NOVA Parks gifted Alexandria’s Winkler Botanical Preserve

A stream at the Winkler Botanical Preserve in Alexandria. (Courtesy NOVA Parks)
The lake at the Winkler Botanical Preserve. (Courtesy NOVA Parks)
A waterfall at the Winkler Botanical Preserve in Alexandria, Virginia. (Courtesy NOVA Parks)
The Catherine Lodge at the Winkler Botanical Preserve. (Courtesy NOVA Parks)
The bridge and pond at the Winkler Botanical Preserve. (Courtesy NOVA Parks)

For decades, the Winkler Botanical Preserve has been a place of refuge for people in Northern Virginia.

This 44.6-acre piece of wild Virginia will change ownership from the family which has kept it open to the public for decades — but it’s not going to high bidding developer. Instead, NOVA Parks will assume control of the preserve.

“This gift cannot be overstated,” said Cate Magennis Wyatt, who chairs the NOVA Parks board. “It is a transfer of ownership, but it has to be emphasized that the Winkler family are giving a gift to everybody in Northern Virginia, with this 45 acre botanical preserve, it’s just magical.”

In a deed signing ceremony on Thursday night, the transfer of owners was made official. Wyatt said that was followed by a board meeting, at which discussions will include expanding educational programs and parking at the preserve.

In addition to transferring ownership, the Winkler Organization, which has owned the preserve, is donating more than $5 million to NOVA Parks to help improve, operate and support educational programs.

“We think there’s so much opportunity on this site … bringing back the camps that we used to have, bringing back some of the programming, the school programming, you know, really getting kids out into this park,” said Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson.

Wilson said the summer camp once hosted by the preserve was highly sought after and is glad there are plans to bring summer camps back to the preserve.

“It was such an Alexandria thing, when the applications would come up in the mail, every parent had to immediately go home, grab it out of the mailbox, fill it out and run to the post office,” Wilson recalled.

The park is located in Alexandria’s West End in the middle of Alexandria’s Mark Center. As part of the transfer, the city will also receive $1 million to spread the word about the site.

The preserve was started in the mid-1970s by Catherine Winkler Herman, a philanthropist and avid environmentalist, in memory of her late husband, real estate developer Mark Winkler.

According to NOVA Parks, it was designed by Winkler’s daughter, landscape architect Tori Winkler Thomas, as a place to protect native plants and wildlife.

Wilson called the Winkler family’s dedication to keeping the preserve open, even as land values skyrocketed around it, a great mark of philanthropy.

“A great example of a being committed to our community in taking, like you said, foregoing a significant amount of profit and creating this legacy for Alexandrians,” Wilson said.

Mike Murillo

Mike Murillo is a reporter and anchor at WTOP. Before joining WTOP in 2013, he worked in radio in Orlando, New York City and Philadelphia.

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