Case Study: Difficult Run Riparian Project
A Guide for Riparian Restoration Projects

Difficult Run - stream photo

Difficult Run Stream by Great Falls Park

This web page is a guide for the development of riparian buffer projects that focus on land use in watersheds. It uses Difficult Run as a model for project development and management due to the successful reforestation of this urban watershed.

Riparian forest buffers are an aspect of watershed protection that influence many features of water quality. Difficult Run is able to maintain its healthy water quality because of urban forest buffers. The Difficult Run Riparian Project was implemented to raise awareness about the importance of urban forest buffer conservation, preservation and restoration.

When beginning a riparian buffer restoration project, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the watershed. Learn the stream's history, walk beside and in the stream. Taking the time to learn about the stream teaches you its morphology, the organic life in the stream, as well as the wildlife around the stream. In addition you will learn the cultural and social activities that take place in the stream. Learning more about the stream also aids in diagnosing its ailments and can lead to a healthier watershed.


Difficult Run stream is a prominent 14 mile long landmark of Fairfax County. Winding on a northeast bearing towards the Potomac River, it is most narrow at the Fairfax Government Center complex and widest near Difficult Run: mapFox Mill Road and Browns Mill Road. The headwater's bed is made of sand and silt at the Herrity Building pond on Government Center Parkway and changes to cobble and boulders near the confluence with the Potomac River.

If you follow the watershed from the headwater at the Herrity building pond to the confluence with the Potomac River, you will be awestruck by its resilience. The watershed is highly majestic as it nears the Potomac River on the southern border of Great Falls Park. The water tumbles over huge boulders and echoes against high rock ledges, before it swirls and foams into the Potomac River. Although there are still many acres of Difficult Run's stream valleys that have luxurious forest buffers, many of them have been fragmented by the impact of urbanization. In less developed areas, the banks are low and well vegetated, but in developed areas like Vienna and Reston (the midsection of the mainstream), the banks are high and eroded. These weakened areas are where riparian restoration projects are necessary.



Sign: Difficult Run project

The task of explaining the steps taken to initiate a riparian buffer planting project appeared to be rather simple. It became clear after embarking on the task that the topic is complex and required outside resources. It was also apparent that the wheel did not need to be reinvented. There were riparian related publications available that could be incorporated into the handbook. At this time recognition should be given to the individuals and organizations who contributed to this riparian handbook project.

The historic information about the Difficult Run watershed was obtained from the Cultural Resource Protection Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority. The seedling planting guide in the Appendix was provided by Fairfax ReLeaf. George Mason University students, Janelle Anderson, Theresa Burton, and Christine Lucas, graciously and expertly edited and formatted the handbook. They worked under the guidance of Dr. Jim Henry, Professor of English and Graduate Studies Coordinator.

The time invested by all these people is greatly appreciated and is contributed to this successful completion of the Guide for Riparian Restoration Projects.

The Virginia Coastal Resource Management Program provided the funding for this project under the provisions of the 1997-1998 Difficult Run Project grant presented to the Virginia Department of Forestry.

Dr. Judith A. Okay, Virginia Department of Forestry, December 1998.


History of Difficult Run
Riparian Forest Buffers
Site Selection
Project Funding
Project Planning
Tree Shelters
Public Relations
Public Education
Personal Anecdotes
A. Riparian Forest Buffer Directive
B. Adoption Statement
C. Planting Instructions
D. Water Quality Tips

Difficult Run Watershed - Map

Specifications for Riparian Forest Buffer Establishment in Virginia

The following specifications constitute a “countable” riparian forest buffer:

  • All intermittent and perennial channels excluding man-made ditches can and should be buffered.
  • All riparian forest buffers must be at least 35 feet on one side of the watercourse or meet the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) standard for that site. For both sides to be counted as buffered, then the total width must be at least 70 feet or meet the NRCS standard.
  • Riparian forest buffer averaging is allowable as long as the stream does not meander outside the buffer zone.
  • If the riparian forest buffer is established by planting, a minimum of two (2) species must be utilized, either two types of trees or one tree and one shrub.
  • Plantings should be native, noninvasive woody trees and shrubs. However, species such as certain hybrid poplars that have economic appeal, which grow quickly and can be harvested consistent with conservation guidelines, may be grown as well.
  • Natural regeneration is acceptable. However, in cattle pasturing situations conservation measures such as alternative watering facilities, alternative sources of shade, and fencing are strongly encouraged to keep the livestock from degrading buffer areas and diminishing their effectiveness.
  • If a substandard buffer width is present, enhancement through planting or regeneration is allowed and encouraged.

(This information has been excerpted from the Virginia Riparian Buffer Implementation Plan available through the Virginia Department of Forestry.)


This guide is intended for the development of riparian forest buffer projects. The guide uses Difficult Run as a model for project development and management because many successful riparian reforestation projects have been completed in this urban watershed. Riparian forest buffers are an aspect of watershed protection that influence many features of water quality. The Difficult Run Riparian Project was implemented to raise awareness about the importance of urban forest buffer conservation, preservation and restoration.

When beginning a riparian buffer restoration project, you should take the time to familiarize yourself with the watershed. Learn the stream's history, walk beside and in the stream. Take the time to learn about the stream morphology, the organic life in the stream, as well as the wildlife around the strewn. In addition you should learn the cultural and social activities that take place in the watershed. Learning more about the stream aids in diagnosing its ailments and can lead to a healthier watershed.

The HYDROLOGIC UNIT BOUNDARY NLAP on this page displays all of the hydrologic units in Fairfax County Virginia. The Difficult Run watershed is unit A I 1. The map was prepared by the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation in 1995. Fairfax County has 260,128 acres, the Difficult Run watershed makes up 56,566 acres. This number is 21.75 percent of the whole jurisdiction.


Colvin Run Mill

Difficult Run is a stream that captures the essence of earlier times. Its streams and valleys hold treasures left behind by the Dogue Indians, an agricultural people who lived on the banks of the stream. Like early colonists, the Indians cleared the forests to farm. The Indians swam and fished in the streams as well as harnessed its hydrologic energy for grist mills.

Fairfax County in the 1700s was an agricultural based society growing tobacco which was dependent on slave labor. Soils were tilled to exhaustion and infertility. However, new settlers from Pennsylvania, brought with them new agricultural practices used in the north, such as deep plowing, manure fertilization and crop rotation. These new farming techniques resulted in richer crop soil, creating greater wheat and corn crops returns. From 1870-1900 Fairfax residence enjoyed a period of peace and were able to explore new interests. Local farmers turned to dairy and poultry farming, as well as grain milling and growing produce used to supply the needs of nearby Washington, D.C. A grist saw mill, Fox's /Waples' Mill in the Difficult Run watershed was refit from a grist mill to a saw mill. This change indicated an increase of timber harvest activity or land clearing for agriculture and home sites building.

The Colvin Run Mill

The practice of milling was quite important to residents of the Difficult Run watershed in the 18th and 19th centuries. Water-powered mills were prominent along the main stem of Difficult Run and its tributaries. The type of streambed and the volume of water flow it created was extremely important for milling. Water was channeled from the stream and directed to strike the wooden mill wheel which was turned by the weight of the water. Milling was a slow and labor intensive procedure. It required a strong miller with a large family; more hands made the work load more easier and more profitable. Millers were respected in the community as skilled mechanics and engineers, they were viewed as reasonably wealthy.

Colvin Run Mill , one of many mills in the Difficult Run watershed, has extensive, well chronicled history. Many owners of the mill have stories connecting them to it, the first being Mr. Carper of Frederick, Maryland. In addition to being a business the mill's pond provided recreation for local residents. Swimming and fishing were enjoyed in the millpond at Colvin Run Mill. There was also a Colvin Run baseball club. In 1941 the relocation of Route 7 along the north side of the mill, to its new location south of the mill, presented a problem for the miller, Jonathan McConathy. The objective was to straighten the road between the mill and the mill dam. A local resident was in charge of the project, but that was dismissed by a local court. Road construction required rechannelization of the stream. The hydrology was altered and the volume of water became insufficient to run the mill. Over many years, insufficient water volume became a major problem for the eleven mills located within the Difficult Run watershed. Many of them went out of business, but a legacy is left by the mills. The desire to make the mills more accessible helped name and formulate some of the major road systems within the county. Most of the mills held the names of early settlers and millers in Fairfax County, such as Hunter's Mill, Waple's Mill, Fox's Mill, Broadwater's Mill and Tolston's Mill.

Along with roadways, around 1850, the Great Falls and Old Dominion Railway provided travel between Great Falls and Rosslyn. With the advent of electric trains, Fairfax County residents working for the federal government would ride to work in the District of Columbia. This promoted a transition to a more residential land use in the County. That transition continues today; Fairfax County can boast about its well-educated population. It is one of the wealthiest and most populous political subdivision in the Commonwealth of Virginia. The Difficult Run watershed includes the areas of McLean, Great Falls, Reston, Vienna and Oakton, which are all considered prime real-estate localities.

Riparian Forest Buffers

With urbanization and development, natural resources are inevitably met with compromise. Of these resources, stream water quality of the Chesapeake Bay watershed has suffered the most. Difficult Run watershed, one of Fairfax County's connections to the Chesapeake Bay watershed, is showing signs of stress from non-point source runoff. The harmful runoff is associated with masses of impervious surfaces: roadways, roofs, paths, driveways, sidewalks, and parking lots. Consequently, it increases stream water temperatures and erodes the soil.

One of the most effective ways to alleviate problems presented by urbanization is to increase vegetative buffers (planted areas) between streams. A forest buffer is the best filter system to remove substances transported by storm water runoff. Forested riparian buffers are valuable because they do the following:

  • Reduce downstream flooding
  • Decrease soil erosion
  • Increase nutrient removal of nitrogen and phosphorous
  • Provide food and habitat for wildlife
  • Moderate stream temperatures
  • Provide recreational and aesthetic experiences

Since the Virginia Department of Forestry (VDOF) infused new energy into the reforestation of riparian buffers in the Difficult Run watershed in 1995, approximately 15,000 seedlings have been added to the 75,00 seedlings previously planted by VDOF and Fairfax Releaf. The selection of sites to plant was not a random process. A set of criteria was developed by a committee of government agency representatives to prioritize reforestation for riparian buffers.

The primary emphasis of the Urban Riparian Buffer Evaluation Project was to construct an evaluation system capable of being used within the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. Characteristics important to healthy riparian buffers were defined and given importance values. The protocol developed was applied in Difficult Run watershed. The evaluation indicated priority areas for buffer restoration. Results of the evaluation and the actions taken are included in a paper entitled “Urban Riparian Restoration In The Chesapeake Bay Watershed: A METHODOLOGY FOR PROGRESS.” (This paper is available from the Virginia Department of Forestry.)

Site Selection

Issues to Consider when Selecting a Riparian Restoration Site


  • Is there an area for parking?
  • Is the slope navigable or is it too steep?

Ownership of the property or access route to site:

  • Is it public or private land?
  • Do you have permission to plant the selected site?

Utility lines on the site:

  • Call Miss Utility at least 48 hours before digging begins.
  • Keep the designated distance from utility lines

Project Funding

The primary and most critical factor to developing and implementing a successful project is to find financial support. Be sure to apply for grants that have proposal categories into which your project will fit. The are several funding sources from the federal to the local level that one can consider.

Before applying for grants you must have an objective for the project. Be sure there is a need for what you are proposing. Carefully define the scope of the project; considering the number of personnel required, where the project will be housed, and how the services to support the personnel will be provided. It is wise to involve many partners and stakeholders because they can be a source of in kind match for most grant proposals.

It is imperative that all the criteria set forth in grants are fulfilled, particularly the deliverables that are promised by the grant recipients. Documentation is extremely important. Keep records of all funds expended and received. Photo documentation is also important. Photographs can serve as records and be used in reports. A reputation of good stewardship of grant funds is helpful in receiving future funding.

Remember that receiving a grant one year is not a guarantee that the project will continue to be funded in successive years. Be sure that you can complete the project in the allotted time.

Project Planning

The Difficult Run Riparian Project has resulted in the planting of 15,500 tree and shrub seedlings between Fall 1995 and Spring 1998. The total area planted is approximately 140 acres.

Once a project site has been selected, calculate the acreage to be planted. Then determine the number of plants that will be required and what plant species are best for the area. Use Table 1 to help determine the best plant species for your project site. Picking the wrong species for the area to be planted may result in project failure. Riparian areas are regions of constant change. Be certain that the species you choose can survive the precipitation and climate changes that occur at the site.

The number of tree/shrub seedlings needed can be determined using the following guidelines:

  • Trees should be planted on 10ft centers. This means that each plant should be placed 10 ft from the center of the adjacent plant.
  • Shrubs should be planted on 3-5 ft centers depending on the potential height and width of the shrub.

Seedlings should not be planted in rows. Dispersing seeds in this manner results in clumping or random growth patterns. Plant big groups of one species or mix several species into small groups to produce a more natural effect. Planting guidelines and graphics are displayed in Appendix. The following tools are suggested for planting: shovels and trowels for digging; hammers and blocks of wood for installing protectors; rakes and pitch forks for distributing mulch; and wheelbarrows are handy for hauling tools, supplies, and mulch.

There should be some diversity to the seedlings planted. They should complement the current species at the site and fill the void in layers of vegetation. A species inventory of the site to be planted will reveal the dominant species that is present and the diversity of species at the site. A review of soil maps and site contours from a topographic map are helpful. The absence of a particular species at the site may indicate a lack of seed source or that the species will not tolerate growing conditions at the site.

Picking the wrong species for the area to be planted may result in project failure. Riparian areas are regions of constant change. During periods of precipitation, there are large volumes of water and tables are high. Drought seasons, however, result in low water volumes and little standing water. The species that live in zones 1-2 of riparian areas are subject to extremes and must tolerate these conditions Be certain that the species you choose can survive site. A list of appropriate tree, shrub and groundcover species to be planted in riparian landscapes is displayed below.

Use the following guideline to help estimate the cost of typical seedling planting project:

  • Bare root seedlings: $.55 - 1.50 each
  • Tree shelters with stakes: $2 - 3 each
  • Extra costs may be incurred for mulch, soil amendments or the addition of mycorrhiza.


Common Name Scientific Name Water Tolerance
Red Maple Acer Rubum FAC
Green Ash Fraxinus Pennsylvanica FACW
Sweet Gum Liqidamber Styraciflua FAC
Swamp White Oak Quercus Bicolor FACW+
Willowoak Quercus Phellos FAC+
Blackgum Nyssa Sylvatica OBL
Ironwood Carpinus Caroliniana FAC
Sycamore Platinus Occidentalis FACW-
River Birch Betula Nigra FACW
Bald Cypress Taxodium Distichum OBL


Common Name Scientific Name Water Tolerance
Smooth Alder Alnus Serrulata OBL to FACW
Sweet Pepper Bush Clethra Alnifolia FAC+
Dogwood species Cornus Amomum, Racemosa, Sericea FACW to FACW+
Mountain Laurel Kalmia Latifolia no rating
Arrowood Viburnum Dentatum FAC
Inkberry Ilex Glabra FACW-
Winterberry Ilex Verticillata FACW+
Button Bush Cephalanthus Occ. OBL to FACW
Willow Sp. Salix Sp. FACW
Coralberry Symphoricarpus Orbiculatus no rating

Ground Cover

Common Name Scientific Name Water Tolerance
Partridge Berry Mitchella Ripens no rating
Virginia Creeper Parthenocisisus Quinquiceria no rating
Autumn Clematis Clematis Virginiana no rating
Ferns Royal, Sensitive, Cinnamon FACW to OBL
Sedge Sp. Carex Sp. FACW to OBL
Rush Sp. Juncus Sp. FACW to OBL
Sedge Sp. Scirpus Sp. no rating

FAC-facultative, OBL-obligate wet, FACW-facultative wet, + more wet (From the 1987 U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Wetland Delineation Manual)

Obligate: Limited to certain conditions

Facultative: Capable of withstanding changing conditions

Tree Shelters

When trees are first planted, deer and other animals may browse the seedlings and destroy them. Although tree shelters are not aesthetically pleasing, the shelters protect young seedlings until tree heights exceed the deer browse zone. Tree shelters also keep seedlings from being run over by hungry lawn mowers. Tree shelters are valuable in promoting seedling growth.

Tree shelters, made of polypropylene cylinders, create a mini-greenhouse effect by trapping heat and moisture condensation on the inside, thereby conserving water. Ample supply of heat and water enhance seedling growth. Although the shelters do need an occasional maintenance check to be sure they are upright and sturdy, they do not need to be removed. Tree shelters will photo degrade in three to five years.

There are several sources and designs of tree shelters. Manufacturers of these products are listed below in Table 2. Because most restoration projects operate on a budget, it is important to shop around for competitive prices when purchasing tree shelters. Sometimes purchasing larger quantities reduces the price per piece. Also, if you buy stakes separately from the shelters you may save money.

Through data collected in an inventory of reforested riparian buffers, it is clear that deer will leave some kinds of tree shelters alone. This inventory information is available from the Virginia Department of Forestry Fairfax Office.

The following table lists three tree shelter manufacturers and distributors (Table 2):

Manufacturer State Phone Number
Tree Pro Indiana 765.463.1011
Tree Sentry Ohio 419.872.6950
Treessentials Minnesota 1.800.248.8239


Planting trees and shrubs is a rewarding experience, but having sufficient personnel to carry out the proposed activities can be a challenge. Successful projects can often depend on volunteers. It will take 15 volunteers 3 Fairfax Releaf logohours to plant 150 bare root seedlings. This estimate is accurate only for teens and adults because age can affect the speed of planting. Once a project is well established and has received a fair amount of publicity, a group of loyal, interested volunteers will be available to assist with activities. In the beginning, however, you must start at ground zero.

Numerous sources for volunteers can be found in groups such as scouts, students, civic/homeowner associations, nonprofit organizations such as the United Way, county/city organized groups, senior citizen organizations, university fraternities/sororities and clubs, firms and corporations. Some private industries allow employees compensation hours to volunteer on environmental projects.

Volunteers appreciate a simple thank you, but a certificate to recognize their hard work may encourage a repeat performance. There is attractive stationery available with pictures and borders of trees. The name of the individual or organization can be electronically added to personalize the certificate.




Public Relations

Often it is difficult to receive publicity for an environmental project that is not related to a disaster or controversial issue. This dilemma makes it necessary to go to extraordinary lengths to draw attention to a project. Protect the special interest of the project, however, by making sure it is accurately represented regardless of which media you choose to use to publicize it. Some ways to publicize your project are the following:

  • Build partnerships with groups. They will make your project more visible and the people involved take more personal ownership and interest.
  • Let political figures in the project jurisdiction know what you are doing and why.
  • Take photos before, during, and after the project. Most newspapers won't run and article without a photo.
  • Contact cable television networks. They run public service announcements and will feature community projects.
  • Invite reporters from several newspapers to visit the site to take photos and interview participants.
  • Have your project information announced on local radio networks as a public service announcement.


The use of signage at project sites conveys your message to the community and provokes interest in Sign: No Mowingthe project. Signs should be simple, attractive, unobtrusive but noticeable. Your funds will be used well if you invest in a standard sign to which logos of participating groups can be easily added. The message of the sign should be clear, uncluttered and large enough to be read from a reasonable distance. Signs along walking trails need not be lettered as large as signs along roadsides. Before you place signs on private or agency property, ask for permission. Do not obstruct paths or right of ways with signs. Do not invite vandalism because of sign placement. Because prices of signs are competitive, shop around before you buy. Also, some state and federal agencies have sign shops you may be authorized to use.








Public Education

Project success often depends on the general public's recognition of the need for the project and how it relates to individuals in the community. Public education should be an early effort in project development. Kids at Education Display There are different forums for public education. For example, exhibits are commonly used. The recommendations for signage applies also to displays or exhibits used at public activities. Signs should be simple, easily understood, colorful, but not too distracting. Many times it will be necessary to carry your exhibit through an airport or on public transportation, so it is also important that your display be portable. Displays are more effective if they are interactive, especially for presentations to children at school. Children related better to hands-on experience and memories are formed better from activities that are visual, verbal, and repetitious. The watershed model pictured below could be used to demonstrate the value of trees for the improvement of water quality. The model is durable, comes in a case with wheel, and because it is colorful with small props included, it stimulates the imagination of all ages. The model was obtained through Urban and Community Forestry grants.

Other forms of public education used in the Difficult Run Riparian Project are seminars, workshops, and festivals. Celebrating the watershed or geographic project area will help the community relate to the purpose and further the goals of the project. Invite agencies, groups, or individuals that can help community members become involved.

Appropriate handouts and flyers can accompany an exhibit or display. Bumper stickers, magnets, pencils and bookmarks are effective as daily reminders of the message being promoted. Web sites on the Internet are the most current means of reaching the computer literate segment of the population.


Water Quality Tips were developed through the collaborative effort of the Virginia Department of Forestry, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, and the Virginia Cooperative Extension in Fairfax County. This informative list was published by the Fairfax County Department of Public Affairs in a mailing to civic/homeowner association presidents. The list was formulated in response to a suggestion presented at the Difficult Run Roundtable Meeting in January 1998. There is a copy of the tips in the appendix.

The Water Quality Protection Tips is just one example of successful partnerships that continue to contribute to the Difficult Run Riparian Restoration Project. Partnerships enhance the professional skills needed for successful projects. Good partnerships form when there is a need for advice, technical assistance, or an overlap of interest in a project between groups.

Everyone involved in a partnership should come out a winner and gain from the success of the project. Some of the elements that improve working in partnerships are equipment/funding, public relations, technical skills, and community relations. The Difficult Run Riparian Restoration Project has a long roster of cooperating partners with whom the numerous accomplishments of the Project would not have been possible.

The following are examples of Personal Experiences of the Difficult Run watershed: Memories of a living resource from residents of the watershed.

Difficult Run Riparian Project: Partners and Cooperators

  • Fairfax ReLeaf 703-324-1409
  • Northern Virginia Soil &Water Conservation District 703-324-1460
  • Frfx Co. Prk. Auth. Resource & Maintenance Divisions 703-324-8700
  • Virginia Dept. of Conservation and Recreation Richmond, VA
  • Virginia Dept. of Environmental Quality 804-698-4320
  • Natural Resource Conservation Service Fairfax 703-324-1460
  • Chesapeake Bay Program Annapolis, MD,410-267-5706
  • George Mason University Biology Dept. 703-993-1050
  • Virginia Tech University Blacksburg, VA, 540-231-6000
  • Reston Association 703-437-5980
  • Fairfax County Extension Service 703-324-8556
  • National Wildlife Federation 703-790-4000
  • Environmental Protection Agency 202-260-2090
  • Ducks Unlimited Annapolis, MD, 804-780-1392
  • Miss Utility 1-800-552-7001

The following are examples of Personal Experiences of the Difficult Run watershed: Memories of a living resource from residents of the watershed.

Would You Believe? (1973)

If I told you that I once caught a trout in Difficult Run would you believe me? I was eight years old and lived on Waples Mill Road near Fox Mill Road and Oakton Road intersection. It was probably like any summer weekend day for a kid growing up in the country. Endless hours were spent exploring creeks, ponds and woods near home. On this particular day I was fishing the stretch of stream just below a bridge near where the stream makes its way under the I-66/50 cloverleaf. The word had gotten out that something strange in the stream was hitting and taking everyone's bait. Everyone and his brother showed up to try their luck, even someone's dad. I remember walking up to the group of boys collected around a large riffle in the stream. The creature seemed strange because its behavior was like no bluegill, horny-head or even eel we had pulled from the stream on other occasions.

The boys were presenting their bait only to see spectacular aggressive strikes to almost every cast. It happened so quickly that it was impossible to identify what was stealing our bait. This went on for minutes. Excitement soon turned to frustration and the boredom. When I made the great catch, there was no one around. I called for anyone of the group to see what came from beneath the slab of concrete in the center of the riffle. I will spare you the dull specifics about bait, tackle and tactics that come with the average fish story. The important thing is that I caught the fish!

I pulled the fish from the water. However I could not identify the fish by its appearance or behavior. After proudly showing off the catch to as many of my companions as I could, I went home. Mom was the real expert when it came to identifying strange creatures from the stream. We pulled out the greatest animal book a kid could have, “Marvels and Mysteries of Our Animal World”. There on page 312, in a section titled Animals from A to Z, was a picture plate of a trout, with a brief description.

At the time I didn't know it was unusual to catch a trout in Difficult Run stream, for all I know it could have been common place. Over the years though, I came to recall this event as something special, particularly as I came to understand natural trout populations. I grew up and watched the countryside become a highly developed urban landscape. An environment that is not conducive to natural trout populations.

Recently I talked to John Odenkirk, a fisheries biologist, who provided interesting information on the Difficult Run fishery. He provided some very interesting information on the Difficult Run fishery. He confirmed that a native trout population was known to exist in Difficult Run in the late 1980s. Some brown trout may have originated from the stocked pond of a Trout unlimited member whose pond blew out. The last documentation of trout in the run is 1982. Most of the later efforts (1990s) to stock the stream were in vain due to heavy sediment loads and loss of canopy cover.

As is turned out, my experience wasn't as rare as I thought and I will probably revisit my old haunts with a dreamy kid to see the big splash and bend in the rod. Maybe he will run home to mom with catch in hand and a smile on his and my face to last a lifetime.

Submitted by Dennis McCarthy, Forester, Fauquier County, Virginia

Difficult Run Nessy - April 1972. Submitted by : Kenneth Paul Thomas, Reston, Virginia

Having vowed to fish all the little streams of Northern Virginia, my partner and I headed for one called “Difficult Run”. We carried minimal tackle: an ultra-lite spinning rig and a little box of artificials. We arrived at Georgetown Pike in Great Falls Park located in northern Fairfax County. We were about half mile down to the Potomac according to our map. We donned rain gear, hip boots and carried mini-rigs.

As we waded into the stream we slipped on muck and getting a little excited by the feel of the stream. We tip toed gingerly and cast downhill all the way. Our goal of fishing little urban streams was mostly for environmental discovery, not dinner. Tiny, rocky mountain streams such as "Difficult Run" harbor tough little fish six to eight inches in length at the most. We were surprised by the rockiness and topographic drop of the stream. It had nooks and crannies for fish cover and the occasional four bathtubs worth of deep pools. The stream was hidden farther down by huge boulders.

It was late afternoon when we emerged from the stream near the confluence. We noticed an elderly gentleman on the opposite bank with a line in a deep pool. We chatted and swapped fish stories with him, but never looked away from the line and bobber. Nothing happened. Nothing was expected. When it did happen we dropped out jaws. The older fisherman shot straight up and had a deathgrip on the rod. The fish line dove and ripped right, then left and deep.

The struggle lasted only a few minutes, but seemed longer. The fisherman pulled and yeaked powerfully, the critter appeared! It twisted and jumped giving all it could as it landed at the fisherman's pant leg. It was an eel! It was big, black and ugly! We both stared as the fisherman tried to stay out of touch with the eel. The eel was thick and muscley through the middle and at least thirty inches long. If it had been a fish would have been considered a great catch.

When the fisherman released the eel back into the stream we saw two or three humps as it swam. When the eel submerged t looked just like every out-of-focus shot of the Loch Ness monster. Difficult Run was quite a surprise but not difficult to remember.


Hardwood PlantingsHardwood planting

A. Dig hole slightly larger than the roots spread out.
B. Set seedlings at the same depth as at the nursery. Partially fill the hole and firm the soil, water.
C. Fill the hole. Firm, water, and add loose soil as mulch.

D. Hole too deep.
E. Compacted roots, hole too narrow.
F. Air pockets remain, organic debris in hole.
G. Exposed roots, hole too shallow.
H. “L” or “J” rooted, hole too shallow.
I. Not vertical, hole too shallow.

Installing Tree Protectors

The flared end of a supertube is the top. Gently guide the supertube down onto the seedling, making sure the seedling doesn't get caught Tree tubeunder the ties.

Fasten the ties loosely around the stake. Do not tighten them yet.

Place your gloved hand over the top of the tube and push down until the base of the tube sits 1/2 -  1“ deep in the soil.

This is easiest to do right after planting when the soil is loose, or when the soil is moist.

If the soil is packed or dry, try this: Place a board on top of the tube (the board should be at least 6” x 6”). Pound the board with a mallet or hammer, to push the base of the tube 1/2 - 1” into the soil.

It is critical that the base of every tube be well seated in the soil.

Cinch the ties tight.

Installing Protective Net Protective Tube/Net

The plastic net included with your shipment of Supertubes (2” and taller) prevents birds from entering the tube and harming themselves or the tree.

The net breaks down over 18 months in the sun. It is designed to allow buds to grow through. However, buds can get caught on the net. Each time you are checking your trees, remove the net from those tubes where the tree is a few inches from the top or has already emerged. Bird entry is not a problem after the tree emerges.

1. Expand the bottom of the net.
2. Pull the net 7-8” down the tube.
3. Adjust the net so that the ends of the net are just touching.

Appendix E



Use slow-release fertilizers in your yard
This prevents rapid loss of nitrogen, therefore it allows it to be available to grass roots for a longer period. Ask for information at your local garden canter/nursery.

Leave grass clippings on the lawn
This returns nutrients to the lawn and protects the grass from drying out in the summer heat. However if clippings are too heavy, they will kill the grass. TO avoid this, mow regularly and keep grass at an average height of 3 inches.

Select landscape plants wisely
Select native species that will need little or no watering. Grow appropriate vegetation along streams to reduce stream bank erosion.

Prevent animal waste from washing down storm drains or into streams
Walk pets with a scooper or pick up after them with plastic gloves/bags. Dispose of the waste in the regular trash. Keep animals (horses and cattle) out of streams.

Protect ground water and surface water
Properly dispose of unwanted engine oil, chemicals, and household hazardous fluids. The county refuse center on West Ox Road accepts these substances.

Give septic systems routine maintenance.

Prevent erosion on your property
Use splash slab under gutters and create rain gardens to concentrate runoff and sheet flow of storm water.

Promote natural re-vegetation
Leave an unmowed buffer along stream banks, ponds, and lakes. The preferred buffer width is 35FT, but any width is worthwhile.

Parks and Sites of Interest in the Difficult Run Watershed:

The Great Falls Grange in Great Falls
The Great Falls Grange in Great Falls



Dranesville Tavern located on Leesburg Pike just west of Georgetown Pike
Dranesville Tavern located on Leesburg Pike just west of Georgetown Pike


Riverbend Park on the Potomac River, access from Jeferey Road
Riverbend Park on the Potomac River, access from Jeferey Road




Difficult Run mainstem near Leesburg Pike and Colvin Run MillDifficult Run mainstem near Leesburg Pike and Colvin Run Mill





Meadowlark Gardens, Beulah Road in ViennaMeadowlark Gardens, Beulah Road in Vienna





Last modified: Thursday, 06-Nov-2014 10:33:45 EST