The Morton and Spapperi Family Foundation - Bringing people together to RESTORE environmental and related losses
Projects in Virginia
Vienna Community Center
In one of its first restoration efforts, Restore Nature contacted the Town of Vienna when the Town was concluding its plans for the renovation of the Town’s community center. The renovation work involved gutting and upgrading the existing facility and adding additional new space. Restore Nature proposed that it could work with the Town to enrich the highly visible construction areas around the new and upgraded facilities with native plantings. The Foundation’s proposal included planning and purchasing native plants that would be placed immediately in front of the community center’s main entrance.
With the help of volunteers from the local Middle School, Community Enhancement Council, the Town of Vienna, and other interested persons, Restore Nature planted over 600 plants in front of the newly constructed Community Center. Educational signage was added to the completed project that described the many environmental benefits of native plantings and the keystone species those plantings attract.
For more information about plants in this garden, see https://www.plantnovanatives.org/
Restore Nature teamed with Vienna Vintner to install a native plant garden in a highly visible location along Maple Avenue in Vienna, Virginia. The owner of Vienna Vintner, Victor Mendes, contacted Restore Nature during the renovation of his new store after viewing other native plant projects completed by Restore Nature. Mr. Mendes wanted to replace the neglected vegetation in front of the new store location with an eye toward both beauty and environmental stewardship. Restore Nature planned the garden, procured the native plants, then, working with Mr. Mendes, arranged for a group of volunteers to place the native plants in beds that Restore Nature had helped to prepare.
Mr. Mendes is proud to exhibit the Wildlife Habitat Certification as well as native garden signage in his new store and provide public testimony to customers and others about the beauty and usefulness of native plants. Restore Nature is happy to have helped a local vendor in a location where the benefits of native plants are widely seen and appreciated.
Field Conservation Internship at James Madison's Home, Montpelier
James Madison’s Montpelier is a 2,600 acre property consisting of old and transitional forests, wildflowers, trails, and historic sites. Land use is varied through the property from field crops to hay to the old and new forests, all of which provides a unique opportunity to study the effects of habitat restoration. These unique and distinct areas are of great importance to the myriad of native plants and animals living in these habitats. Montpelier has and will continue to restore pastures into critical native habitat with an emphasis on avian and insect populations.
Restore Nature teamed with the Montpelier Foundation to sponsor an intern in the summer of 2019. The Foundation Field Conservation Intern was responsible for the care of the Wildflower Meadow, Woodland Meadow, and Demonstration Forest at James Madison’s Montpelier. The FCI’s responsibilities included invasive species control, biodiversity analysis, and trail maintenance in these areas, among other duties. The Intern performed a biodiversity analysis allowing Montpelier to establish baseline data regarding the diversity and density of specific species. This analysis paves the way for future study of the impacts of habitat transformation at the property.
The intern also assisted other members of the Montpelier community in maintaining hiking trails through the three areas of focus. Providing safe, well-marked trails is critical to the visitor experience to foster an appreciation of nature to inspire people to conserve the natural world.
Virginia Tech Undergraduate Research Experience
In 2016, Restore Nature reached out to the Virginia Tech College of Natural Resources and Environment to explore opportunities to work together to advance the mutual goals of training the next generation of environmental leaders by providing real world experiences to undergraduate students. The Foundation identified Virginia Tech as a potential partner due to Virginia Tech’s stellar reputation in the environmental sciences and its association with the Conservation Management Institute (CMI), which pulls together teams of research faculty, staff, and students to produce quality solutions through the application of sound science.
Working together, the Foundation and Virginia Tech identified a suitable property intended to serve as a living laboratory and teaching location for Virginia Tech students, faculty, and the larger community to engage in applied natural resource management and ecological restoration. Specifically, the Foundation agreed to provide support to the CMI for four undergraduate students to participate in research that would:
Educate students in a “real world” setting in both from a natural resource management and business and management understanding;
Teach business and project management skills such as proposal writing, team work across disciplines, negotiating skills, presentation skills, project deliverables, costing; and
Ultimately increase ecological viability and natural resource sustainability of the parcel.
The four students were required to (1) develop a pertinent research question related to the conservation and natural resource management goals of the property owners, (2) with the guidance of the CMI faculty mentor, develop an experimental/sample design based upon the research question supported by background literature reviews (3) based upon the sample design and research plan, collect field data to support their research question, (4) perform basic management and analysis of the data collected, and (5) develop a project report regarding potential future ecological restoration efforts.
In addition, because the owners of the property had already begun preliminary restoration projects (e.g., stream and plant diversity), the data collected by Virginia Tech students proved extremely helpful in both monitoring those existing restoration efforts and identifying other ecological restoration efforts. Subsequent projects that built upon the student’s efforts have been implemented.
With the success of Restore Nature’s partnership with Virginia Tech on the Research Experience, the Foundation extended its relationship with the school to general funding of the University’s environmental programs as well as participation on the advisory committee of the College of Natural Resources and Environment.
Randolph-Macon College Environmental Studies Project
During the 2016 Fall Semester, the Foundation was privileged to work with Dr. Michael Fenster at Randolph-Macon College (RMC) in Ashland, Virginia. Dr. Fenster is the Director of Environmental Studies Program and professor of various environmental studies courses aimed at preparing students to meet and solve challenging environmental problems of the 21st century. As part of RMC’s effort to give students experience in real-world partnerships, the Foundation agreed to participate in semester-long project under which Restore Nature submitted to the incoming freshman class (EVST 105: Introduction to Environmental Problem Solving) a mock Request for Proposal aimed at educating the public on the impact of climate change on coastal environments in Virginia.
In the mock RFP, the students were asked to explain how climate change impacts natural coastal systems (physical and ecological) using the best science available and evaluate how land-use and the human element collaborate and adapt to climate change along the Virginia coast. They were also asked to consider the best strategies for confronting these changes considering the widely varying differences in Virginia’s coastal areas relating to population, politics, socioeconomics, etc. In effect, the students agreed to examine how well Virginian’s are doing at dealing with the impacts of climate change and how resilient they may be in the future.
At the end of the semester, the students presented orally their written reports to the Foundation. The reports were divided by six distinct geographic areas identified by the students, and each area was investigated by a group of three or four students. In addition to describing each geographic area in detail, the students described the factors affecting sea level rise and related those factors to their specific areas. The final product put together by the class combined all of the reports in a way that responded to the Foundation’s original RFP.
During the 2017 Spring Semester, the Foundation again joined with Dr. Fenster in submitting a RFP to RMC students – this time to the students taking the capstone environmental studies course (EVST 305/405: Environmental Problem Solving II & III). This second RFP took over where the first RFP left off in that the juniors and seniors taking the course were expected to take charge in deciding how to analyze the problem and do the work. In this case, the work involved transcending the information EVST 105 students provided in the prior semester and synthesizing it into a story with understandable scientific facts.
The students prepared (with proper vetting for content and approach) a list of questions to be presented to stakeholders in the six geographic areas, then recorded those interactions. The recordings were edited to create six separate stories, then combined to create a single video product in response to the Foundation’s RFP. The final video product described how Virginians are affected by and react to the changes taking place on the Virginia shorelines due to climate change.
The Foundation believes strongly that working with students is an excellent way to expose them to real-life scenarios they may encounter after graduation. We present realistic problems, requiring research, strategic thinking and teamwork, while considering business acumen and community regulations. We are inspired by the student’s interest in learning about the impacts of climate change on coastal environments.
Environmental Studies at Randolph-Macon College
Restore Nature expanded its relationship with Dr. Michael Fenster, the Director of Environmental Studies Program at Randolph-Macon College (RMC) in Ashland, Virginia, when it supported a student’s capstone project that involved studying bee behaviors around native and non-native plants. Working under the supervision of Professor Ruppel, the RMC undergraduate student proposed to monitor the degrees of bee attraction to native and non-native plants located within the College’s habitat gardens that were created by prior RMC students. The results were presented to the RMC panel for further discussion of how native habitats do support bee populations better than non-native plants.
Conservation Partnership - Vienna Athletic Fields
Restore Nature spearheaded a partnership between the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, the Town of Vienna, and itself to create conservation landscaping adjacent to the Town’s community center and main athletic fields. Restore Nature applied for a grant under the Conservation District’s Conservation Assistance program whereby funding for improvements to a drainage system and the installation of a riparian buffer adjacent to the Piney Branch Tributary would be shared between the Conservation District and the Foundation. The Town of Vienna agreed to maintain the area for period of ten years with ongoing maintenance and technical assistance provided by the Conservation District and Restore Nature.
The specific goals for this cooperative project were to reduce rainwater runoff velocity to the tributary and improve overall downstream water quality. Another goal was to provide habitat for small mammals and pollinator species by carefully selecting the native trees, shrubs, and other vegetation to be installed. In the end, better water management and a beautiful native garden greatly improve the area habitat.
Follow this link to learn about the native plants used: https://www.plantnovanatives.org/
Eagle Scout Project in Vienna, VA
Restore Nature partnered with a local youth to establish a Native Memorial and Educational Project at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Vienna, VA. The local youth is active in the Boy Scouts of America, and Wesley United sponsors his Boy Scout Troop. Completion of an Eagle Scout Service Project is a requirement in order for Scouts to attain Eagle Scout rank. Eagle Projects give the opportunity to Scouts to demonstrate leadership of others while performing a project for the benefit of their community.
The Scout identified an abandoned, weed filled area on the Wesley United property, and with the assistance of Restore Nature, developed a garden plan that included hardscape and various native flowers and shrubs. After receiving approval from Scout Leadership and Wesley United, the Scout worked by himself and with other troop members to clear the land and replant it with pollinator friendly native plants. Construction of the hardscape and seating proceeded at the same time as the clearing and planting efforts.
Restore Nature has continued to help maintain the native garden by fertilizing, weeding, and replacing plants as needed to enhance the garden’s overall health and appearance.
George Mason Honey Bee Initiative - Native Garden Planting
The Foundation worked with Drs. Lisa Gring-Pemble and Germán Perilla of George Mason’s Honey Bee Initiative program supported by George Mason University’s School of Business to develop and fund a native flower garden adjacent to George Mason’s outdoor Honey Bee Research Laboratory.
With the motto of “If bees don’t thrive neither do we” the Honey Bee Initiative seeks to empower communities through sustainable beekeeping. Honey bees are responsible for pollinating more than $20 billion worth of crops annually in the United States alone and honey bee health is critical to our survival. By educating the general public about the importance of pollinators and their relation with food security and developing a self-sustaining model that can be implemented anywhere in the world, local environments and ecology may be enhanced. The spread and production of honey bee populations translates to a richer ecosystem stocked with nutrition that everyone depends upon.
Restore Nature awarded a paid Summer Internship to a local youth from Vienna, Virginia to work with it to develop new conservation and ecological enhancement projects within the Town of Vienna. The award followed a competitive process under which a highly qualified pool of applicants from colleges and universities in Virginia were vetted and interviewed by the Foundation. The Foundation both directed the Summer Intern in outreach efforts and encouraged the Intern to exercise his own initiative in creating local conservation and enhancement opportunities on his own.