The wetland at Huntley Meadows Park is about to get a makeover.
Construction on a $3 million wetland restoration project at the park will begin this month and continue through most of the year.
County and park leaders warned that the construction will be intense, and the park might not look good during the process.
“It’s going to be ugly for a little while,” said Harry Glasgow, a board member of Friends of Huntley Meadows Park. He urged park users to have patience and said the group is confident the process will benefit the park in the end.
Kevin Munroe, manager of the park, said the Fairfax County Park Authority took a lot of care in developing a restoration plan with the smallest possible construction footprint.
Park staff members have been contemplating this project for 21 years and have conducted multiple surveys and consulted several environmental engineering firms in the process, Munroe said.
“We wanted to get this right,” he said.
Park staff members have taken some plants out of the construction area to preserve them elsewhere, he said, and will relocate some wildlife to ensure it is not harmed during construction.
Most park features will remain open during construction, including the visitor center and boardwalk through the marsh, but the hike-bike trail off South Kings Highway will be closed for much of the construction period.
The wetland at Huntley Meadows is a hemi-marsh, created by beavers building a dam near a floodplain area. A hemi-marsh is characterized by deeper water and both above-water and underwater plant life.
The Park Authority acquired the land in 1975.
More recently, development in the Route 1 corridor has caused about six tons of silt to wash into the wetland, reducing water depth by 8 to 10 inches, Munroe said.
The project is designed to restore the depth and install a system that will help the Park Authority manage water levels at Huntley Meadows for years to come.
This system actually will prevent the wetland from going through the natural cycles of a beaver marsh, Munroe said, because the county wants to preserve the biodiversity that exists in a hemi-marsh.
Huntley Meadows is the largest non-tidal wetland in Northern Virginia, he said.
Supervisor Jeff C. McKay (D-Lee) said the project is essential for ensuring that Huntley Meadows remains a place local residents can experience and learn about nature.
“It’s really tough to have an oasis like this in the middle of an urbanizing area,” he said. “This will indeed sustain this park for [current residents] and their children.”