Al Alborn

Al Alborn

Merrimac Farm was my families’ escape during the COVID-19 lockdown.  We often quietly slipped out there to walk its trails.  Our walk in April was the best.  The bluebells, Merrimac Farm’s hallmark flower, were in full bloom.  The solitude was refreshing. 

Merrimac Farm is a Wildlife Management Area managed by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources.   Its 302 acres might be just another housing development or industrial area were it not for the efforts of Kim Hosen, executive director of the Prince William Conservation Alliance (PWCA).  I decided it was time to talk to Hosen.

We sat on the front porch of the Stone House on Merrimac Farm.  Hosen shared that she co-founded PWCA with Bill Olsen and Bob Moler in 2002. PWCA is an independent nonprofit watershed organization that works to protect natural areas and healthy communities through stewardship, recreation and education.

Merrimac Farm, in southern Prince William between Independent Hill and Nokesville, may be the alliance’s greatest success.  It wasn’t easy.  Hosen identified Merrimac Farm as an environmental resource in 2003.  After years of negotiation and collaboration with the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (recently renamed Department of Wildlife Resources) and the U.S. Marine Corps, the property was secured as a unique environmental resource in 2009. 

Wildlife management areas provide opportunities for hunting, fishing, wildlife viewing, and outdoor education.  I understand Merrimac’s 1½-acre pond is one of the best spots in Prince William County to fish for sunfish, smallmouth bass and other species. And if you’re looking for a local place to go bird watching, this is it.

Another of the alliance’s successes was collaborating with the Board of County Supervisors and the Virginia Commonwealth Transportation Board to designate almost 40 miles of scenic byways within Prince William.  If you are looking for a nice weekend drive, check them out on PWCA’s website .  My favorite stop on such a drive is Aden Grocery at Aden Road and Fleetwood Drive.  I recommend the bologna sandwich.

There are still many battles to be fought to protect what is left of Prince William’s natural areas.  Protecting the Rural Crescent from over-development or conversion to industrial use is a never ending series of “firefights.”  Government policy is easy to figure out if you follow the money.  Business interests, lawyers, professional lobbyists, and influence peddlers generally have more to do with outcomes than “the rest of us.”  Knowing the rules is what they do for a living.

Citizens are not as well organized, lack the deep pockets to engage on an equal basis, and are sometimes left out of the conversation until the bulldozers pull up in front of their homes. PWCA represents “the rest of us.”

Hosen’s goal is to improve the process to increase citizen participation in a meaningful way.  She was particularly critical of the chaos surrounding the recent decisions to disapprove and then approve the Route 28 bypass, denying citizens the right to speak until after that second decision was made.

Government left to its own devices would just as soon we don’t notice what is happening.  It generally moves pretty fast.  Hosen shared another thought: “We need to take a break, step back and put a pause on transportation proposals in light of the changing landscape of COVID-19.”  I agree.

To learn more about Merrimac Farm, visit https://dwr.virginia.gov/wma/merrimac-farm/. For information on PWCA, including its educational programs and local projects, visit http://www.pwconserve.org.

Al Alborn is a political and social activist in Prince William County. His column appears every other week.  You can learn more about Al at www.alborn.net.

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