Shenandoah Valley natural area restoration efforts expand

Protection for rare sinkhole ponds, wetlands funded by natural resources 
damage settlement

More than 35 acres have recently been added to two Virginia natural area preserves in Augusta County as part of a long-term, multimillion-dollar effort to restore the South Fork Shenandoah River watershed contaminated by mercury 
decades ago.  

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, which manages the state’s natural area preserve system, acquired 26 acres of forest adjacent to the Lyndhurst Ponds Natural Area Preserve. The expansion, which brings the total acreage of the preserve to 376 acres, will make it easier for staff to manage the land with prescribed burns and invasive species control. 

Lyndhurst Ponds, near the community of Lyndhurst, was dedicated in 2020 as a natural area preserve. It is home to globally rare Shenandoah Valley sinkhole ponds and rare plant and animal species. Among them are two rare plant species: the federally threatened Virginia sneezeweed (Helenium virginicum) and Valley Doll’s Eyes (Boltonia montana). 

“This new addition will better enable DCR’s natural area stewards to manage the rare species habitats at Lyndhurst Ponds Natural Area Preserve, which will include restoring portions of the the preserve to the native grasslands and open woodlands of the historic Shenandoah Valley,” said Jason Bulluck, director of the Virginia Natural Heritage Program. The former property owners, Waynesboro Nurseries and the Quillen family, were also critical to the establishment of the original natural area preserve. 

“Waynesboro Nurseries and the Quillen family are  delighted to contribute this additional acreage to the Lyndhurst Ponds Natural Area Preserve and protect more of this incredible natural habitat for future generations,” said Ed Quillen, president of Waynesboro Nurseries. “It was a wonderful opportunity to cooperate with DCR again and know that under their stewardship this legacy is in good hands.” 

In September, the agency acquired a 9-acre parcel along the South River adjacent to the Cowbane Wet Prairie Natural Area Preserve. That brings the total acreage of that preserve to just over 156 acres.  The parcel includes floodplain habitat along the south bank of the river in one of the most important remaining segments in the watershed, and conserves a critical buffer between the river and a residential area. It supports habitat for two rare plants and a globally rare wetland type called Shenandoah Valley Prairie Fen. On the western slope of the Blue Ridge in the Shenandoah Valley, Cowbane Wet Prairie protects outstanding examples of wet prairies, mesic prairies and calcareous spring marshes which were once common natural communities in the Shenandoah Valley. 

The funding source for the expansions at Lyndhurst Ponds and Cowbane Wet Prairie was the DuPont Natural Resource Damage Assessment and 
Restoration settlement. 

When DuPont produced rayon in the 1930s and ’40s, its facility in Waynesboro, Virginia, released wastewater containing mercury into the South River. The contamination impacted more than 100 miles of river, associated floodplains and habitats for fish, migratory songbirds and other wildlife. To settle claims stemming from that damage, the company paid $42 million in 2017 for restoration projects. The Commonwealth of Virginia and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are trustees of the settlement funds.

An Unused Rail Corridor In the Shenandoah Valley Sparks a Fight Over What’s Next

Commonwealth Celebrates Keeping Conflict Out of Court

Law Matters

By Brenda Waugh

March is Mediation Month in Virginia, when the Commonwealth celebrates its strides in creating options for alternative dispute resolution, including mediation. In 1993, Virginia passed the dispute resolution proceeding statutes, legislation that has continued to play an essential role in institutionalizing the use of mediation in the courts.

Then, in 2002, the Virginia Administrative Dispute Resolution Act was signed into law, creating opportunities for numerous governmental entities to adopt mediation and other creative problem-solving methods to address disputes. The Act honors strides in the higher education community, recognizing the schools and universities incorporating mediation into their curriculum and the many private practice professionals who have developed a mediation practice. The proclamation recognizes that Virginia continues to be a leader in this field.

Among the state-funded and administered mediation programs are those in the courts and within some agencies. They include:

Family Mediation. Virginia’s program for court-initiated mediation in family law matters began during Governor Doug Wilder’s tenure from 1990 to 1994 when he championed initiatives to establish these programs. Today, in the Juvenile and Domestic Relations District Court (JDR), child custody and support cases are often referred to mediation after the parties initiate a suit to establish custody for divorce, or to establish child support. When the court refers the matter to mediation, selected from a court-approved list, mediators facilitate discussions at no additional cost to the 
parties involved.

General District Court. Mediation is also offered in the General District Court for cases involving debts, landlord/tenant disputes, and other matters. Parties attending court hearings may be invited to mediate on the same day, promoting efficient conflict resolution. The Supreme Court mediation programs pay costs. 

Appeals. Virginia extends mediation services to appellate cases. Disputants may appeal the matter when dissatisfied with a lower court decision. At that time, they have the option to participate in a state-funded mediation program with mediators who are attorneys with appellate experience.

Education. Parents dissatisfied with Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) or other unique educational plans can request mediation through their school board, with the school system covering the mediator’s costs.

Employment Mediation. EDR’s Workplace Mediation Program provides a free process in which neutral, impartial mediators assist Virginia state employees in exploring potential joint resolutions to their workplace conflicts. 

Fair Housing Complaints. The Virginia Department of Professional and Occupational Regulation (DPOR) provides mediation services for fair housing cases and specific regulatory complaints 
against licensees.

Workers Compensation. Virginia’s Worker’s Compensation Commission provides mediators to injured workers, deceased worker claimants, medical provider claimants, employers, insurers, claim administrators, and legal counsel to resolve disputes. 

Utility Digging. While not free, Virginia’s 811 service offers mediation for utility digging disputes, which helps to resolve conflicts in this 
area efficiently.

Virginia maintains community mediation centers throughout the state. with programs in Warrenton, Roanoke, Amherst, Charlottesville, Harrisonburg, and Fairfax. These centers provide workplace, community, and family mediation services. Virginia also supports a healthy network of mediators through their association, The Virginia Mediation Network.

Parties often decide to hire a private mediator, such as before litigation or complaints are filed, they may choose a mediator. Virginia has no licensing requirements for mediators (beyond those required by any business). However, the Virginia Supreme Court maintains a list of mediators who are qualified by their standards to accept mediations on their website at

Brenda Waugh is a lawyer/mediator with Waugh Law & Mediation, serving clients in the Blue Ridge region of Virginia and Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.

Robins Everywhere

Story and illustration by Doug Pifer

Each morning during mid-February, robin songs echo from the woods behind the barn. Flocks of them stream overhead. Dozens of robins fly back and forth between the sycamores and the banks of the creek. On sunny afternoons robins forage in scattered groups in the mowed field across the road. In the evenings they gather in the cedar trees to roost.

Almost everyone recognizes an American robin. They lay their turquoise blue eggs in grass-lined mud nests in backyard shade trees, hunt worms to feed their speckle-bellied babies, and scold us if we venture too close to their nests. Say “bird” to any American and I’ll bet most of them would 
visualize a robin.

Despite its familiarity, we have much to learn about the American robin. Its scientific name means “migratory thrush,” yet its movements after the nesting season can hardly be described as migratory. Robins breed throughout the continental United States and across southern Canada. Most Canadian birds move southward sometime in the fall, and the U.S. population tends to greatly increase in the southern states during the winter months. But in much of its range, you might see a robin any time of the year.

Much about the travels of robins remains unknown. Scientists often trap wild birds and release them with GPS transmitters attached to their backs to study their movements. Robins have proved difficult to get data from, not because they’re hard to catch in mist nets, but because it’s difficult to re-capture the same robin a year or so later. Robins lack the nest site fidelity many other birds have. They may return to the same general area the following year, but not to the same place where they nested before.

Robins have soft bills that aren’t made for cracking and eating seeds. During the nesting season, robins, and the young they are feeding, consume a high protein diet, mostly worms and insects. Then as fall approaches they turn to eating fruits and berries. 

A fruit diet makes robins go where food is plentiful. In early fall, robins congregate where wild grapes festoon the edges of waterways, or along woodland edges where dogwood, sassafras, and honeysuckle grow. Later they glean dropped and unpicked orchard fruit. Then in December, after several prolonged freezes, groups of robins may appear in suburban landscaped parking lots where they find Callender (Bradford ) pear, holly, and other ornamental fruit bearing trees. Or they frequent certain woods where persimmon, hackberry, holly, and cedar trees bear fruit. A great part of their winter diet consists of the berry-like blue fruits of red cedar trees.

This year I’ve noticed many of our local cedar trees are unusually fruitful. Many cedar boughs are packed with so many “berries” they look blue from a distance. Red cedar groves also provide cover where robins can roost in great numbers, protected from the elements. The birds can hide there with less chance of being taken by predatory owls 
and hawks.

Meanwhile flocks of restless, excited robins continue to brighten the landscape. No matter why they’re here, they can stay as long as they like. Their chorus at sunrise announces with absolute certainty that spring isn’t just around the corner—it’s already here.