see if anyone had noticed the plant and received confirmation that, yes, a property owner had noticed it in his pond.”

After identifying Trapa bispinosa, a highly invasive relative of the water chestnut, Loudoun Extension Master Gardeners began working with the National Capital Region Partnership for Regional Invasive Species Management to promote awareness of the plant, and they began looking for it while conducting site assessments.

If identified early, Trapa bispinosa is easy to remove by hand-pulling. A mature infestation, however, can take many hours to fully remove. The plant can spread vegetatively, through seeds transported by currents or hitchhiking on animals such as geese. So far, Trapa bispinosa has not been identified at additional sites in Loudoun, although it is spreading throughout the Potomac River watershed areas of Fairfax County.

“Being recognized by Delegate Gooditis and the state legislature is very significant for us because it shows the importance of Virginia Cooperative Extension in the community,” said Stuart Vermaak, Loudoun County Extension agent and unit coordinator. “Our volunteers do phenomenal work and have an important role to play in the strategic vision for our county.”

Extension Master Gardeners are trained volunteer educators who bring the resources of Virginia’s land-grant universities to the people of the commonwealth. In Loudoun, Extension Master Gardeners work on projects such as the aquatic site assessment program as well school gardens and urban nutrient management. Community education efforts such as this increase the scientific literacy of Virginia’s residents and aid in important ecological work like invasive species management, sustainable gardening practices, and habitat restoration.

Visit the Extension Master Gardener Program website for more information or to become an Extension Master Gardener.

Written by Devon Johnson

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