NOVA Parks, the City of Alexandria, and its public schools, commemorated philanthropist and environmentalist Catherine Winkler Herman, founder of the Winkler Botanical Preserve, with the unveiling of a new permanent sign on the grounds on Nov. 28. The event included remarks by Alexandria’s mayor, school board superintendent, and NOVA Parks board vice chair. Located in Alexandria’s west end, the botanical preserve provides the public with access to a natural respite and protects plants native to the Potomac region amid the well developed Mark Center area of Alexandria.
Herman, who died in 2007, founded the preserve in the mid-1970s. with a gift of land and a substantial endowment in memory of her husband, Mark Winkler, a developer. Mark Winkler and Catherine Winkler Herman’s daughter, Tori Winkler Thomas, led the Preserve for more than 25 years before her retirement and was responsible for the Preserve’s design, including its emphasis on native plants, and the distinctive log cabin headquarters, Catherine’s Lodge. The lodge served as the center for ecological education programs Thomas founded in partnership with the Alexandria school system. The programs served thousands of Alexandria school children for more than 20 years. In the Fall of 2022, the preserve was donated to NOVA Parks, along with an endowment to help maintain and further develop the preserve.
Sean Kumar, NOVA Parks Board Vice Chair, described the new interpretive sign as providing a “focus on the tremendous contribution that Catherine Winkler made in establishing the preserve. Her vision grew to providing nature education to thousands of children from Alexandria and surrounding area. Under her management, those programs thrived for many years but eventually the program stopped. NOVA Parks has restarted summer camps with a robust schedule. Through the support of Alexandria City government, numerous disadvantaged children were able to attend camp.”
Kumar indicated as other field trip programs expand “we hope every Alexandrian student from kindergarten to sixth grade will have a nature experience here at the Winkler Botanical Preserve.”
Alexandria mayor Justin Wilson called the property “one of the best green spaces in the city. It's really an opportunity, in a dense urban area, to get our community in nature. I’m so excited about what NOVA Parks has been able to do in a short time and I’m super excited about what we’ll be able to do in the future.”
During their first year of management, NOVA Parks hosted field trips for 603 third and fourth grade students through the Alexandria public schools, offered nine sessions of summer camp for 56 first through fifth graders, and launched a summer camp scholarship pilot program with the city.
Monthly programming is in progress, including scout merit, art, photography, environmental education, and guided nature hikes. Nature programs are being developed with school staff which incorporate educational standards of learning. And engineering is in progress to expand the small parking lot.
Kumar said, “I'm proud we have taken on this property for the benefit of City residents and our neighbors in the region, and thankful to the Winker family for entrusting us with its future.”
For more on the Winkler Botanical Preserve, see Alexandria Gazette Packet, November 10, 2022, “Winkler Botanical Preserve Promises Ongoing Delights, pg 8.