It Takes One: Kay Fowler

Stewardship Stories

It Takes One: Kay Fowler

It Takes One: Kay Fowler
Fairfax, VA
United States

I have always loved being outdoors. As one of seven children I spent much time playing outside and being involved with nature. My father taught us to identify and harvest edible wild foods; persimmon, polk, cattails, mushrooms and such. My naturalist uncle, Jim Fowler, brought us a wide variety of unique animals, a cheetah a condor, anteaters. Some, a raccoon, an opossum, a crow, sparrow hawks and others we raised as pets. From this "tom-boy" girlhood, I graduated into and studied athletics in college. I went from athletics and coaching to motherhood. In 2001, while volunteering at my children's elementary school Arbor Day, I found my present job with Fairfax ReLeaf, a non-profit organization that plants and preserves trees in Northern Virginia.

How would you define a cultural landscape?

A cultural landscape is the natural world with human intervention and it is part of our history. A cultural landscape gives individuality to the landscape and it connects the land to its past. For example, the road in front of Margaret's house is no longer dirt but the house and gardens remain. This is our connection to the land though the road was changed.

Why did you get involved in the landscape that was threatened in your community?

I became involved with the threatened landscape in my community for the selfish reason that I wanted to have a ReLeaf tree nursery on the site and have the open space remain. Around the time I was beginning to be aware of the breakdown of talks between Margaret and Fairfax County I read the obituary of the woman who began and lead the fight to keep Disney from erecting a Civil War Park in the Bull Run and Shenandoah area. The Trust for Public Land had just teamed up with the citizens of Waterford, Virginia and protected their historic town through the purchase of an easement on 100 acres. I saw examples of success.

How did your understanding of this landscape change as a result of your advocacy efforts?

My advocacy of this landscape has made me aware of the influence that this property and Margaret, the land owner, have had on countless individuals and on the community for 30 years. I have learned a lot about flowers, specifically irises. I have attended the Philadelphia Flower Show and met wonderful volunteers and staff of Presby Memorial Gardens in Upper Montclair, NJ; we talked of being "Sister Gardens." My advocacy of this land has lead me to an indebt look at the water cycle, an expensive municipal problem. Our increase in non-porous surfaces and run-off from our streets, parking lots, roofs, lawns, etc. is killing the life of the Chesapeake Bay. In addition, our groundwater is threatened. As homeowners and citizens of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, we need to learn new ways of storm water control. These new technologies can be incorporated into this beautiful, accessible site. Additionally, demonstration gardens of native Bayscaping plantings and other turf reduction techniques which can be used to slow down the stream of sediment, fertilizers and other toxins to the Chesapeake Bay makes the entire site beneficial as well as beautiful.

Did the understanding of others change as well? If so, how?

The public has been coming to this land for 30 years, there is much community support and love of the gardens. With the addition of Low Impact Development technology plans for the site, a green roof, a cistern, permeable pavers; the site will have gardens, open space and education.

What is the message that you would like to give our readers that may inspire them to make a difference?

I always liked the quote "If you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem." Find out how others, especially the decision makers, see the landscape. Understand their goals. Let them know how you see the landscape. Communicate to them ways that your cultural landscape can reach some of their goals and work together.