February 2023

February 2023

SMLA, Mariners Landing and APCO Join Hands to Create a Demonstration Buffer Garden

Did you know Buffer Gardens provide homeowners with environmentally friendly landscape while protecting SML from harmful pollutants?

For years, the Smith Mountain Lake Association (SMLA) and Appalachian Power Company (APCO) have touted the attributes of buffer garden planting along shorelines for their ability to impede the flow of fertilizer, pollutants, and sediment runoff into SML. Yet, many of our residents don’t appreciate what a buffer garden can do, what one looks like, or how it is designed. SMLA’s Buffer Landscaping Advisory Service Teams visit about 25 properties each year to offer free advice about buffer gardens and suggest opportunities to “slow the flow”. These visits are praised highly, but SMLA needed a visible, open-to-the-public demonstration garden site to better illustrate buffer gardens and educate our waterfront residents.

In 2019, SMLA was awarded a grant from APCO to fund a buffer garden pilot project that would demonstrate appropriate buffer garden design, proper plant selection and potential cost for lake residents and be accessible to all. Multiple sites were considered; however, the Mariners Landing Country Club’s 5th hole/green tee was ultimately approved for the buffer garden site. APCO owns the land that the golf course leases, and this tee/green location is visible to not just golfers but also to boaters, residents, and visitors. Conditions at the tee box had become unsightly with overgrown vegetation causing sightline impairment from the adjacent “black” tee. More importantly, significant shoreline erosion over the past 40 years had allowed degradation of the lake water surrounding the tee box. Increased runoff, likely containing fertilizer, was entering the lake.

COVID restrictions slowed progress on project planning during 2020 and 2021, but with easing concerns, productive discussions between John Rupnik, SMLA’s Buffer Landscape Committee Chair, and Waller Perrow of Mariners Landing ensued. Immediately recognizing the positive environmental impact of this effort, Perrow offered his support to address the entire 5th hole! Thus, a collaborative project began that would indeed be of great value to Smith Mountain Lake.

Significant resources are required to survey, remove the existing vegetation, grade the shoreline, install new riprap, prepare the soil, purchase native plants and distribute mulch along more than 1,000 feet of shoreline. Perrow is currently seeking willing partners, sponsors and stakeholders to help fund this project. To assist with these challenges, Rupnik contacted the Peaks of Otter Soil and Water Conservation District to inquire about their Virginia Conservation Assistance Program (VCAP). Offered through the Virginia Association of Soil and Water Conservation Districts (VASWCD), this program provides financial, technical and educational assistance to property owners installing eligible stormwater control practices. Perrow plans to submit the VCAP application as estimated total costs are assembled.

Since most of the property is below the 800’ contour, APCO’s Shoreline Management Plan rules apply. ACCUPOINT Surveying and Design conducted both the land survey and the landscape design. SMLA Master Gardeners and Master Naturalists volunteered to comment on native plants selected and recommend species that would be better suited to this picturesque golf course/lake view setting. With these diligent efforts by ACCUPOINT and a quick turnaround by APCO, the permits were approved in early December 2022. Construction efforts have begun. Rupnik and Perrow expect soil preparation, native planting and mulching to occur in late March or early April.

The SMLA and Mariners Landing websites will have links to a full explanation of the process, plant selection, and nominal cost per 100 feet of buffer. Rupnik also expects future collaborations with other lakefront golf communities to better protect the lake from algae blooms. VCAP participation is eligible to public, private, non-profits and commercial landowners within the Peaks of Otter Soil and Water Conservation District service area. Financial assistance should incentivize residents to increase the number of buffer gardens on our shorelines and contribute significantly to clean lake water.