Tour aimed to educate locals about rare plants

By Katie Demeria

Three rare Virginia plants are found exclusively within the marshes of Abram’s Creek Wetlands Preserve in Winchester. But their habitat may be shrinking.

The city was planning to start a marsh restoration project in 2007, according to Director of Parks and Recreation Jennifer Jones, but funds were low at the time.

Now the city is starting the effort again.

The Parks and Recreation Department will host a tour of the wetland preserve Thursday evening, led by Shenandoah University Professor of Environmental Education Woodward Bousquet, according to a department news release.

Jones said the tour is meant to educate neighbors, whose homes oftentimes sit right next to the preserve, allowing them to ask questions.

“We do this every five years,” Jones said. “We have neighbors come and go, and this is meant to educate them on the importance of the wetlands and what actually makes the wetlands of Abrams Creek very special.”

According to Jones, the preserve is an extremely rare habitat, sporting 20 plants that are listed on the Virginia rare plants list. Three of those — the hooded skull cap, willow leaf asters and Awned Sedge — are found only in Winchester in the commonwealth.

Sometimes neighbors and residents have questions about wetlands encroaching on developed areas, or developed areas encroaching on wetlands, Jones added. The tour is meant to open the line of communication and answer those questions.

She said the department is currently concerned about trees that are moving into the marsh area.

The 25-acre preserve has two different sections: marsh and swamp. The marsh consists of mostly grasses, while the swamp supports trees and is largely shaded.

The problem, Jones said, is that the trees are starting to enter the marsh area.

“The three that are found only in the city of Winchester in Virginia, they have to have marshland, they have to have direct sunlight,” she said.

Right now, the swamps are starting to overtake the marsh area, which is “bad news for our rare plants,” Jones said.

Now the department is trying to pull together another marsh restoration project to “protect that very unique habitat.”

The project is still dependent on available funds, she said. The department is currently trying to get a quote, marking the trees that need to be removed.

The tour is part of an effort to raise awareness for the project and the need to protect those marshes, Jones said.

There is even the potential to market the area and bring more tourists into Winchester to see the preserve. But, Jones added, the key to that plan is not losing the habitat to begin with.

“This is a really unique treasure that we have in Winchester that really no other city in Virginia has,” she said.

The tour will take place at 6 p.m. Those interested should meet at the trail head and information kiosk at the intersection of Jubal Early Drive and Handley Avenue.

Contact staff writer Katie Demeria at 540-465-5137 ext. 155, or kdemeria@nvdaily.com