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The Conservation of Merrimac Farm

Photo by Eileen Sheridan
Wildlife watchers spot a Yellow-breasted Chat.
Photo by Eileen Sheridan

We hosted a tour of Merrimac Farm on June 23. About 25 people joined us, it was a beautiful day and, as usual, we had a great time. We walked from the upland forest, stopped to view the French family cemetery, skirted the edge of a nontidal wetland, traveled into the floodplain and then to Cedar Run.

Tour leaders shared information about the flora and fauna we observed on the way. Thanks to Jerry Sims with the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries, Northern Virginia birders Jay Keller and Kevin Parker, and biologist Larry Underwood for sharing their knowledge about local wildlife!

Every visit to Merrimac Farm is a new experience. Although we didn't see a turkey in person, we knew they were close by when we found a wing feather on the ground. We did add a new bird to our list - the Prothonotary Warbler, which was flitting through the forested floodplain near Cedar Run. We've been building a bird list for Merrimac Farm this past spring and, with this new addition, the list is up to 108 species since April 14 2007. Click here to view the bird list, which includes a column listing the birds we saw on June 23 during the tour.

Not long after we started, we spotted a wheel bug in the vegetation along side the main road. This interesting insect, which has a cog-like wheel at the top of its thorax, is part of the Assassin Bug family.

We spotted a Fowlers Toad at the edge of the wetland and were lucky enough to catch it for a closer look. This toad, like the American Toad, has black edged dark spots on its back. However, unlike American Toads, the Fowlers Toad has three or more warts inside the spots. One young visitor, a four-year old nature fan from Haymarket, was especially delighted to hold the toad before gently returning it to the ground.

We saw several butterflies, including the Common Wood Nymph, Azure sp., Eastern-tailed Blue, Great Spangled Fritillary, Pearl Crescent and an unidentified skipper. We also saw several dragonflies, including a Lancet Clubtail and Widow Skimmers as well as several unidentified damselflies.

Cedar Run with Invisible Beaver Swimming Under WaterWhen we reached Cedar Run, we strolled along the bank and were treated to the sight of a beaver swimming under water down the side of the creek, then under the base of a tree overhanging the creek. Eileen Sheridan was quick with her camera and got this shot of the beaver under water...he's in there somewhere!

The weather is dry and spring wildflowers are now a memory, but we noticed a number of interesting flowers. We saw milkweed about to bloom in several locations. There's Joe Pye weed scattered through the floodplain area, which will be blooming at the end of the summer. Wildflowers in bloom during our tour included Queen Anne's Lace, Black-eyed Susan, Yarrow, Deptford Pink, Chicory, Skullcap and Daisy Fleabane.

Read the Potomac News article, Merrimac Grows Conservation, about the June 23 tour. We are all looking forward to touring Merrimac Farm again as the seasons change and hope you will be able to join us the next time! We'll post new dates on our events page, so check there or email us at alliance(at)pwconserve.org to add your name to our email notification list.

Conservation Milestones

Merrimac Farm FloodplainOn Tuesday, June 13, 2007, the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation awarded $820,000 to the Prince William Conservation Alliance for the preservation of Merrimac Farm in Nokesville, Virginia.

The Prince William Conservation Alliance will apply the grant to match funds from the Virginia Dept. of Game and Inland Fisheries to establish the Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area. Other prospective partners include the U.S. Marine Corps under the Department of Defense Encroachment Partnering program, subject to the availability of funds and approval by the Secretary of the Navy.

Joseph Maroon, Director of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and the Foundation's Executive Secretary, said, "I am pleased that we have been able to work with the Department of Defense, local advocates, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries to make progress in Northern Virginia toward advancing the Governor's goal of conserving 400,000 acres of land by 2010, and to protect this special property."

This 302-acre undeveloped property, located in the upper reaches of the Occoquan Reservoir watershed and adjacent to Quantico Marine Corps Base, encompasses approximately one mile of frontage along Cedar Run and more than 100 acres of forested wetlands. It boasts a wide diversity of high quality wildlife habitat areas within the densely populated Northern Virginia

Merrimac Farm was originally owned by Col. Dean McDowell, who purchased the property after World War II and whose untimely death in 2002 put his property at risk of development. The continued support of Col. McDowell's heirs and their commitment to the preservation of Merrimac Farm for public uses has been instrumental to the success of this five-year effort. Gail McDowell said, “Our family is committed to conservation. We are delighted that the property will be protected and available to the public.”


The Prince William Conservation Alliance has been a leader for more than five years in establishing higher goals for parks and natural open space in Prince William County. “Acquiring this property is an important part of our efforts to preserve a network of high quality, natural open space,” says Kim Hosen, Prince William Conservation Alliance's Executive Director.

Charlie Grymes, Prince William Conservation Alliance's Board Chairman, emphasizes the Alliance 's commitment to land conservation, saying “This creates momentum for future parks and open space projects. We need this sort of public and private involvement for effective conservation partnerships, to make sure we have spaces open to the public.”

The partnership to create the Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area would include the U.S. Marine Corps purchase of an easement to buffer Quantico Marine Base from the development of inappropriate land uses at their borders.

The Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area will be owned by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and managed to promote wildlife diversity. According to Carlton Courter, VDGIF Executive Director, “Merrimac Farm provides us with an exceptional opportunity to protect wildlife diversity and provide important outdoor recreational services to Northern Virginia residents.”

Nokesville resident Liz Cronauer is excited about future programs planned for the Merrimac Farm Wildlife Management Area. “I'm especially excited about having a site that would allow more local groups and schools to take advantage of the Prince William Conservation Alliance's youth education programs.”

The Prince William Conservation Alliance and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will host a public tour of Merrimac Farm on Saturday, June 23, 2007 from 9:00 a.m. to 10:30 a.m.

To schedule a presentation on Merrimac Farm or a private tour for your organization, please call us at 703.499.4954 or email us at alliance@pwconserve.org.

Read the Potomac News Article, Merrimac Farm Gets Grant, and the Governor's Press Release.

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