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Column: Lynnhaven River Now, volunteers plant new trees in Virginia Beach’s Ocean Lakes

Jane Bloodworth Rowe [Courtesy]

BY JANE BLOODWORTH ROWE

OCEAN LAKES — Some trees live longer than anything else on earth.

Members of Lynnhaven River Now reminded Ocean Lakes residents in November of the tree’s longevity with signs bearing this message posted around common areas.

That organization also reminded residents of the trees’ usefulness by planting 6.5 acres of native trees in neighborhood parks and other common areas and giving away over 100 more trees. 

About 160 volunteers helped with the plantings on Friday, Nov. 6, and Saturday, Nov. 7, including neighborhood residents, members of the military and representatives of local businesses.

Those included Geico employees and representatives from the Virginia Beach Hotel Association, according to Clay Bernick, restoration project consultant for Lynnhaven River Now.

I was among the volunteers who gathered at Da Vinci Clubhouse for an afternoon planting on Saturday, Nov. 7.  It was a perfect day for outdoor work with a warm sun and light winds. As my father always said, many hands make light work.

By midafternoon, the trees, which included wax myrtle, black gum, and bald cypress, were all planted and mulched. I only had a chance to help plant three wax myrtles and mulch a few more.

The wax myrtles that we planted along the nearby manmade lake will increase this already-existing buffer and help slow run-off into the lake, which drains into the Back Bay watershed.

The trees — particularly the very thirsty Bald Cypress — will soak up moisture and help to decrease flooding, which seems to have increased in Ocean Lakes in recent years.

I know all about this problem because I’ve lived in that neighborhood for over 20 years. Before the last few years, I can only remember the water rising significantly once, and that was when Hurricane Floyd brought drenching rains in 1999.

Now, hurricanes and even thunderstorms flood the streets and send water into parking lots with increasing frequency. 

It’s true that this neighborhood was built on heavy clay soil, and it’s also true that the water level is rising everywhere.

Still, I suspect part of the problem is that the area’s native woodlands have given way to golf course lawns and grassy common areas, and there just aren’t a lot of large trees left to soak up the excess moisture.

Lynnhaven River Now recognizes this problem and donated the trees for planting as well as wax myrtles, paw paws, and redbirds for residents to plant in their yards. 

“We tried to choose small trees that will go well in the small yards that many people have here,” Bernick said.

I love them all, but my favorite is the wax myrtle, which really grows more as a large shrub than as a tree.  It’s related to bayberry, and its fragrant leaves are particularly aromatic in winter.

Crush a leaf and smell it on a cold winter day, and you’ll imagine a Victorian Christmas. In the summer, wear a sprig behind your ear and rub some leaves on your skin and you’ll be less troubled by biting flies.

Of all the plants that I know, I think that the wax myrtle seems most at home in Virginia Beach, and it grows well in sandy soil, heavy clay and fertile, loamy soils. It can tolerate a lot of water, but it also grows in the sand dunes at False Cape, and the combined fragrance of salt water and wax myrtle is one of the things that I love most about the park.

So, I want to give a shout-out to Lynnhaven River Now for organizing this event and donating the trees, and I’ll give another shout-out to all of the volunteers who came out to help the Ocean Lakes community.

I’m sure that within a couple of years we’ll see the benefits of this project — including better drainage, a cleaner watershed and the aesthetic pleasure that a canopy of trees brings.


Learn more about the nonprofit Lynnhaven River Now online at its website via lynnhavenrivernow.org or follow the group on Facebook via @LRNow.


The author is a contributor to The Independent News. Her journalism also has appeared in The Virginian-Pilot.


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