The first celebration of Earth Day, two generations ago on April 22, 1970, was a global mobilization to demand environmental protections for the planet’s air, soils, waters, and threatened species. The stakes were high then and fifty-two years later the stakes appear even higher as we face the climate crisis, loss of species biodiversity, unremitting environmental injustice, and anxiety over the future. Earth Day also honors the many ways that communities care for their local environments. Here in the City of Falls Church, community environmental stewardship has a rich history of partnerships among volunteers, local non-profit community organizations, and City government. The initiatives described here are by no means an exhaustive list of organized environmental activities in our City.
Since the 1970s, citizen participation has been integral to the success of the City of Falls Church as a leader in reduction, recycling, and yard waste collection programs. Annually, hundreds of volunteers participate in the Spring Community Clean-Up and Recycling Extravaganza events. The City was the first in Virginia to offer residents curbside compost collection, and community compost bins near the Community Center. Additionally, the City offers workshops to learn how to compost yard waste and a Recycle Coach app that guides you on proper disposal of an array of items. See fallschurchva.gov/Recycle.
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to renewable energy are key goals in the suite of Green Power Programs for City residents to consider ranging from adopting geothermal or solar power, updating with energy efficient appliances, to checking on your home energy loss with a thermal imaging camera (available for loan from Mary Riley Styles Library). While not everyone can afford an electric vehicle, biking as a safe and practical carbon-free transportation choice is being realized in the City, led by the volunteer coalition Bike Falls Church (bikefallschurch.org) that welcomes new members. See fallschurchva.gov/GreenPower.
With a changing climate, many of you may be suffering from stormwater problems around your homes. Homeowners who want to manage the excess water on their properties can get help through the RainSmart Program, a joint initiative with the City and VPIS. The program partially reimburses homeowners for installing rain barrels, rain gardens, and conservation landscapes that replace lawn with mulched beds of native trees, shrubs, and other plants. To apply go to vpis.org/environment/rainsmart-program.
As a Tree City, USA since 1978, our community is aware that maintaining a sufficient tree canopy is critical for controlling stormwater, sequestering carbon, reducing pollution, and cooling the environment. In 2000, the City and the Village Preservation and Improvement Society (VPIS; vpis.org) founded the Neighborhood Tree Program to plant trees up to 15 feet from the curb on residential properties. Homeowners may select from a list of native tree species and a volunteer with the program can offer help in choosing the right tree. To request a tree, go to fallschurchva.gov/NTP.
Did you know that our City is a certified Community Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF)? Since 2005, numerous homeowners have created backyard wildlife habitats on their properties, providing food, water, shelter, and nesting sites for pollinators and migrating birds and butterflies. The NWF requires the City to recertify each year to assure that our environmental programs, community education, and new homeowner backyard certifications continue. Join the program by certifying your back yard as a wildlife habitat at nwf.org/Garden-for-Wildlife/Certify.
Getting out into our beautiful parks is a great family activity. Each Spring and Fall since 2006, the Habitat Restoration Team, a collaborative effort among residents, Virginia Master Naturalists, Scouts, and other community groups, removes invasive plants and installs native plants in City parks. The invasive plant identification skills you gain allow you to identify and remove these problem plants in your own yard. To volunteer, go to fallschurchva.gov/Volunteer. Young students who join Operation EarthWatch (est. 1993) become environmental leaders and educators throughout our community, sites.google.com/view/operation-earthwatch/.
Engaging environmental issues from where you live, work, and play is essential. Equally critical is to participate in the meetings of the City’s Boards and Commissions who need your creativity and energy to move ideas into action (i.e., Environmental Sustainability Council, Urban Forestry Commission, Recreation and Parks Advisory Board, Citizens Advisory Council on Transportation). For those able to commit more time, find open Board and Commission positions at fallschurchva.gov/Apply.
Volunteering to care for our local environment has been a spirited civic duty for so long for so many in our City. We feel privileged to be part of this community’s ever expanding environmental alliance.
Sandra Tarpinian ([email protected]) and Amy Crumpton ([email protected]) are members of the Habitat Restoration Task Group, part of the City of Falls Church Environmental Sustainability Council. Sandy leads the effort to certify the City as a Community Wildlife Habitat with the National Wildlife Federation. Amy also serves as the Chair of the City’s Urban Forestry Commission.