Dyke Marsh Islands May Get Names
What’s in a name? We may find out later this year when four, as-yet unnamed islands in the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve may get official names.
Most Northern Virginia landlubbers probably don’t realize there are four islands in the preserve without official names. The U.S. Board on Geographic Names, part of the U.S. Geological Survey, or USGS, may change that.
USGS scientists have proposed that the islands be named Angel, Bird, Coconut and Dyke Islands. The Potomac Riverkeeper supports these proposals. The U.S. National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries “have no objection to the proposed names,” according to the Board’s executive secretary, Lou Yost.
The Friends of Dyke Marsh, or FODM, have suggested four different names: Osprey, Marsh Wren, Kingbird and Cormorant Islands. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and Rep. Jim Moran support FODM’s recommendations.
The USGS scientists, who prepared the 2010 study documenting the severe erosion occurring in Dyke Marsh, recommended these names with the following rationale:
1. Angel Island, .6 acres
“The area is filled with soft areas (mires) in which one frequently sinks knee-to-waist deep within several steps. The last island we visited for the study was not at all ‘hellish’ or devilish to work on, but ‘angelic’ as it was entirely firm ground. No twisted ankles, wrenched knees or lost boots. Field-named for a welcome change of state, rather like a far more modest version of John Wesley Powell’s naming of Bright Angel Creek in Grand Canyon. Thus Angel Island, thus the set of reference names.”
2. Bird Island, .1 acre
“. . . named for the prominent osprey nest on it; one of the FODM members told me it originally housed a pair of eagles.”
3. Coconut Island, 2.9 acres
“. . . named after a piece of flotsam (jetsam?) found on our first coring site on that island. That eponymous coconut is still at the Park, with one of the rangers. Finding such an extremely out-of-place object on the island made that particular island memorable.”
4. Dyke Island, 10 acres
“As we began the study in the north and took a series of cores across the marsh, we named the largest island parcel Dyke Island, to distinguish it from the (Dyke Marsh) main marshland west of it that was attached to the shoreline and adjacent to Haul Road. This island, like the other three ... are discontiguous remnant features within what formerly was a single marsh (Dyke Marsh). Restoration planning within the marsh now is focused at a smaller geographic scale, on remnant features within the marsh. It would be helpful to formalize these for restoration and research purposes. This specific remnant has existed as an island since 1976 and definitely since at least 1989.”
FODM Suggested Names
The Friends of Dyke Marsh recommended the following names and
1. Osprey Island
“This island, near the mouth of the largest gut in the marsh, contains several tall trees in one of which is a long-standing and highly visible osprey nest that has produced new clutches of osprey young in most years.”
2. Kingbird Island
“This island, close to shore at the gas pipeline crossing, has been observed to host breeding kingbird pairs over several years.”
3. Marsh Wren Island
“This large triangular island at the north end of the marsh is one of the very few remaining habitats in the marsh where the marsh wren is observed to nest. The presence there of the marsh wren itself is a major indicator of the health of the marsh. The marsh wren population in Dyke Marsh has declined significantly. Dyke Marsh supports the only known nesting population of marsh wrens in the upper Potomac tidal zone, a species once found all along the marshes of the Potomac River.”
4. Cormorant Island
"The northeastern-most island in the marsh contains several tall trees used as roosts for dozens of double-crested cormorants every summer.”
FODM argued, “Many of our members have much familiarity with and extensive experience in the Dyke Marsh ecosystem, have visited every part of the preserve and have detailed knowledge of the plants, animals and other natural resources in the preserve. . . We believe that the islands’ names should reflect the flora and fauna that are typically present as observed by those who frequent the area and know the preserve most intimately.”
At Mount Vernon Supervisor Gerry Hyland’s initiative, the county Board of Supervisors supported FODM’s recommendations on May 22. His memo to the board stated, “Their (USGS) proposed names, Angel, Bird, Coconut and Dyke, do not reflect the names commonly used by local residents and members of the Friends of Dyke Marsh.”
Moran wrote to USGS on June 13, “Its (FODM) recommendation on names for the four islands ... is likely to gain widespread community acceptance. ... The enclosed recommendations reflect the natural resources that are typically present in the marsh as observed by those who know the preserve most intimately. I hope you will agree.”
USGS officials say the process could take eight months or longer. They are
now awaiting input from the Virginia State Board on Geographic Names. The board may only vote to apply one proposed name per feature or none at all, leaving an island unnamed.