As site work began this week at the Butterfly Garden and Nature Trail in Washington, Mayor John Sullivan and other town council members are thinking bigger.
At last month’s council meeting, council members peppered Don Hearl, one of the members of the Old Rag chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists (ORMN) who first proposed the trail, with hypothetical questions about the scope of the project. The questions covered costs, parking options and the effect a nature trail could have on the saleability of the adjacent town-owned Avon Hall property.
Hearl and ORMN members Jack Price and Jenny Fitzhugh returned to the council for its Feb. 13 regular meeting with answers to those questions, tweaked and expanded designs, and ambitious long-term goals.
With the scope of the project widening to include more town-owned land, the five to eight weeks worth of prep work at the nature trail site will involve mowing a winding, six-foot-wide, 300-foot-long walking path, eliminating invasive plant species and clearing fallen trees and debris from a stream and improving the parking area on Warren Avenue. All of that will be completed by April or May, Hearl said, when $2,000 worth of native trees, shrubs and wildflowers will be introduced by master naturalists and other volunteers.
“What started out as a proposal for a small butterfly trail project is encouraging many of us to consider other uses of the Avon Hall property,” Sullivan said during Hearl’s presentation. “At some point the town needs to generate money out of that property, and the obvious first answer is to sell it. But if we can find a way to generate income there, and can maintain control and influence what’s done with the property, then we’d be interested.”
Among the suggestions at the meeting was that Avon Hall might generate money as an arboretum, a central meeting place for people visiting the town and walking the butterfly trail.
Hearl said that the ORMN would obviously support incorporating the historical town property into the project.
“This could be a learning tool for the students of the county, and it will also be aesthetically pleasing for people that drive into town, because that area is the first thing they see on the way in,” Hearl said. Price added that he applauds the council for allowing them to include the stream area, which he said RappFLOW (Rappahannock Friends and Lovers of Our Watershed) has also shown interest in.
“The stream is a wonderful riparian area, which could be an example for farmers to utilize their small stream areas,” Price said. “Putting riparian plants here will improve the stream. This has the potential for being a model project for other communities.”
Fitzhugh said that since word of the ORMN’s presentation at the January town council meeting appeared in the Rappahannock News, several local organizations and state agencies have contacted the ORMN expressing interest in supporting the project. She said this project has the potential to be a statewide or regionwide project. “People will see how creating a natural habitat will transform an area.”