Working Behind The Scenes As A Communications Intern

Summer intern Kathryn Wagner hands out goodie bags during a ceremony marking the start of the Water Mine expansion project at Lake Fairfax Park.

Summer intern Kathryn Wagner hands out goodie bags during a public event to celebrate the start of the Water Mine expansion project at Lake Fairfax Park.

“When Judy handed me these assignments, I realized this internship was actually going to be a valuable learning experience. I was going to learn how to write press releases and PSAs in Associated Press style, media relations terminology, how to effectively communicate and so much more.” Kathryn Wagner, summer intern

On my first day as a summer communications intern at the Public Information Office, I didn’t know exactly what I was getting myself into, but I can tell you that my expectations for the level of work I would be doing weren’t too high (quite frankly, I was mainly hoping for good coffee). As a rising senior at the College of William and Mary, I knew I had to get a coveted summer internship to have even a chance of getting a job after graduation. I desperately applied to 20 internships and after getting rejection after rejection, I thought my summer was going to be a boring, uneventful one. Yet, on one fateful day in May, I was offered a paid eight-week internship at the Park Authority (my internship was funded through a different program).

On the morning of my first day, I put on a newly purchased black suit and packed some public relations books in my mom’s tote bag (even though I am a Kinesiology and English double major, I didn’t have prior experience working in the public relations field). Basically, I was overdressed for what I thought was going to be an internship getting coffee and filing documents. Imagine my surprise when my supervisor Judy Pedersen, the agency’s public information officer (PIO) asked me to “take a stab at” writing several public service announcements (PSAs) and drafting a speech for a Park Authority Board member!

There is really something to be said when your internship supervisor is willing to take the time to see what you can do. Internships are supposed to be learning experiences, but interns can’t learn if supervisors aren’t willing to teach them. When Judy handed me these assignments, I realized this internship was actually going to be a valuable learning experience. I was going to learn how to write press releases and PSAs in Associated Press style, media relations terminology, how to effectively communicate and so much more. And, of course, there were skills outside of communications that I learned – how to network, common business etiquette and to always, always double-check your work. I couldn’t have had such a profitable and valuable experience if Judy and my other coworkers weren’t willing to invest in me by helping me around the office and trusting me to do important tasks.

One of the first things I learned about the Public Information Office was that it’s actually one small family. There are only five employees in the office: Judy, Matthew Kaiser, deputy PIO, Diana Fuentes, administrative assistant, and Internet architects Jeff Snoddy and Mary Nelms. Yet, on my first day, I was quickly reminded by Mary that there are actually six employees this summer. She was including me. Needless to say, the office definitely treated me like one of the team, part of the family. They truly integrated me into the entire Park Authority. On my first day, Diana took me around to meet everyone in the Park Authority who was located at headquarters. And everyone was genuinely interested in meeting me, making me feel welcome and wanted.

My favorite part of my internship was how much opportunity I was given. I had the opportunity to prove myself and, as a result, get more writing assignments. I had the opportunity to network as Diana and Judy thoughtfully introduced me to other employees and higher-ups, including the Park Authority director and deputy directors. I had the opportunity to go to public events such as ribbon cuttings, ground breakings, dedications and public comment meetings. At public meetings, I got to see the democratic process in action. It’s a lot more meaningful to personally see how a government agency impacts and affects the citizens it’s serving. At one public hearing, a local residential community was discussing the effects of a proposed picnic pavilion. It’s ultimately all about the people, so I appreciated being able to go to special events. Plus, at one ribbon cutting, my district Congressional representative, Gerry Connolly, said “thank you” to me.

The Park Authority truly loves the internship program. If you think about it, as a Park Authority intern, you are demonstrating that you want to learn more about this organization. And your desire to learn, to put effort into an organization that serves your own community, is something that the Park Authority values. When you are young, filled with ambition and fresh, new ideas – you, too, can make a difference as a Park Authority intern.

Written by Kathryn Wagner, summer communications intern

Kathryn Wagner

Huntsman Hole Soon To Be Huntsman Lake Again

Last summer the Park Authority posted a blog that said, “Huntsman Lake to be drained later this year.” This summer, it’s “Huntsman Lake to be filled later this year.”

The 28-acre lake in the Pohick Creek watershed was drained last year to allow for dam maintenance. That project is well under way, and Project Engineer Jacob Edwards says people may see water returning to the lake bed in September or October.

Separate projects are being conducted this summer at both ends of Huntsman Lake. Downstream at the dam, improvements are being made to the riser that stands out in the water and to the spillway, which is being extended and strengthened. Upstream, the lake is being dredged. Project Superintendent Bill Callaway says about 36,000 cubic yards of silt that has washed into the lake will be removed, leaving upstream areas about five feet deeper than they were before the lake was drained. Ecologist Shannon Curtis of the county’s Department of Public Works & Environmental Services says that trapping sediment is one of the lake’s primary functions.

At the downstream end of the lake, repairs to and replacement of some of the riser is under way. The riser is the concrete structure that visitors see standing in the deep end of the lake. It houses a pipe that drains the lake into the stream below the dam. It’s the work on that riser that required the draining of the lake. That repaired riser will have a second gate in it – the original had only one – and it will have baffle irons on top to stop debris from going into the structure. The riser also will have a drain that pulls water from the lower part of the water column and sends it downstream to Middle Run below the dam, a benefit to the animals living there.
Callaway says the old riser “wasn’t up to code for seismic activities.” In addition, the lake’s emergency spillway is being upgraded because of new state regulations governing dams. There’s nothing wrong with the Huntsman Lake dam. This is just an upgrade to meet the new regulations.

The project offers a chance to see how a spillway is constructed and the pieces that will be underground when all is completed. Think of it as a layer cake. At the bottom is the subgrade, which is just the dirt that’s already there. Next is black geotextile fabric, a kind of sheet that is permeable, increases soil stability and provides erosion control. On top of that goes four inches of 57 stone, which are stones crushed to about ¾ of an inch in size – the kind you’d enjoy tossing in the creek as a kid. Next is the geogrid. This is the structure’s reinforcement. It’s comprised of preformed concrete blocks in 8-by-20 foot sections that lock together with cables and rebar, allowing them to have a little flexibility. Those are filled with smaller stones about 3/8-to-1/2 inch in size, and once it’s all in place you have a spillway. Callaway says that if water ever does flow down the 10% grade of the spillway, the interlocking sections will act like armor and protect the subgrade, which means the dam won’t be eroded out. It’s protection against scour, which is the damage done by running water when it scoops out holes along its path.

Those are the layers of the cake. The icing is about six inches of topsoil where grass will grow, adding stability and aesthetics.

Analysis of the watershed has determined that it would take 5.8 inches of rain in a six-hour period or 6.2 inches in a 24-hour period to create conditions where water would flow into the spillway in a situation called Stage II in a flood preparedness plan. Stage I occurs when the National Weather Service issues a flood watch. Stage III, which means major flooding is imminent, would be triggered by 8.6 inches of rainfall in a six-hour period or 9 inches over a 24-hour period.

At the upstream end of the lake, dredging is taking place. Fortunately for fishermen, some of the stumps that were underwater in that part of the lake and that provide shelter for fish will remain. They’re in a part of the lake along the southern shoreline that will see little dredging. The added depth should be good for the lake’s biodiversity, and there may be fish structures added to the lake. Curtis says the heavy rains of early June made sediment control challenging, but they are working with the contractor to remove as much as possible from the lake bed.
Also in the plan are native plantings around the shoreline, which may give the lake a different look than it had prior to the current work. Edwards says those plantings likely will be put in place in September or October. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will then restock the lake next spring.

Dredging operations are expected to be completed this summer, possibly by the end of July. After silt removal on the upper end of the lake is completed, officials say the two small creeks that feed the lake at the lower end of the lake may also see some silt removed.

Some of the silt removed during the dredging is being recycled as topsoil through facilities in Virginia and Maryland. Tests showed no dangerous levels of any contaminants in the silt.
There’s no target date for returning the lake to its normal, historic level. There are regulations that set the amount of water that can be retained in a lake as it refills following dam maintenance, and nature has a say in the amount of precipitation that falls.

Lakes Woodglen and Royal are in line for future dredging, but there’s no set schedule for when that will happen. Officials say some of Woodglen’s fish might be moved to Huntsman. Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Project Manager Charles Smith says those lakes may be dredged “in the wet,” which means there will be no draw-down and the silt will be removed either by machines on barges or by hydraulic dredging using pipes and pumps. In the meantime, look for the Huntsman Dry Bed to start becoming Huntsman Lake again later this year.

Author Dave Ochs is the manager of stewardship communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Appreciating Our Pollinators

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Does anyone out there like food?

What’s your position on chocolate? How about coffee, blueberries, apples, almonds? If you are in favor of eating – and I believe that most of us are – then you are a natural fan of pollinators. Three-quarters of the plants on earth, one-third of human food, require animals such as bees, butterflies, flies and beetles for pollination, the process by which plants develop seeds and reproduce.

Large farms may bring in truckloads of honey bees to help to pollinate their crops, but on a small farm like Frying Pan Farm Park, native bees – which are better at pollinating plants than honey bees – and other insects are essential to the success of the crops. Native bees need our help. Disease, loss of important habitat like meadows, and widespread use of pesticides threaten their survival.

So, starting in July 2012 a team of people from Frying Pan Park, the Fairfax chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program, and representatives of the Virginia Native Plant Society and Earth Sangha designed, planted and is now caring for a special garden around the park’s Dairy House. The garden includes plants important to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects: goldenrods, beebalms, milkweeds, and many more.

I’ll be writing regularly about pollinators and the pollinator garden at Frying Pan Park. The next article about the pollinator garden will highlight milkweeds, a family of plants essential to the life cycle of one of our favorite butterflies, the monarch. Until then, I’ll be in the garden, so come visit!

Author Kim Scudera is a certified Virginia Master Naturalist and a volunteer at Frying Pan Farm Park.

Toddlers Love Our Garden Oasis

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Are you looking for a garden oasis in the suburban jungle to explore with your toddler or little one? Go explore Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria , one of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s most popular sites. I am ashamed to admit that I have lived in Fairfax County for nearly 30 years and never knew that Green Spring Gardens existed until just a few years ago. Since then, Green Spring Gardens has become my “go to” get away to a not-so-secret garden paradise right in the heart of the community.

As a busy working mom and Park Authority Board member, free time with my three year old is precious to me and I am constantly trying to expose my little guy to nature and beautiful things. I was born without a green thumb but I am grateful to the hundreds of volunteers and staff who have transformed Green Spring Gardens into such an amazing place.

Green Spring is the perfect destination for a family with young children to explore. First of all it’s FREE! But more importantly, the paved pathways are stroller friendly and the surroundings are peaceful and gorgeous. If you are a new mom looking for a place to stroll safely and quietly with your newborn or if you have an active toddler that needs some space to run and explore, Green Spring is a wonderful place to visit for an hour or two any day of the week.

The great thing about Green Spring is that even on the hottest days of summer it seems a bit cooler in the park. There’s lots of open space to safely run and play and there are plenty of butterflies to chase.

My toddler is enchanted by the secret pathways that wind through the trees (Mommy Tip: one “Secret” pathway is directly to the right of the stairs from the parking lot – so you can begin your exploration adventure right from the start).

Another favorite draw for my toddler is the newly refurbished gazebo which he loves to run around and play in. We practice our stretches and “Simon Says” skills in the gazebo and he just lights up as he hops and jumps down the stairs.

As a bonus, Moms and Dads who are looking for ideas to renovate even the smallest of yards can explore the demonstration gardens. These are great examples of how to use native plants to transform a townhouse size yard into your own garden oasis. Little ones will love exploring these too!

Throughout the gardens there are small bridges to cross and hidden benches to climb. A stroll down to the ponds to look for frogs and lily pads is sure to delight any child. If your children are older, many of the plants and trees are labeled so you can begin to teach them the names of the species surrounding them.

Not only is Green Spring a beautiful and peaceful place but it’s the perfect environment to develop your child’s imagination and connect nature to the stories you are reading to them. Whenever we visit we always spot one or more of what I call the four B’s: butterflies, bumble bees, birds and bunnies! Is your toddler into getting their hands a little dirty? Then steer them to the recently renovated Children’s garden. Here children can dig in the dirt and practice their planting skills.

If it’s raining OUTside then head INside to explore the Glasshouse “jungle” to look for imaginary jungle animals. Little girls may dream of fairies and connect with fairy tales in patches in pretty flowers. Spend some quiet time in the library. There is a book corner with large and small chairs set aside just for children and their accompanying adults.

The Horticulture Center has a wonderful little gift shop that includes children’s gardening themed items. Net proceeds come back to the park to be used for programs. Even a few moments admiring the art on display will start your child on a lifelong appreciation of drawing and painting. Check out the program and events calendar. Garden Sprouts programs are targeted to the preschool set.

In this busy Mom’s opinion Green Spring Gardens offers a wonderful opportunity for you to find a place to clear your mind and for your little one to explore in an unstructured way and learn to delight in the natural world around them. As a parent I think one of the best lessons to teach our little ones in the early years is that beauty is everywhere and we need to protect and nurture it.

So bring your little one to Green Spring Garden to discover what a beautiful world it can be!

Here are some of my Mommy DO’s and DON’Ts for visiting Green Spring Gardens with your toddler or little one:

  • DON’T stress about parking. There’s plenty of parking with easy access to the gardens. If you have a stroller, park at either end of the parking lot (closer to the Historic House or Horticulture Center for the easiest access. No need to stress about long walks and you don’t have to haul a diaper bag along because the car is never far away.
  • DO bring bug spray and sunscreen.
  • DO bring a change of clothes. If your toddler has a little too much fun in the Children’s garden you’ve got a back-up plan.
  • DO explore the “secret pathways” which are marked with stepping stones.
  • DO explore the Children’s Garden.
  • DO encourage your children to stop and smell the flowers. Remember this is a no picking and collecting park, that includes flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and insects.
  • DO take photos of the flowers. These are a great teaching tool for your kids when you get home.
  • DO bring a snack (there are lots of benches and plenty of grass to lay on – bring a blanket just in case).
  • DO bring nature themed books to read with your child while you have a snack in the Gardens.
  • DO visit the horticulture center and the glass house!
  • DON’T worry about changing diapers – the bathrooms in the horticulture center have a place for you to change your little one. There are even footstools to give your child a boost so that they can wash their hands at the sink. In a pinch, there are always quiet out of the way spots and garbage cans throughout the park if you can’t get to the restrooms for an emergency diaper change.
  • DO visit the garden store. After exploring the gardens take a few items home for your child to continue to develop their green thumb and bring a piece of the adventure home.

Written by Kala Leggett Quintana, Fairfax County Park Authority Board Member, At-large

Finding Babes in the Woods — Then What?

A child attending a birthday party at Hidden Oaks Nature Center discovered this camouflaged fawn hiding under a fallen tree.

A child attending a birthday party at Hidden Oaks Nature Center discovered this camouflaged fawn hiding under a fallen tree.

“Mommy! Quick. I need a shoebox.”

Parents hear this cry spring and summer. Somebody has found a baby animal.

Before you respond to this plea in your home, take a moment for you and your child to learn about these cute, fuzzy, lovable baby animals. And remember – it’s a wild animal.

Most everyone has found, or knows someone who has found, a baby animal. Children are especially good at locating them, and reasonably so. Kids are curious, low to the ground, outside playing and willing to venture into areas adults would shun. Children have a difficult time understanding that animals naturally do what kids most fear – leave their young alone. The excitement of finding a bunny in tall grass or a helpless young squirrel at the base of a tree is enrapturing, and the urge that follows is irresistible – the baby must be saved! The idea of a new, exciting pet also appeals to children and, likewise, to many adults.

A young Suzanne Holland holds Baby Rabbity.

A young Suzanne Holland holds Baby Rabbity.

I have fond childhood memories of Baby Rabbity, a week-old bunny that I pulled from the mouth of a neighbor’s dog. I was thrilled that we couldn’t find the nest and that my parents agreed to let us keep it. I did not have the responsibility of the feedings throughout the night, so I was happier about the new visitor than were my parents. (In hindsight, we exacerbated our foundling’s problems because nestlings are typically fed only twice a day, and cow’s milk is an inappropriate substitute.) Our beagle paid no attention to the guest for about three weeks. Then the howling began. The rabbit’s scent had developed, as did an unfortunate trait of not wanting to be handled by little girls. After it bit a friend, my mother found a home for it with a breeder who had to promise to provide milk for Rabbity since it had never learned to drink water.

Although that rabbit’s chances of survival, if we had left it in the brush, were slim, we were not qualified to raise a young, wild creature effectively to achieve a successful release into its normal habitat. Today, those who live in Northern Virginia are fortunate to have a dedicated group of trained, licensed volunteers who are wildlife rehabilitators. When a young animal has been truly abandoned, injured or is ill, a call to your nearest nature center is a prudent step. We can provide you with the phone number of the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.

Most foundlings are not really abandoned but have been left alone for their own protection. As is the case of our bunny foundling, the young have no scent, whereas the mother does. Rabbits and deer both leave their young in a protected area for most of the day, returning only to feed them. A predator would be unlikely to find a quiet, still creature without scent to assist him. By the time scent is developed, the young should have developed skills for survival.

Allowing wildlife to remain wild is as important for human safety as it is for the wild animal itself. Many federal, state or county ordinances prohibit the harboring of wild “pets.” One reason is that these creatures can carry diseases which are transmittable to humans, including rabies, histoplasmosis, roundworm, salmonellosis and tuberculosis. Grey squirrels, while not common carriers of rabies, are flea infested. Fleas can rapidly spread disease.

Even if the goal is to release the animal back into its habitat at the earliest possible opportunity, caretaking is not advisable. Less than 10 percent of adopted wild animals survive in captivity. Relocating animals also has a low success rate. Rescuing wildlife and providing the care required for a successful release into the wild takes time, patience, training – and the proper permits! Rehabilitators are trained periodically. For information, contact the Wildlife Rescue League at 703-440–0800.

Author Suzanne Holland is the Assistant Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

Oak Marr RECenter Renovations Update

June 3, 2014

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Staff members are buzzing about the changes we’re seeing at Oak Marr RECenter. With each passing day the year-long project takes another step toward completion. We are excited to share the improvements with our customers who have been waiting patiently for the RECenter to reopen.

The building’s new glass façade now protrudes into the old parking lot, and customers are taking notice. Everyone seems to agree that the building looks great, and many people are curious about what amenities are being added. In case you haven’t heard, Oak Marr is undergoing more than your average building makeover; the RECenter is being transformed into one of the area’s most modern fitness facility.

The finished project will include:

  • A new, two-story, 5,500 square-foot fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment
  • A dedicated stretching area in the fitness center
  • Three new multipurpose rooms for fitness classes and other activities
  • An expanded fitness center entry area with cubbies
  • A 700-square-foot babysitting area with a restroom
  • An updated lobby and administration area
  • A new entrance to improve facility access and security

But the question on everyone’s mind is, “When will it be finished?” The answer is: soon. A grand opening will be held this fall to mark the occasion, and everyone is invited to join in the celebration.

Manager Kirt Chase said, “For the past 12 months we have been watching our new expansion being built from the ground up, and now that we are getting close to completion we are excited to see the public’s reaction to our new state-of-the-art facility.”

Program Director Robert Arguinzoni is excited about the enhanced space for dance, gymnastics, and tot programs this fall. “It will allow us to introduce new levels of classes that kids and parents have been looking forward to since construction began last spring,” Arguinzoni said. He is also sure parents will love the new childcare room adding, “It will be a wonderful option for parents who are looking for time to work out and not have to worry about making other arrangements for child care.”

Aquatics Supervisor Nicole Marko said the physical changes have been surreal. “I have been at Oak Marr for so long – starting in 1999 as an adapted aquatics volunteer – having taught as a part-time swim instructor 2001-2005 and then full-time since February 2007.  I have seen its evolution in customers, program offerings and even paint colors.  It’s interesting to see the new integrated with the old. But we all look forward to replacing the constant sounds of banging and drilling with the sounds of treadmills and ellipticals!”

Fitness Director Jennifer Elgas is thrilled about the new fitness center and is happy to be part of the exciting changes. She said, “I am anxious for it to open and am most excited to see everyone’s reactions to it, as well as being able to serve more members with our variety of state-of-the-art equipment.”

Oak Marr has seen significant transformations since opening in 1988, but none as sweeping as the expansion of the fitness center. We look forward to presenting Oakton area residents with this top-tier fitness facility. In the meantime, stop by and see the changes for yourself. Then join us for the grand opening this fall!

We can’t wait to see you!

This post will be updated with new information and photographs as the project nears completion. Check back often to see what’s new!

Written by Alex Barnard, recreation specialist, Oak Marr RECenter

Oak Marr Panarama

Interview With A Beekeeper

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Maybe you have seen them over by the cow pasture or have seen the smoke cloud indicating the beekeeper is in. Maybe one of the “residents” has buzzed past you.

The beehives at Frying Pan Farm Park don’t get a lot of visitor attention, and it’s no wonder; bees are bees!  But the bees and their beekeeper at Frying Pan play a vital role in the community and on the farm.

John Fraser from Highland Honey and Apiaries in Northern Virginia has been tending 10 to 15 honeybee hives at Frying Pan for about eight years.  A fourth-generation beekeeper, Fraser and his family preserve traditional, small scale beekeeping where all the work is done by hand.  Beekeeping once was a common part of small Virginia farms. In Frying Pan’s heyday, there were more than 100,000 hives kept on Virginia farms.  Now only a handful remain in the county, making Fraser’s beehives an integral part of the authentic, working 1920s-1950s era farm.

Although most beekeeping techniques and equipment in Virginia have been the same since about 1870, there have been changes to adapt to new diseases, parasites, and predators.  In the late 1980s, a destructive mite from China killed numerous wild honeybee colonies in the U.S.  Since then, farmers who need honeybee pollination have depended on beekeepers like Fraser who maintain hives and protect those hives from the mite. Without his stewardship, Frying Pan’s honeybees might not survive to provide free pollination services to all the yards and gardens near the beeyard, including some of Frying Pan’s crops.

Fraser says Frying Pan’s beeyard is surrounded by many areas within a three-mile radius that contain trees such as tulip poplar and black locust, bushes such as blackberry, wildflowers such as dandelion and milkweed, and planted lawn trees such as apples, pears, linden and plums.  Frying Pan’s location near woods and meadows from Dulles Airport, as well as all the clover in the pastures at the park, provides a very balanced diet for the bees. “We harvest once per year and benefit (as do the bees) from the tremendous variety of bloom,” he says. “This is called a ‘wildflower’ honey that contains no large concentration of any one nectar.”

Rare comb honey sells quickly.

Rare comb honey sells quickly.

Fraser’s family business sells two types of honey, both available for sale at the Frying Pan Farm Park Country Store.  Comb honey is cut directly from the frames that hold combs in the hives and placed in jars filled with liquid honey.  Beekeepers don’t often make comb honey since it involves removing some of the bees’ valuable real estate.  Comb honey is rare and usually only available immediately after the mid-summer harvest.  According to Fraser, Highland’s comb honey “is snapped up by savvy buyers as soon as it hits the shelves.” More regularly available for sale is liquid wildflower honey, which is extracted by spinning an entire frame of honeycomb and then coarse-filtered.

“We are very appreciative of the opportunity to keep bees at Frying Pan Farm Park,” says Fraser, “and to have a chance to display a live hive at the Spring Farm Day and the 4-H Fair, and on other occasions throughout the year. We hope that all the people who support the park by purchasing honey at the County Store will also take the time to walk through the park and enjoy the natural beauty – and wave at the beehives.   If you see me there, in a white suit and a cloud of smoke, you can wave at me too.”

Author Cate Henderson is the marketing and development assistant at Frying Pan Farm Park.