Monticello Park in Alexandria designated community forest

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“There are houses there, there and there” Bill Young said, pointing all around us as sunlight filtered through many trees and speckled the ground beneath our feet. “It’s a very small park.”

It is indeed. Monticello Park in Alexandria is barely seven acres. But if ever a park exceeded its weight, this is it. The park – west of Russell Road, with an entrance on Beverley Drive – attracts a variety of birds, which in turn attract a variety of birdwatchers. Dog walkers and their dogs also enjoy the park, as do dog-free, bird-averse people who live nearby and just want a quiet oasis.

And last month, thanks to the efforts of a 15-year-old named Tate CommissionMonticello Park has been designated a community forest by the Old-Growth Forest Network.

Tate lives less than a mile from the park and reckons he first visited it when he was in first grade. It’s located in a neighborhood of single-family homes on curving streets that follow the topography — except in Monticello Park, which is nestled on a ridge that drops steeply into a ravine and stream. This geological diversity appeals to Tate.

“Even though it’s so small compared to other parks, it contains hills, it contains a stream, it contains so many different types of plants,” Tate told me over the phone from Michigan, where he is. at the Interlochen Arts Camp. “It’s crazy how diverse it is.”

A teacher at Tate’s school, St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, put him in touch with Brian Kane to the Ancient Forest Network. One of the association’s goals is to designate a protected forest in every county in the country.

Monticello Park is not a true ancient forest, untouched by human axes. “There’s no more primeval forest in Alexandria and Arlington,” Brian said. “Everything has been cleared at least twice for agriculture.”

But it has some characteristics of those important natural areas, as a habitat and a place where harmful carbon is stored in the roots of old trees. Red oaks, white oaks, chestnut trees and tulip trees thrive here.

“There are trees over 200 years old there, believe it or not,” Brian said.

Other regional areas in the Old Growth System include Glencarlyn Park in Arlington County and the Gold Mine Tract in the C&O Canal National Historical Park in Montgomery County.

Tate said nominating the park for designation required compiling a lot of paperwork. He also made a short documentary about the park and its history.

The park has many boosters including Rod Simmons, manager of natural resources at the City of Alexandria. Bill Young, the ornithologist who drove me there recently, works with Ashley Bradford on a site dedicated to the park: MPNature.com. During the spring migration from 2012 to 2017, Bill posted daily birding observations.

It’s in the spring, when the songbirds make their long journeys from south to north, that Monticello Park really comes alive. Look at a map and you’ll see that this is the only significant enough green area for miles around. Birds are drawn to it, especially the creek at the park’s lowest point.

Over 30 species of warblers have been spotted in Monticello Park, along with orioles, finches, wrens, flycatchers, owls and raptors. Birdwatchers call one side of Thrush Ridge Park for the birds — wood thrush, hermit thrush, grey-cheeked thrush and more — that seem to love it there.

The size of the park’s postage stamp can be an advantage for bird watchers.

“Across the park is an eighth of a mile,” Bill said. “If you loop around the creek, it’s a quarter mile. It’s a very small park. It’s one thing he has going for him. You can go to Rock Creek Park and find a lot more birds, but they’re so scattered they’re harder to find. Here they are all concentrated in a small area.

The primary benefit of being part of the Ancient Forest Network is protection from development.

“All [protected] the forests must be permanently closed to all commercial exploitation, regardless of ownership,” said Brian of the Old-Growth Forest Network. “And there has to be public access. The public can go and see this forest. It is not a private forest.

Tate knows what he wants Monticello Park to be and why its new designation is important: “One of the things it shows is that it can serve as a place for everyone.”

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