By Lisa Mackem
The Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations has named conservation advocate and long-time ASNV member Catherine (Cathy) Ledec as the County’s Citizen of the Year. Cathy’s dynamic volunteer leadership includes several Fairfax County Park Authority programs and other volunteer efforts across Fairfax County.
“Conservation begins at home”, says Cathy, who began planting native plants in her own garden near Huntley Meadows Park in 1993. She began to see more wildlife – some spilling over from Huntley Meadows Park. While volunteering at the Huntley Meadows Park Visitor Center one day, Cathy saw a flyer for the Christmas Bird Count. She was hooked. “How can you not be intrigued by what’s around you?” She asked. She attended more bird counts and met her husband at one of them. They were married in 2005.
Cathy and her husband participate annually in the DC and Fort Belvoir Bird Counts and Cathy has used the data collected to inform recommendations on land use projects in the area. In reviewing these development projects, knowledge of the wildlife present in the area that could be impacted by a project is crucial. “It is important for all of us to participate in citizen science and the Christmas Bird Count is a fun way to do this,” she says.
Cathy volunteers as President of her HOA and also leads activities in local parks. She participated and chaired (2014-2018) the Environment and Recreation (E&R) Committee for the Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Association (MVCCA), which hears land use and other project cases in the Mount Vernon District. MVCCA advises the Mount Vernon District Supervisor and Planning Commissioner on land use and other projects in the District. During her tenure as E&R Committee Chair, Cathy worked hard to lead and guide environmental recommendations, writing or contributing to more than fifteen MVCCA Resolutions that provided environmental recommendations for local development projects.
Two significant and complex conservation activities impacting Huntley Meadows Park (HMP) in Alexandria, VA are Cathy’s proudest accomplishments. First, she led the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park and a team of colleagues through the complex state regulatory process with the State Corporation Commission, successfully challenging a 2.6-mile transmission line rebuild project on HMP property. As a result of this challenge, the utility company agreed to change the project design to avoid permanent damage to a historic viewshed and to reduce the transmission line collision risk for birds. Ultimately, the proposed monopoles were lowered from 125 to 100 feet so that they are at or only slightly over the top of the tree line. Huntley Meadows Park is a regionally and globally recognized wetland wildlife and bird refuge, and the reduced collision risk is good news for large raptors (including Bald Eagles), herons, waterfowl, and many other birds. Cathy’s activism also protected rare and threatened species of plants in Huntley Meadows by requiring the utility contractors to exercise care while working on park property for this project.
The second major effort at Huntley Meadows Park resulted in the removal of two conceptual paved bike trails (intended as cut-through commuter corridors) from Fairfax County’s Plans. In the process, Cathy secured more than 6,500 letters of support from organizations and individuals. Her tireless efforts on behalf of the park and its wildlife led to the Board of Supervisors’ unanimous vote in favor of removing the proposed trails from the County’s plans. As a result, Fairfax County’s largest conservation area is now protected from the direct and indirect impacts of these proposed transportation corridors.
Cathy says that it is humbling to follow in the footsteps of the late Norma Hoffman, one of the founders of the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park who is best known for halting the construction of a road through the park in the 1980s. Cathy is a Virginia Master Naturalist (Fairfax Chapter) and an ASNV Audubon-at-Home Ambassador, advising individuals and groups about native plants and trees in their gardens. She is a bluebird box monitor at Huntley Meadows and Site Leader for the Invasive Management Area program of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Cathy’s favorite bird is the Eastern Towhee.