Riparian Buffer Project at Highland

Highland is pleased to begin an important environmental project planned to repair a segment of Highland’s riparian areas overrun by invasive plant species. The Riparian Buffer Project will benefit Massey Creek, which winds through the Highland landscape, and will have downstream effects on the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. So what is a Riparian Stream Buffer?


Riparian buffers are the trees, shrubs, and other vegetation along our waterways. These streamside forests provide the James River and its tributaries with the protection they need. Riparian buffers slow flood water, improve water quality by filtering runoff from upland land use, provide canopy cover to shade and cool the stream, provide habitat for a variety of birds and small mammals, and are a great place for recreational activities such as fishing, hiking, and bird watching.


Project Planning

Planning for the Riparian Buffer Project began in October 2020 with conversations between representatives from the James River Association and Highland. After almost a year of coordination, site work at Highland began in early December 2021. The Riparian Buffer Project is supported by a number of organizations and individuals and is managed by Restoration Manager Anne Marie Roberts from the James River Association in partnership with Highland Ambassador Tamara Wamsley and Highland Trails architect Harlow Chandler. This project is funded by the Virginia Environmental Endowment. Conservation partners include the Rivanna Conservation Alliance and the Virginia Department of Forestry. Forestry mulching, site prep, and native planting is managed by Agriculture Solutions of Albemarle and Conservation Services, Inc.


Site Preparation

The first step to establish a native-species riparian buffer is to clear the area of invasive vines, shrubs, and trees that choke out native plants. Forestry mulching (shown to the left) is an effective way to remove invasive plants such as Chinese privet, oriental bittersweet, Japanese honeysuckle, and autumn olive. This mechanical process removes and grinds up vegetation, including surface roots, making it difficult for invasive plants to re-establish themselves in the future. Pasture mowing is another technique used to remove grasses including tall fescue. Additional invasive plants are removed using selective herbicide treatments.


Native Planting

Once the invasive plant species are removed, a team will spend several weeks re-introducing native trees and shrubs to the area. Just shy of 2,000 native trees and shrubs will be planted, including a wide variety of native plants: black willow, persimmon, red maple, dogwood, poplar, chokeberry, winterberry, sassafras, redbud, and many more! These new plants will be encased in protective planting sleeves (pictured to the right) to discourage browsing by wildlife and other threats to early development. The newly planted riparian area will be maintained by the James River Association for three years. Highland is committed to maintaining this area beyond the duration of this project.



Volunteer Opportunties

Highland is supported by a number of dedicated volunteers. Many of these individuals have contributed their valuable time and skills to the Riparian Buffer Project. If you are interested in volunteering, please email us at

Stay tuned as we continue to update this article with new developments!