Walt Whitman MS serves as testbed for new pollinator meadow seeding program

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The future pollinator paradise at Walt Whitman Middle School

An unused strip of land once covered with turf grass at Walt Whitman Middle School is being transformed into a pollinator paradise, thanks to a brand-new collaborative seeding program between the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS).

According to a video clip developed by the county, Walt Whitman science teacher Jessica Fish contacted Fairfax County Stormwater Management ecologist Danielle Wynne over a year ago to inquire about the possibility of turning a 4,000-square-foot plot of underutilized land behind the school into a natural meadow ecosystem. The stormwater management team spent a few months working with FCPS Facility Management to get approval for the project, said Wynne, and figuring out the best way to kill the turf grass without using herbicides. Ultimately, the team covered the entire area with black tarp this past August to get the job done.

Fairfax County Stormwater Management used a black tarp to kill existing turf grass. (Credit: Fairfax County DPWES)

“Turf grass doesn’t really do a great job with providing any benefits to our ecosystem,” said Wynne. “This will benefit the community by providing food and habitat to our native wildlife and also reduce emissions needed to mow lawn that really wasn’t used by the students.”

Once the plot was cleared of grass, a seeding truck operator with Fairfax Solid Waste Disposal used a drill seeder attached to a tractor to deposit pollinator seeds into the soil and cover them up. That process took less than an hour, said Wynne. The native seed mix was customized by a landscape architect for use with local soils and included two different types of milkweed and a variety of other wildflowers and grasses, she added.

A drill seeder was used to deposit native plant seeds into the soil. (Credit: Fairfax County DPWES)

Besides being beneficial for native wildlife and the environment, the new pollinator meadow will be useful for Walt Whitman students and staff, providing a thriving ecosystem for them to explore and study.

“The goal is to turn this into an outdoor learning space,” said Fish, who previously collaborated with county ecologists on a native plant installation program at the school. “Hoping to get the kids out here and understand how energy and matter cycles through ecosystems, so they can see that they’re not only coming to visit nature, but they are part of nature.”

The pollinator meadow project at Walt Whitman is the first of what the county hopes will be a series of seeding programs at local schools. The stormwater management team is looking at doing a similar project at Bailey’s Elementary School in Falls Church, Virginia in fall 2024. Schools that are interested in participating in the future can contact Wynne at watersheds@fairfaxcounty.gov.

“This partnership program between Fairfax County Public Works and Fairfax County Public Schools is a wonderful opportunity to make our schools a little greener and make our water a little cleaner,” said Wynne.

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