Meet Stream Superhero Carla C.!

“…If I want to raise my daughters well, I have to help make a bigger impact in the lives of their friends and the surrounding community too.”

Richmond Highway aerial view of Audubon Estates (Left)

Carla C. (left) prepares to clean her creek!

Little Hunting Creek

ANS Clean-up & watershed experience day

Driving south along the Route 1 corridor, your first impression of one of the nation’s wealthiest counties includes dilapidated motels, long stretches of parking lots and rundown commercial businesses that predate regulations to manage water pollution from roads and other paved surfaces. Unsurprisingly, this section of Fairfax County is also host to some of the most degraded streams in Northern Virginia.

But sometimes hope comes from unexpected places. Revitalization efforts for the corridor are underway and others are in the works. Still, the lack of accessible green space, reduced tree canopy and limited green infrastructure vital to clean streams and healthy communities remain a concern for many residents…inspiring some to do more. To help identify residential concerns and support environmental engagement opportunities, I was introduced to Audubon Estates through a partnership with the Fairfax County Neighborhood and Community Services.

The 700-home mobile community includes more than 1200 children, according to local residents. Most homes have no yard, leaving little space for children to play, explore and enjoy nature. Existing common areas are riddled with litter, making outdoor play difficult and unappealing, with no walkable access to a neighborhood park. The back of the community rests on the banks of Little Hunting Creek, a 3.7 mile tidal creek that drains directly into the Potomac River.  It didn’t escape my attention that the Audubon community shares our organization’s namesake. So it was even less of a surprise to find a strong, passionate community advocate in its midst.
Carla C. has a passion for gardening, with an even greater passion to nurture her children’s environment. In and around her home, you’ll find vibrant plants and fruit trees salvaged from near death. She often purchases her plants when they are discounted deeply with little hope for survival. Carla has a strong relationship with her adopted green friends, even threatening a non-bearing fruit tree with an untimely chop! Of course that lovely peach tree ended up bearing beautiful peaches the next spring. Most impressively, she is strongly committed to connecting children to nature, and not just her own.

“When I was younger, my time was only for my daughter. After my oldest grew up dealing with some issues at school, I came to realize that fighting for my own child was not enough. These other children, my daughters’ classmates and neighbors, these are their friends. If I want to raise my daughters well, I have to help make a bigger impact in the lives of their friends and the surrounding community too.”

Much of her concern for clean water and healthier communities stems from her birthplace in Bolivia. Faced with unprecedented growth and urban development, her hometown has little to no tree canopy and suffers from a critical water shortage. She is looking to prevent that here, in her new community.

Carla wants to preserve and protect her natural habitat here, and strongly encourages her children to do the same. Along with working with ANS on the clean-up and watershed experience day, Carla spent the fall taking her daughter and nine other children to a free 14 week afterschool nature education program at Huntley Meadow Park, a nearby wetland preserve. She provided transportation and snacks to children that would otherwise not have such an opportunity. Carla is now working with ANS to develop a special environmental family night at her children’s elementary, and holds high hopes of a spring planting of native plants on school property. Hopes that will likely bloom, and that ANS and our community partners will continue to support.

About Monica Billger

Monica Billger is ANS' Northern Virginia Advocacy Manager. She works with grassroots advocates, elected officials, and agency staff to advance environmental protection in Fairfax and Loudon Counties.
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