MARINE CORPS BASE QUANTICO, Va. --
Deep in the forest, where pools of water cover the ground, thick mud squashes underfoot, and a faint blue glow sparkles in the distance; while it sounds supernatural, this is a completely normal occurrence for Merrimac Farm. Lucky visitors can witness the phenomena that comes from the bluebell flowers in full bloom. They coat the undergrowth like a sea; the wind, creating blue waves of petals. Merrimac Farm lies on the north-west border of Marine Corps Base Quantico in Nokesville, Virginia. The farm sits on over 300 acres of wetlands and vernal pools, one of the most threatened habitats in the United States, creating the perfect environment for thousands of bluebell flowers to grow and flourish.
“It's just hard to describe the beauty and how many there are; it’s a huge patch,” said Kim Hosen, executive director, Prince William Conservation Alliance. “It's just covered with blue, and if the sun is shining, and you're off in the distance, they actually glow blue. There's just so many of them.”
Originally, Merrimac was a cattle farm that was purchased by U.S. Marine Corps Lt. Col. Dean McDowell. He ran a popular hunting reserve and intended for it to become his retirement property. When McDowell passed away unexpectedly in 2001, his family began to reach out for help to save the farm. The McDowell family, Marine Corps Base Quantico, the Prince William Conservation Alliance, and the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, with support from the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, formed a partnership. The goal of the partnership was to permanently conserve Merrimac Farm and open the property to the public. With the local, state, and federal entities working together, $3 million were raised to save the farm.
On Jan. 16, 2008, they achieved their goal and Merrimac Farm was transferred to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. Less than three months later, Merrimac Farm was opened to the public for wildlife watching and hunting. These wetlands enhance the water quality for northern Virginia by protecting the watershed on Cedar Run, which flows into Chesapeake Bay. Not only does preserving Merrimac farmland protect the endangered wetlands, but it also reinforces the borders of Marine Corps Base Quantico.
“It's been a pleasure to work with Marine Corps Base Quantico,” said Kim. “It really has been my first choice of partners, they’re really just A-plus.”
The property protects many animals, such as bobwhite quails, songbirds, waterfowl, deer, foxes, rabbits, frogs, and salamanders. The vendors aimed to educate children and adults about the importance of these types of animals in northern Virginia. Exhibits included live frogs and tadpoles, a variety of live snakes, a large collection of bugs, and the fur pelts from common animals that thrive in the area.
Merrimac Farm is most known for its annual Bluebell Festival. The yearly festival provides visitors of all ages a sense of awe and a bit of fun as they tour the grounds. This year’s festival had something for everyone, with bird watching tours, educational booths, crafts, a bake sale, food truck, and tours of the bluebells. Col. Michael L. Brooks, commanding officer, Marine Corps Base Quantico, and Sgt. Maj. Christopher J. Adams, sergeant major, Marine Corps Base Quantico, attended the event. It was the first time in 14 years that a commanding officer attended the festival at Merrimac.
During mid-April, the bluebells hit peak bloom, and only last for a few weeks. They grow in the floodplain, and bloom before the leaves grow on trees because they need the sunlight. After they bloom, they die back into the earth and disappear, leaves and all, leaving their initial presence unknown.