This success kept in the shadows

Published 5:10 pm Monday, May 25, 2015

A few weeks ago, I visited North Suffolk’s Lone Star Lakes for a story in the current edition of Suffolk Living Magazine.

We went along with master naturalists Bradford “Biff” and Susan Andrews, and ranger J.R. Ruggiero, who showed us the many charms of the park just on the edge of Chuckatuck.

Lone Star has some surprises for the casual visitor, and you don’t have to be naturalist or a park ranger to appreciate them. Anyone is assured to see plants and birds they don’t see in their backyard.

Email newsletter signup

The bigger surprise is the 13-acre stand of longleaf pine the city of Suffolk has planted in a former agricultural field alongside the park’s main road.

What’s the big deal in that? It’s just some trees.

Well, after researching Sunday’s Suffolk News-Herald story on the project, including a long phone conversation with Senior Area Forester Scott Bachman, I learned there’s more to it.

From ship masts to house frames, since Europeans arrived, longleaf has been prized by foresters above all others in the southern yellow pine family; and that means there aren’t many left.

Bachman put the number at fewer than 1,000 mature trees in Virginia.

When the Nansemond Indians lived at the site of the lakes, next to Chuckatuck and Cedar creeks, longleaf would have been one of the main trees, according to Bachman.

So as well as the juvenile trees being — it’s believed — the largest municipal stand of longleaf in Virginia, and so contributing to state and federal efforts to reintroduce longleaf, they complement the tribe’s vision of recreating a village on a section of the park that has been donated by the city.

Another interesting fact: The seedlings planted at Lone Star were grown from cones collected from a stand of native trees elsewhere in Suffolk — South Quay.

There, on the North Carolina line, the Virginia Department of Forestry is creating a longleaf nursery, after years of honing the delicate task of grafting the trees.

The mayor gave her State of the City speech at the downtown Hilton earlier this month, and we heard many positive things about Suffolk, like jobs growth, enviable credit rating and plans for new infrastructure.

Though Parks and Recreation and the forestry department have teamed up on guided walks of Lone Star’s future longleaf grove, we haven’t heard much about it; nor about what’s happening at South Quay.

OK, the Chamber of Commerce event probably wasn’t exactly the right forum; but the longleaf project has flown under the radar a little, and there are bound to be more such successes to be shared.