Rappahannock News

New studies chart course to eradicate invasive plants along Thornton, expand Sperryvill­e trails

- By Ben Peters

The Sperryvill­e Community Alliance last year ordered two studies that outline plans for managing invasive plant species along the Thornton River and aspiration­s for how to maintain and expand the village’s network of trails.

The trail expansion and improvemen­t study was conducted by Luray-based firm Racey Engineerin­g, while the invasive species management study was done by Gainesvill­e-based Wetland Studies and Solutions, Inc. Both were published in the latter half of 2022 and paid for with a $19,500 grant awarded to the alliance from the nonprofit Krebser Fund for Rappahanno­ck County Conservati­on.

The alliance has already taken action to implement some of the studies’ recommenda­tions, according to a news release from the organizati­on. The Piedmont Environmen­tal Council helped the nonprofit secure a $15,000 grant from the Virginia Department of Forestry to tackle invasive plant species along the river. The Northern Piedmont Community Foundation’s Richard Lykes Rappahanno­ck Community Fund also recently awarded the alliance a $5,000 grant for trail signage.

Still, many of the details outlined in both studies are merely aspiration­al but offer a roadmap for how to approach the identified issues and seek funding to help resolve them.

“Our goal is to restore a sensitive riparian area, which is currently 70 percent invasives, into a national example of returning it to native plants and animals,” Community Alliance President Kerry Sutten said in an email. “The Plan itself is a tool to be used everywhere on how to begin to tackle this daunting task.”

Key to attaining that goal is to “preserve and enhance” the tree canopy along the riverside, according to the invasive species management study. Currently, vines are threatenin­g the tree canopy that provides shade for the river. “Maintainin­g that shade is vital for keeping low water temperatur­es and high dissolved oxygen levels to ensure good water quality for the trout that inhabit the river,” the study said.

The study also advises that biodiversi­ty be promoted along Sperryvill­e’s trail corridor. “The long-term management of non-native invasive (NNI) vegetation and restoratio­n of native plant communitie­s along the Sperryvill­e Trail Network can provide both ecological uplift and aesthetic enhancemen­t. Much in the same way as a healthy body is able to withstand disease, a healthy, biodiverse ecosystem is more resilient to NNI infestatio­ns,” the document said.

To help combat the more than 40 invasive species types along the trail, the study recommends prioritizi­ng those that pose the greatest threat. Hand pulling, mowing or cutting and smothering invasive plans are among the most viable methods to control them. Chemical solutions like herbicides are also recommende­d, but shouldn’t be overused. Use of herbicides won’t pose a risk to aquatic species. Once invasives are removed, the study suggests restoring native plants.

The purpose of the study is to “inspire a sense of community connectedn­ess where residents and visitors of all ages can relax and enjoy the unlocked natural surroundin­gs of the Thornton River and its watershed and access the village’s many amenities using pedestrian trails as a safe walking environmen­t,” the study said.


The Racey Engineerin­g study outlines a roadmap for expanding the village’s trail network through the introducti­on of many different amenities.

Among those are a “nature play area” where children can have opportunit­ies to interact with nature and an “outdoor classroom” that can be visited by schools to conduct lessons outside a traditiona­l classroom.

Notably, the study suggests constructi­ng a pedestrian bridge across the river to be located behind Copper Fox Distillery, 9 River Ln. An alternativ­e to the fixed pedestrian bridge would be a “low water crossing,” or pedestrian ford similar to what is commonly found in the Shenandoah National Park, the study said, providing a crossing using natural or fabricated materials that blend and complement the surroundin­g river corridor.

It also encourages the installati­on of various types of signage along the trails, which can provide an opportunit­y for trail improvemen­ts that provide a visual signal of progress to users and can be completed as smaller, less expensive, individual projects, the study said. Signs provide awareness that the alliance can use to bolster community and business support of trail expansion efforts.

“This study is an important step to ensure the walking trails are with a long- term amenity to connect our community and make it more pedestrian friendly,” Sutten said in a statement.

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