Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts

Natural World

Wolf Trap consists of rolling hills and gently sloping areas that lead to level flood plains and stream valley. Outside the developed areas and the meadow, the park is predominantly wooded. The park also encompasses a pond, parts of two streams, floodplains, meadowland, upland hardwood forest, landscaped cultural areas and impervious paved surfaces.

Environmental Factors

When the park was conceived in the 1960's, the area was changing from outer suburbs and working farms to an intensely developed suburban housing and business center. The first large shopping mall in northern Virginia was built only a few miles east of the park at Tyson's Corner in 1970, and that area has since become a major employment center. The Dulles Road, now twelve lanes strong, walls off the park to the south and west, while the land to the north and east has now been filled in with suburban housing and larger structures such as churches, parking garages, and schools. Since its establishment, the mix of plants and animals at Wolf Trap has changed markedly as a result of both the changes in the park and in the surrounding area. Today, about 65 acres of the park are managed as natural areas.

Wolf Trap is located in the northern Virginia piedmont, characterized by rolling hills, a mild climate, and year-round rainfall. The natural area is largely forested, with some upland forest on the hillsides, and some forested wetland. Large grassy areas, used for parking during the performance season and carefully managed as turf, do provide some open space habitat for species such as bluebirds. A permanent stream, Wolf Trap Creek, winds through the park, joined by a small tributary, Old Courthouse Branch. Remnants of the former farm landscape include a shallow farm pond built in the 1930's, now surrounded by forest. Small areas of farm fields and pasture that are not being maintained as turf grass are now well along in the natural process of being overgrown with trees and shrubs.

Nonnative Species

Wolf Trap is struggling with a number of introduced species of plants that threaten many of the native wildflowers, trees, and shrubs. Japanese honeysuckle (Lonicera japonica) vines are strangling smaller trees in some places, and the low-growing multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora) is crowding out native shrubs. In 1999 the National Park Service developed Exotic Plant Management Teams to locate and control exotic plants, and assist in restoring these sites to their native ecosystems.

The most aggressive invader at Wolf Trap is the lesser celandine plant (Ranunculus ficaria). This small European plant forms clumps of attractive green leaves and yellow flowers along the stream and in wetter areas, blooming early in the spring. Although beautiful, celandine forms thick, impenetrable mats that choke out native wildflowers. The park has begun an aggressive campaign to control lesser celandine. Other exotic species in the park that may need controls in the future are Japanese stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata), Japanese barberry (Berberis thunbergii), and beefsteakplant (Perilla frutesceus).


West Nile Virus

Mosquitoes contract West Nile Virus (WNV) after biting infected birds. There is no vaccine and no specific treatment, medication or cure. Most people who become infected have no symptoms. When symptoms do show - usually 3 to 15 days following the bite of an infected mosquito - they range from fever, aches and rashes to meningitis and encephalitis.

You can protect yourself from WNV. People who spend a lot of time outdoors should wear light colored clothing, long sleeved shirts and long pants. Spray an insect repellent containing DEET on top of clothing and exposed skin. Try to avoid being outside during mosquitoes' prime feeding times of dawn and dusk. You can also help control WNV by emptying outdoor containers that fill with water often. Mosquitoes lay their eggs in pools of stagnant water. Culex mosquitoes, the primary carrier of WNV, can complete their reproduction process in about 11-17 days.

Wolf Trap has been part of a mosquito monitoring program for several years. Mosquito traps are set up in different areas of the park and the mosquitoes are counted and tested for WNV. As of summer’s end 2004 no mosquitoes caught in the park have tested positive for WNV.


Although rabies is controlled among domestic animals it is not easily controlled in the wild. Major carriers of rabies in the wild are racoon, fox, skunk and opossum. These animals are fairly nocturnal. Signs of rabies infection may show as animals appearing in open areas during daytime acting disoriented, lethargic or agitated. The best way to help control rabies is to report any odd behavior seen in wild animals to your local animal welfare agency.

Another way to help control the spread of rabies is to keep domestic pets on a leash when they are outdoors. Letting them roam freely through natural areas or parkland raises the possibility of an encounter with a rabies infected animal. Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts states in it's Park Compendium that all domestic animals brought into the park must be on a leash.

The forested areas of the park are largely either on fairly steep slopes, or swampy areas along the floodplain of Wolftrap Creek, with very little moderate slope. There are a few outcroppings of granite along the creek and in the hills. The forest is the oak-hickory forest that is predominant in this area of Virginia. The larger trees on the hills are red oaks, white oaks, chestnut oaks, and mockernut hickories. American holly, redbud, dogwood, and sassafras are common smaller understory trees, and there are some large thickets of mountain laurel on the slopes. In the wetter areas, red maple, ironwood, river birch, tulip poplars, and sycamore are prominent. In wetland areas of the park there is a variety of ferns and large areas of moisture loving skunk cabbage.

In some areas of the park, one can see the ecosystem in the midst of change from open farm field to forest. An upland meadow in the north section of the park, is now dominated by mature red cedars, Virginia pines, and white pines. In other places, mature pine and cedar trees have been overtaken by the oaks and poplars, and are slowly dying as they are shaded out by the larger trees. In the developed areas of the park, particularly around the old farm house, (now the park administration building), there are both modern and historic plantings of decorative trees, shrubs, and flowers. Surveys of park flora are ongoing.

Trees and Shrubs

With a variety of habitats, from year-round wetlands to steep, dry slopes, Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is home to dozens of vegetative species in its woodland areas. As a former farm, the developed areas of the park have a wealth of ornamental plants like azalea, cherry, dogwood, iris, lilac, rose althea and spirea that were popular garden plants in the mid 20th century.

There are known species of hardwoods and other native flora in the park like ash, American Holly, beech, oaks, pines, tulip tree and wild azalea. An inventory of both native and garden plants by scientists from the University of Maryland began in April 2004.

Several dozen mammals inhabit the park on a permanent or intermittent basis. Fox, ground-hogs, raccoons and numerous rodent species are resident. White-tail deer travel through the park as they move up and down the forested areas along Wolf Trap Creek, Old Courthouse Creek and Difficult Run. Beaver have intermittently resided along Wolf Trap Creek. The first systematic study of park mammals is currently on-going. A similar situation exists with reptiles and amphibians. While the park has much habitat conducive to reptiles and amphibians, including a number of acres of wetland as well as a two acre pond, they have yet to be systematically studied or documented. A project to do so is currently underway.


Both the pond and Wolf Trap Run are home to several species of fish. In April 2003 an inventory of fishes began.

The following fish have been identified either by park staff or by the National Capital Region Inventory and Monitoring Program as occurring in Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts:

Common Name Scientific Name

Eel, American

Anguilla rostrata

Shiner, golden

Notemigonus crysoleucas

Dace, rosyside

Clinostomus funduloides

Chub, creek

Semotilus atromaculatus


Semotilus corporalis

Chub, river

Nocomis micropogon

Stoneroller, central

Campostoma anomalum

Minnow, cutlips

Exoglossum maxillingua

Dace, blacknose

Rhinichthys atratulus

Dace, longnose

Rhinichthys cataractae

Minnow, eastern silvery

Hybognathus regius

Minnow, bluntnose

Pimephales notatus

Shiner, common

Luxilus cornutus

Shiner, satinfin

Cyprinella analostana

Shiner, spotfin

Cyprinella spiloptera

Shiner, comely

Notropis amoenus

Minnow, silverjaw

Notropis buccatus

Shiner, spottail

Notropis hudsonius

Shiner, swallowtail

Notropis procne

Shiner, rosyface

Notropis rubellus

Sucker, white

Catostomus commersoni

Chubsucker, creek

Erimyzon oblongus

Bullhead, yellow

Ameiurus natalis

Madtom, margined

Noturus insignis

Bass, smallmouth

Micropterus dolomieu

Sunfish, redbreast

Lepomis auritus

Sunfish, green

Lepomis cyanellus


Lepomis gibbosus


Lepomis macrochirus

Darter, tessellated

Etheostoma olmstedi

Darter, glassy

Etheostoma vitreum


Total Species




A mammal inventory in 2002 documented the following seven species through photography or capture and release stations throughout the park:

Blarina brevicauda, Northern short-tailed shrew; Glaucomys volans, Southern flying squirrel; Peromyscus leucopus, White-footed mouse; Sciurus carolinensis, Eastern gray squirrel; Vulpes vulpes, Red fox; Procyon lotor, Raccoon and Odocoileus virginianus, White-Tailed Deer.

Numerous mammals have also been observed in the park at different times, including beaver, muskrat, opossum, and chipmunk.

Bats are Mammals Too!

In the Spring of 2003, two bat boxes were built and placed at Wolf Trap by a local Eagle Scout. One was placed between the East Parking Lot and Wolf Trap Run and the other box was placed near the creek by the Maintenance Yard.

National Capital Region Inventory and Monitoring personnel have inventoried the following mammals in Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts:

Common Name Scientific Name

Virginia Opposum

Didelphis virginiana

Southeastern Shrew

Sorex longirostris

Pygmy Shrew

Sorex hoyi

Northern Short-tailed Shrew

Blarina brevicauda

Least Shrew

Cryptotis parva

Eastern Mole

Scalopus aquaticus

Star-nosed Mole

Condylura cristata

Little Brown Bat

Myotis lucifugus

Northern Long-eared Myotis

Myotis septentrionalis

Silver-haired Bat

Lasionycteris noctivagans

Eastern Pipistrelle

Pipestrellus subflavus

Big Brown Bat

Eptesicus fuscus

Red Bat

Lasiurus borealis

Hoary Bat

Lasiurus cinereus

Evening Bat

Nycticeius humeralis

Eastern Cottontail

Sylvilagus floridanus

Eastern Chipmunk

Tamias striatus


Marmota monax

Eastern Gray Squirrel

Sciurus carolinensis

Red Squirrel

Tamiasciurus hudsonicus

Southern Flying Squirrel

Glaucomys volans

American Beaver

Castor canadensis

Eastern Harvest Mouse

Reithrodontomys humulis

White-footed Mouse

Peromyscus leucopus

Meadow Vole

Microtus pennsylvanicus

Woodland Vole

Microtus pinetorum


Ondatra zibethicus

Southern Bog Lemming

Synaptomys cooperi

Norway Rat

Rattus norvegicus

House Mouse

Mus musculus

Meadow Jumping Mouse

Zapus hudsonius

Red Fox

Vulpes vulpes

Gray Fox

Urocyon cinereoargenteus

Northern Raccoon

Procyon lotor

Long-tailed Weasel

Mustela frenata


Mustela vison

Striped Skunk

Mephites mephites

Northern River Otter

Lontra canadensis

White-tailed Deer

Odocoileus virginianus


Feral Mammals:


Domestic Dog

Canis familiaris

Domestic Cat

Felis sylvestris


Total Species




Along with the familiar suburban birds, such as cardinals, blue jays, and mockingbirds, the varied habitats of the park attract a number of more unusual residents and migrants.

A bluebird program in the park is run in conjunction with volunteers from the Audubon Society. Bluebird nesting boxes have been placed in 14 locations around the park and are monitored through out the summer. An average of 40 fledglings are produced from these boxes each year.

Sightings by park personnel included Common Grackle, Mourning Dove, House Finch, Red-bellied Woodpecker, Downy Woodpecker, House Wren, Pileated Woodpecker, Baltimore Oriole, Carolina Chickadee, Tufted Titmouse, White-breasted Nuthatch, Turkey Vulture, American Robin, American Crow, Northern Cardinal, Blue Jay, Chipping Sparrow, Common Flicker, Canada Goose, Wood Thrush, Red-eyed Vireo, Acadian Flycatcher, Black-throated blue warbler, Blue-grey gnatcatcher, Louisiana Waterthrush, Ovenbird, Red-shouldered hawk, Eastern Towhee and Eastern Bluebird.

An ongoing inventory of birds has documented more than 128 species since 2001.

Well known for its magnificent Filene Center and world-renowned performances, Wolf Trap also provides a natural enclave in the midst of an increasingly urbanized northern Virginia. Less than half of Wolf Trap's land is developed, leaving about 65 acres of woodland, streams, and wetland with a wide variety of plants, animals, birds, and wildflowers. Wolf Trap's natural areas add critical green space in a dense suburb, provide refuges for many species, serve as a migration rest stop for wildlife, and serve as a living biology classroom to the adjacent community.

Basic biological information is lacking for Wolf Trap, as it is for many smaller parks in the National Park System. Efforts are now underway to determine exactly what plants and animals are currently present at Wolf Trap. This is being done through the National Park Service's agency-wide scientific database project, the Inventory and Monitoring Program. Over the next few years, Wolf Trap will be systematically surveyed for flora and fauna by professional scientists through this program. The survey data will provide the baseline information needed to develop strategies for managing the park's wildlife. Species lists included here are in various stages of updating and revision.

Rivers and Streams

Wolf Trap’s stream is a type C low gradient stream with meandering alluvial channels and broad, well defined floodplains. Heavy rain and runoff from neighboring housing subdivisions greatly augments the volume of the stream flowing through the park. Wolf Trap Run flows to the north from the south-east point of entry into the park. Halfway through its run, in the north-east section of the park it is joined by the Old Courthouse Branch Creek which flows into Wolf Trap Run. From this point it redirects to the west and exits the park from the park’s north-west boundary. Significant erosion of the stream bank has occurred in several distinct areas as a result of increased runoff and intermittent flooding. Several projects to plant riparian buffers to stabilize the creek banks have been completed, including placement of rip-rap along creek banks and tree planting in various locations. Erosion monitoring and control is an ongoing project within the park.

Geologic Formations

Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts lies entirely within the Piedmont Province (plateau between the coastal plain and the Appalachian Mountains). The Park’s elevation ranges from 250 to 350 feet above sea level. The highest hills are in the southeastern portion of the park and the lowest point in the floodplain in the northwest corner of the site.

Geological scoping sessions have not been completed for the park and there are no collections of paleontological material. The geology of the park offers essentially no potential for future discoveries of fossils.

The oldest formation underlying the Park is the Precambrian-Early Cambrian Peters Creek Schist. The Peters Creek Schist contains a variety of metamorphic rocks including metagraywackes and schists. Fossils are not typically found in metamorphic rocks and none are known from the Peters Creek Schist. The Peters Creek Schist is mapped as the Mather Gorge Formation within Great Falls Park (Southworth and others, 2000). Granodiorite is also mapped within the Park (Drake and Lee, 1989). Granodiorite is an intrusive (subsurface) igneous rock and as such does not preserve fossils. Much of the western portion of Wolf Trap is mapped as Quaternary (recent) Alluvium by Drake and Lee (1989). The sand, gravel, silt, and clay of this unit was deposited as floodplain and alluvial sediments during modern times. Fossils are not known from this unit and there is little potential for fossils because of its modern age.


Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts is locally part of the Difficult Run Watershed. Old Courthouse Creek which flows into Wolftrap Creek both flow through the park and drain into Difficult Run. The Difficult Run Watershed covering 58.3 square miles is the largest watershed in Fairfax County, Virginia. Difficult Run in turn drains into the Potomac River linking us to the Potomac Watershed. The Potomac Watershed is part of the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.