In fact, more than five years ago, I spent some time lobbying the Park Service in an attempt to get it to address this problem. It was, however, only after a letter I wrote was printed in The Post that $50,000 was allocated for cutting vines, and only for the area between mile markers six and eight at that. At that time, the parkway’s own maintenance supervisor indicated that $900,000 was needed to address the problem. Today it clearly would be several times that amount.
Now, seven years later, the tree line has receded over 50 feet along some sections of the road. Many of the trees now covered in vines will be dead before the year’s end, and many more will join them. This process will continue unless funds can be found to eliminate the vines.
Why is this a worthy expense in a time of tight budgets? During the summer, thousands of people enjoy the parkway’s natural beauty (and shade) while walking, running, cycling and picnicking. On a square-mile basis from Rosslyn to the mansion, its usage dwarfs most other national parks, and yet it receives very little maintenance funding.
Beyond that, more than a million visitors, both domestic and international, drive the parkway to Mount Vernon, one of our most important national monuments. A panorama of choking trees is not the image we want to project of ourselves as a nation seeking to lead the free world in these difficult days.
The Park Service appears to have a problem setting priorities. A natural resource management specialist told me that the Park Service considers the areas of the parkway south of Alexandria a “cultural resource” and the areas north of Alexandria an “environmental resource.” As such, the Park Service targets environmental improvement funds to the area north of Alexandria, because it has a greater diversity of native tree and plant species than the areas south of Alexandria. Further, several hundred thousand dollars have been spent this year for research on the nonnative vine problem. Do we need additional research to show that we have a serious problem?
Regrettably, residents who care about the parkway may have to find other ways of funding its preservation. Taking a short drive along the southern section will make it obvious that we do not have very long to act.
John R. Powers, Alexandria