FODM History





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The Origins of the Friends of Dyke Marsh

     The Friends of Dyke Marsh was formed in 1975 and incorporated in 1976. Since then, the group has grown and become more active in our work to protect the health of the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve and to restore it.

     Below we provide a chronology of key dates in the history of the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve starting in the 1800s.

     In the following article, one of FODM's founding members, the late Ed Risley, describes how and why the Friends of Dyke Marsh was formed.

The Friends of Dyke Marsh: Over Three Decades

Ed Risley & Jeb Byrne

Founding members and past FODM Presidents Ed Risley and Jeb Byrne. Photo by Ed Eder.


  -- by Ed Risley (Founding Member, FODM)

The origins of the Friends of Dyke Marsh, Inc. can be stated quite precisely: it followed a meeting of local activists and naturalists held with officials of the National Park Service on January 28, 1976. Of course there had been earlier "friends," notably Louis Halle, whose splendid book Spring in Washington (1945) was set in large part in Dyke Marsh; Irston Barnes whose articles in the Washington Post helped engineer the Act of Congress of 1969 which set aside the Marsh as a wildlife preserve; and Jackson Abbott who for years had been keeping records of sightings and leading bird walks. Nonetheless, by 1976 the area seemed virtually abandoned. No attempt will be made here to identify the numerous volunteers who gave their time and skill freely over the past three decades to preserve the Marsh.

The appearance of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers staff in the Marsh in late 1975 raised questions which the Park Service proposed be addressed at a meeting which was organized by the Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS). I was on the ANS Conservation Committee and put together a list of attendees. In addition to publicizing possible plans for expanding the Marsh, it was agreed that an environmental assessment would be prepared and that the public should be involved through a continuing committee (the Friends!). In short order officers were elected and a charter was adopted. Later, articles of corporation were adopted and Friends' objectives were agreed to. Above all, the goal of the Friends was to preserve the remnant but valuable fresh water tidal marsh against a multitude of human and natural threats.

A number of steps were agreed to, first by the new committee and in the years since:
        (1) To promote awareness, regular meetings were set up (now on a quarterly basis at Huntley Meadows Park Visitors Center) open to the public. Speakers on topics generally related to the Marsh were recruited.
        (2) A newsletter was published, at first sporadically and later on a quarterly basis. To maintain visibility and credibility members wrote letters to editors and contributed to periodicals such as Audubon and the Washington Post. A large aerial photo was purchased and made part of a traveling exhibit. Brochures and bird lists were produced and distributed.
        (3) Relations with the Federal managers were strengthened. The Corps of Engineers backed off and the impact statement abandoned, but relations with the Park Service were strengthened although every few years there would be a new set of officials to deal with. In 2000 the Friends were formally recognized as a collaborating partner of the National Park Service. Our contribution was to participate in regular Marsh cleanups and to host and guide school groups and other visitors. Periodic meetings are held with the Superintendent to discuss issues and problems.

As the area around Dyke Marsh has become urbanized various human problems have been aggravated. Some problems such as hunters, commercial fishing, drug use and public immodesty were clearly illegal and gradually reduced. FODM has over the years engaged in a variety of issues, including application of herbicides in the marsh, impact on the marsh of Belle Haven Marina, the construction of the new Wilson Bridge and National Harbor. Such activities continue. FODM has also worked with the National Park Service on a boardwalk for Dyke Marsh, and after its destruction by Hurricane Isabel, now a new one.

A major positive activity of the Friends has been collecting and organizing data of all elements of the natural environment. Over $30,000 has been collected and spent to gain Dyke Marsh entry in the Virginia State Department of Natural Resources files and to collect data on, especially, the bird life including annual winter census and breeding bird surveys. Collection of data also includes results of the weekly bird walks led by expert birders. Other flora and fauna are the subject of ongoing collection efforts which we support and already have published in a pamphlet prepared by a trained biologist.

After three decades, members can look back with satisfaction on the camaraderie of regular meetings, the contribution of volunteer work and the gains in understanding the natural ecology at their doorstep. It is clear that threats to the integrity of Dyke Marsh will never cease. Buffeted by natural and manmade forces, the continuation of the Friends is essential.

Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve, A Chronology

1800s - Landowners built dikes and tried to convert the marsh into places for ships to tie up and into pasturelands.

1930s - Smoot Sand and Gravel acquired 650 acres from Bucknell University.

1932 - The National Park Service built the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

1940 to 1972 - Smoot Sand and Gravel dredged at least 270 acres of sand and gravel and the swamp forest wetlands of the promontory on the south end of Dyke Marsh and built the Haul Road.

1947 - Spring in Washington by Louis J. Halle, published by the Johns Hopkins University Press, highlights spring's rebirth in Dyke Marsh and other natural areas of the Washington metropolitan area.

1959 - Congress passed and on June 11 the President signed P.L. 86-41, adding the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve to the National Park System "so that fish and wildlife development and their preservation as wetland wildlife habitat shall be paramount." Congressman John Dingell (D-Michigan), one of the authors of the legislation, stated, "We expect that the Secretary will provide for the deposition of silt and waste from the dredging operations in such a way as to encourage the restoration of the marsh at the earliest possible moment."

1974 - Congress passed and the President signed P.L. 93-251 which authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to assist NPS in planning, designing and implementing the restoration of Dyke Marsh.

1975 - Smoot Sand and Gravel relinquished their mining rights.

1976 - The Friends of Dyke Marsh was incorporated.

1977 - The National Park Service prepared an environmental assessment proposing management options for Dyke Marsh, including "attempt re-establishment of portions of the dredged marsh."

2004 - The University of Maryland, Center for Environmental Science, Appalachian Laboratory held a workshop titled, "Should We Restore Dyke Marsh"?

2007 - The Water Resources Development Act directed NPS to restore Dyke Marsh.

2009 - The U.S. House of Representatives approved H. Res. 701, introduced by Cong. Jim Moran in the 111th Congress, recognizing Dyke Marsh as a unique and previous ecosystem that should be conserved, protected and restored.

2010 - The U.S. Senate approved S. Res. 297, introduced by Sen. Jim Webb in the 111th Congress, recognizing Dyke Marsh as a unique and previous ecosystem that should be conserved, protected and restored.

2010 - The U.S. Geological Survey study confirmed that the marsh is unstable and could disappear in 20-30 years. ( Analysis of the Deconstruction of Dyke Marsh, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Virginia: Progression, Geologic and Manmade Causes, and Effective Restoration Scenarios. By Ronald J. Litwin, Joseph P. Smoot, Milan J. Pavich, Helaine W. Markewich, Erik Oberg, Ben Helwig, Brent Steury, Vincent L. Santucci, Nancy J. Durika, Nancy B. Rybicki, Katharina M. Engelhardt, Geoffrey Sanders, Stacey Verardo, Andrew J. Elmore, and Joseph Gilmer)


March 27, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority announced a statement of findings, making $2.5 million available to NPS for construction of the first phase of restoration a promontory in the southern part of the marsh.

October 3, the U.S. Geological Survey published a follow-up report, concluding that ". . . Dyke Marsh presently is in its late stages of failure as a freshwater tidal marsh system . . . In the absence of human efforts to restore the equilibrium between marsh and tide, and equilibrium to the other natural forces acting on this wetland, Dyke Marsh likely will continue to accelerate its degradation, erosion, and fragmentation until it is gone. This likely will occur prior to 2035 AD." Rates and Probable Causes of Freshwater Tidal Marsh Failure, Potomac River Estuary, Northern Virginia, USA. By Ronald J. Litwin, Joseph P. Smoot, Milan J. Pavich, Erik Oberg, Brent Steury, Ben Helwig, Helaine W. Markewich, Vincent L. Santucci and Geoffrey Sanders. See

October 25, U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the award of a $24.9 million grant to the George Washington Memorial Parkway to restore Dyke Marsh.


January - NPS issued the draft Restoration and Long-term Management Plan/Draft Environmental Impact Statement and held a public meeting and comment period from January 15 to March 18.

October - NPS issued the final Restoration and Long-term Management Plan/Draft Environmental Impact Statement

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Friends of Dyke Marsh, Inc. is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.
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Last Revised: June 27, 2015