Last week, Jason Rufner interviewed Joe Coleman on the relationship between Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Dulles Greenway.
Read Jason’s article below:
When the Dulles Greenway was being constructed and introduced back in the mid-1990s, it brought the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy along with it.
While there exists no direct causation between the Greenway’s building and the LWC’s founding, both began serving Loudoun around the same time and immediately struck up an evolving relationship where economy meets ecology.
“The Greenway has partnered with us since the mid-’90s. We’re linked to the Dulles Greenway in just about every single way,” said Joe Coleman, co-founder and current president of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC), a small all-volunteer non-profit established in 1995 whose stated mission is to help Loudoun’s wildlife habitats survive and thrive.
The same expansive development of office parks, data centers and single-family homes that made the Dulles Greenway’s course viable also made the LWC’s efforts necessary. Acres of vital wetlands, native meadows and natural green spaces lost to concrete and steel needed replacing, and Loudoun’s remaining beauty needed protecting.
Right away, the Conservancy and the Greenway found common ground … literally. The 200-acre Dulles Greenway Wetlands Mitigation Project, also known as the Dulles Wetlands, was begun by the Dulles Greenway during its construction to allay the loss of habitable land to the Greenway itself. The Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy has since taken upon itself to assist the Greenway in stewardship of the Wetlands, covering territory along both sides of the Goose Creek in the Potomac River’s watershed.
Though artificial, the large swath of undeveloped land looks and feels entirely natural, and is the site of frequent and regular LWC-led excursions to observe the Wetlands’ residents — otters, frogs, deer, fox, fish, reptiles, insects and a seemingly endless variety of birds — for educational and scientific benefit.
“The Greenway has been a tremendous steward of their wetlands,” Coleman said before launching into details about guided walks and educational programs the LWC holds in the Wetlands as they show off the dragonflies and warblers.
Doing useful science and restoring usable habitat are two functions of the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy. Two others are educating Loudoun’s human residents and advocating for Loudoun’s non-human ones. All four of these goals are continually achieved partly due to the Greenway’s annual financial contribution through the Drive For Charity, held this year on May 17.
The Conservancy has enjoyed a significant donation coming from the Greenway’s Drive For Charity in each of the campaign’s seven years.
“The money that comes to us from the Drive For Charity helps underwrite all the programs that we do,” said Coleman, noting his organization’s extremely low overhead costs. “It goes a real long way. You can do a lot of programs and projects with that.”
Though nearly every program offered by the LWC is free to the public, costs are involved in bringing in guest lecturers, conducting scientific monitoring, treating kids to field trips, planting new trees and restoring wildlife habitat to health.
Coleman, a Loudouner for almost 20 years and a Northern Virginian for much longer, is quick to point out that his is an organization “of treehuggers, not extremists.” Societal development, he says, is inevitable and beneficial — so long as the natural environment that permits society’s existence is preserved and cherished.
“Plus we find that [land] developers really do value open green space,” Coleman pointed out. “They market it as a selling feature. We’re just trying to help make sure that those spaces are as healthy for wildlife as possible. We can all be good stewards of our land and our wildlife.”
Coleman delights in telling of the vibrant natural places that flourish in Loudoun County, even the highly developed eastern side. Birds nest in Algonkian Regional Park. Wildlife abounds in the Horsepen Preserve. Blue heron make homes in their own rookery along the Broad Run.
“People want to learn how they can have wildlife as neighbors without fearing it,” he said.
The greatest, gravest threat to wildlife in Loudoun or anywhere, according to Coleman, is the loss of its habitat. Once the home of a beaver or blue heron or butterfly or box turtle is destroyed, it stays destroyed, not to return. Then the wildlife has to find someplace else to live wild, somewhere else to forage, hunt, shelter and breed — often unsuccessfully. Then the wildlife dies, not to return.
As the Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy and the Dulles Greenway continue to go green together, a culture of life is being maintained which keeps Loudoun beautiful and vital for generations (of all species) to come.