Huntley Meadows’ Wild Side Rides are not known for
At about five miles an hour, a tractor pulls a wagon of passengers
through parts of the Huntley Meadows Wetlands not easily reached on foot. What is wild is the wildlife and nature.
Huntley Meadows Park is a favorite gathering place of migratory birds. It is a stop along the flyway, the migratory paths. Migrators, coming from over the ocean or up from South America come to this place for 2 to 3 weeks in the fall and in the spring. Then they leave again. Some birds from Canada came here and found it warm and pleasant and decided to stay.
The wild ride tractor route follows, approximately, the hike-bike trail. The area was once farm land, taken over by the government. As part of Roosevelt’s initiative, from parks to lands, the area was sold back to Fairfax County for one dollar. The County has been acquiring more land since then.
“You will see lots of very skinny trees because this was once farmland,”
explained our guide.
The tractor stopped at Woodcock Meadow to view a meadow which is maintained by the park’s staff. This meadow was burned two years ago. In nature, the natural cycle of things always returns vegetation back to woods. Whether destroyed by lightning or floods or human activity, the land, if left alone, will always come back to trees. Controlled burns happen
annually or every two years because big trees are not welcomed in a meadow.
Our guide, naturalist Kat Dyer, asked the children in the wagon what animals live in the forest. Eight-year-old Jadyn Constantine suggested deer. His little sister Corryn suggested snake. Dyer picked up on their suggestions. Snakes leave the forest and come to the grasslands because voles and moles live there and snakes eat them. Deer like to eat things that grow in sunshine. So deer leave the forests to find food in the meadow. Boy Scouts Drew Weston and Sam Mancini, both 11, were working on their Naturalist Activity badge and taking notes.
The challenge of Huntley Meadows is to maintain wildlife in a city where there is no other spot for wildlife to thrive. Woods will do their own thing, trees will die but meadows have to be helped a little. Huntley Park is the only non-tidal (fresh water) wetlands in the area. There are some very important species that will need the meadows for habitat, so the folks at Huntley Meadows cannot let them become woods.
The wagon went off trail into thick vegetation; forests on the right and meadowland on the left. The tractor, a brush hog, followed a circuitous route, making two hairpin turns. Meadowland and forestland, swapping sides.
The next rides are on Nov. 4 at 2 and 4 p.m. For more information: www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/parktakes.htm and search Wild Side Rides, or call (703) 368-2525