The core landowners in the Dutch Creek Area Stewardship in Nelson County are neighbors who know each other well. They have worked and socialized together for fifteen years. Altogether, they own approximately 1,275 acres of contiguous, mostly forested land in a scenic, mountainous area of Virginia that has intrinsic natural resource value. These neighbors are highly conservation-focused and fiercely determined to protect their land. Most of their properties are under conservation easement. The Nature Conservancy (TNC) holds many of these easements because TNC is especially interested in preserving forested areas deemed to be critical wildlife corridors. The 300-acre property of one core member, which includes the summit of a 2,000-foot mountain, is under an easement held by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. This property is one of the state’s dedicated Natural Area Preserves due to its unique geology and globally-rare plant communities. In springtime, an estimated 10,000 shooting-star wildflowers bloom on the southeastern slope of the mountain – a magnificent display not seen anywhere else in the commonwealth.
The stewardship area itself is further protected by being encompassed within the 3,000-acre Dutch Creek Agricultural-Forestal District (DCAFD). Development and commercial activities, other than traditional farming and forestry, are restricted within such state-certified, agricultural-forestal districts. Because the Dutch Creek area contains precious land with such high conservation value, the landowners took all the steps they could to protect it from development. They even were able to prevent the installation of a gas pipeline that would have traversed the rocky barrens where the shooting-stars grow and another wetland site where golden club and a rare viburnum grow.
The residents at first did not realize the additional peril posed by another human-caused threat: nonnative, invasive plants. In recent years, however, they became increasingly alarmed about incursions of invasive plants that threaten to wipe out the special native plants in this unique area. For the past ten years, most of the owners have attempted to control invasive plants on their own properties with varying degrees of success. Because the road through the area, Dutch Creek Lane, acts as a continuous pathway for invasives to make inroads into bordering properties, long-term control has been difficult without a coordinated effort. When they learned about the Blue Ridge PRISM, the landowners readily welcomed the encouraging, expert information about controlling invasive plants and the possible incentives offered by the organization.
During the winter of 2015/2016, the owners of six properties decided to work with each other and with the PRISM. They formed the Dutch Creek Area Stewardship. As of the summer of 2016, the core members of the stewardship area have held three meetings. They decided their first plan of attack would be to coordinate their invasive control efforts along Dutch Creek Lane. This offered the most efficient way to control invasives and prevent reinfestation. The DCAS core group held two fieldwork days during June and July and planned more workdays in the coming months. The fieldwork so far has targeted tree-of-heaven and Oriental bittersweet along Dutch Creek Lane, and sights were set on attacking Japanese stiltgrass along the road later in the summer. They are using the hack-and-squirt method with Garlon® 3A on the invasive trees and the cut-stem technique with concentrated glyphosate on the invasive vines.
In addition to work along Dutch Creek Lane, members are volunteering fieldwork time on each other’s properties. So far, they are working together to hand-pull garlic mustard, cut-stump wineberry, and hack-and-squirt tree-of-heaven. All of the equipment and herbicide the group is using is being donated by DCAS members for the joint effort.
The core members are reaching out to the other landowners within the Dutch Creek AFD. They are discussing their fight against invasives and the opportunities to control invasive species on their respective properties. Of the five landowners contacted, some became interested in fighting invasives and gladly gave permission for DCAS members to treat infestations on their land. Others are not ready to make a commitment. Plans forward include using the PRISM’s factsheets and other educational materials to further inform reluctant neighbors and to hopefully motivate them to join the Dutch Creek Stewardship Area’s efforts in protecting their land.