Delivered by Dave Swan on Wednesday, June 26th, 2007
Almost twenty years ago our Town leaders recognized that our undeveloped land was fast vanishing from Herndon. Not only did they purchase this land for the people of Herndon, they sought the citizen’s input on what would be the best use for it. These citizens spoke loudly and clearly that this land should remain as it was for passive recreation and natural interpretation of the habitats, wildlife, and history found in this park.
Experts have documented over 450 native plant species living in this park, unusual for a park of 1,000 acres, remarkable for a park of just 58 acres. Today I walked through a few of the twenty trails in the park and in one hour saw 22 flowering native plant species, two species of woodpecker, a half dozen species of songbirds, an array of insects including dragonflies, damselflies, beetles, and butterflies, a box turtle, a great blue heron, a new beaver dam, and a pair of deer browsing in the 1.2 acre meadow. Here is a natural park where we can recharge our batteries and constantly capture what Rachel Carson once described as our Sense of Wonder.
History lives here from the artifacts that were left behind by Native Americans that hunted in these woods from 10,000 to 400 years ago to a simple stone cabin built by a Washingtonian at the turn of the century trying to escape the bad air of the city for a few weekend days in the country. Walk the trails and see the mill race remnant that once powered a saw mill that cleared these woods in the early 1800’s to allow cattle to become the pride of Herndon. In fact it was the market need for our dairy products that helped to capture the train station that would open just before the Civil War and generate the name for our Town.
Look at the cleverness of the wildlife here as they make the most of this remaining oasis of nature once abundant in our area. The beaver that I mentioned earlier has used the remnants of the original stone dam that Mrs. Ratcliffe built in 1821 to feed her millrace to anchor his wooden dam.
History has shaped this park. The fact that this land was used primarily for dairy farming meant that native seed stock was maintained and the monoculture farming of other areas did not wipe out the plants that came before. Here, we can still see the plants and animals that the Native Americans used for food, medicine, clothing, and construction.
The park improvements that we celebrate today are but a first step of a comprehensive vision to fulfill the promise of an interpretive facility that will generate understanding, appreciation, and protection of this vital land for today and those who come after us. I believe that an environmentalist from Madagascar, Baba Dioum, best described why it is important for us to promote environmental education: "For in the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught."
With your commitment, we can ensure that this park will be protected for generations to come as their refuge and place to discover the character of our past, our environment, and our role in it. Truly the words of Edward Abbey ring true today, "The idea of wilderness needs no defense, it only needs defenders." Please join the Friends of Runnymede Park in celebrating and defending the beauty of Runnymede Park.