Student’s Questions About Environmental Stewardship Answered

Volunteers make a difference during a stream clean-up at Holmes Run Stream Valley Park.

Volunteers make a difference during a stream cleanup at Holmes Run Stream Valley Park.

We recently received an intriguing email from a youngster in the county, and it caught our eye because it showed an interest in the environment, an interest in knowing what the county is doing about environmental issues, and a curiosity about how he could help. All good qualities. All good questions. We hope we have good answers.

The Park Authority does a lot to promote environmental stewardship and provides a number of ways for young people to help preserve and protect our natural resources. Here are some examples.

One part of the Park Authority is fully dedicated to protecting, preserving and teaching about the county’s natural and cultural resources. That’s all they do. It’s the Resource Management Division. Those employees protect historic sites as well as wildlife and plants in the parks and teach others to do the same. One specific example is our Invasive Management Area program, which has won national awards for its work in teaching volunteers to remove non-native invasive plants from our parks and replace them with native plants. We also work with other agencies to protect soil and water and to teach people about watersheds. A good example is a recent reconstruction job that saved the wetlands at Huntley Meadows Park.

Because environmental protection is such a big task, one of our major jobs is teaching stewardship – showing people how to take care of their resources. We do that through publications such as Parktakes, stewardship brochures, and our monthly E-Newsletter, ResOURces, through visits with people at big events like the annual 4-H Show and Carnival, and through hundreds of classes (click the Nature/Science box on that link). There’s also the Park Authority’s website, where there’s a blog, information about a Family Backyard program that teaches how to make your backyard friendly to wildlife, and a fun nature almanac.

Our nature centers are terrific places for more information. They’re beautiful parks, and there are naturalists at those parks who can answer questions and help folks experience nature up close.

If you really want to get into the nitty-gritty of what we do, check out the part of the Resource Management Division that we call the Natural Resource Management and Protection Branch. These are the guys who monitor the health of plants, seek out rare plants, assess the health of local wildlife, manage the wildlife in a way that keeps the animals healthy, preserve the quality of the water in our streams by rebuilding or revitalizing stream valleys if needed, partner with other agencies to protect air quality, study the human impact on land (graffiti, littering, vandalism, overuse or improper use of parks), and teach.

One of the biggest teaching tools is a program called Meaningful Watershed Education Experience (MWEE). If you’ve been through a fourth grade or seventh grade science class in Fairfax County, you’ve likely been out at one of our parks as part of the MWEE program. The whole idea is to bring students into the parks to see, touch and hear the things they learn about in the classroom.

So, what can you do?

  • If you’re in school, learn about the environment through your science classes. Remember, you’ve got a lifetime ahead of you to protect the environment.
  • Visit our nature centers and talk with the naturalists there. If you don’t have a specific question, just ask them what’s happening with the plants and animals in the parks on that day.
  • Consider volunteering, even if it’s just for a day or a couple of hours. The folks at the nature centers can tell you what jobs need to be done, and you can choose what you want to do. They are almost always looking for some help. Some people volunteer at a park on a regular basis, spending maybe two or three hours once a week or once a month at a park. A great way to volunteer for just a couple of hours is to help our Invasive Management program. Get a friend to join you and help other volunteers pull invasive plants out of the ground and plant native ones. Our website has a calendar that tells you when and where the IMA crews are working and explains how you can sign up.
  • If you’re a scout and you ever do an Eagle Scout, Silver or Gold project, consider doing it in one of the parks. …… and subscribe to ResOURces. (it’s free)

And get out to a park and have some fun!

Written by Dave Ochs, stewardship communications manager, Fairfax County Park Authority

Cindy Dyer: A Photographer at Green Spring

Forever Stamps

A Green Spring visitor’s photos appear on Forever postage stamps.

“How can I make a living off of this?”

A question asked one day in Cindy Dyer’s garden would lead her to a successful career in photography. The buoyantly inspiring Dyer has been honing her craft with a camera since high school, where on the staff of the yearbook, which she lovingly refers to as “photography boot camp,” she discovered her skill in the art of capturing images.

“I first started noticing all that hard work paying off when I was doing a shoot for the football team during one of their games,” Dyer said. “I was taking some really great action shots; passes caught, touchdowns being scored, and players getting tackled. I’ve never been a big sports fan, but that was something that got me pumped to go to those games.” After college, Dyer became a graphic designer by trade, though she maintained a close relationship with photography, cataloging her botanical endeavors on her Zenfolio account. After being fervently pressured by her friends, she began to promote her photography skills and to do more with her abilities. Her first major triumph came a few years ago from a local park where she had already shot most of her material — Green Spring Gardens.

“A friend of mine introduced me there seven years ago now, and it’s just a lovely park,” Dyer said. “It’s smaller, so it makes it a bit easier to get around in, and the horticulturists are always planting some unusual stuff that you really don’t see anywhere else. To me, even the bigger parks don’t do as well for photographing as Green Spring.”

She pitched the idea for a gallery exhibition to the park’s volunteer manager, and then spent three winter months matting, framing and planning. She said her show in the spring of 2012 had “a really great reception,” adding that “it really solidified that I could make it doing photography.”

Her success continued with the help of a very important patron at the Green Spring show. During the first month of the show, she met the wife of one of the U.S. Postal Service’s art directors. “She bought a piece of mine, went home and talked about my show with her husband who, luckily for me, was tasked with putting together a series of stamps with ferns, palms, and orchids,” Dyer said.

Dyer received a call from Photo Assist, a procurement agency for the Postal Service, asking about her show and if they could license some of her fern photos. Those stamps were issued in January and re-released in March 2014 as a part of the Forever Stamps series.

Dyer’s photography also received notice in 2011 when Nikon web columnist Barry Tanenbaum interviewed her for a how-to piece illustrating the mechanics of photography and used 12 of her images to demonstrate tenants of the discipline. That led to another interview and photo feature with Tanenbaum when he later wrote for Talking Pictures Magazine, and she gained more exposure for her photography in Shutterbug Magazine.

In a tone that is both matter-of-fact and undeniably humble, Dyer attributed her burst of success to Green Spring Gardens. She said that the park takes an intelligent approach by endorsing an attitude of quality over quantity in terms of space and how it is used.

Discussing photography at Green Spring, Dyer said some plants are more predictable because they naturally grow there. “I can look in my calendar and say ‘okay, it’s mid-April, I’ll bet this is in bloom,’ and I’ll usually be on the money.” She also adores the park’s “beautiful bunch of lilies” and her personal favorite, the Love in a Mist. Those she described as “something you’d see in outer space.” She noted that Green Spring marks its flowers with both a plant’s common and Latin names, which Dyer calls invaluable. “Being able to add even that little bit of information to my photos helps make it look a bit more professional,” she said. Dyer added that the park’s intimate size limits the walking she has to do between shoots on her searches for interesting photo subjects.

Her tips for inspiring photographers center on the thought that “a good photographer can do a lot with a little.” Her point is that good photography is not about the camera and its associated toys:

“You need to not just have the gadgets; you also need to have a good eye for capturing the moment. Don’t be so obsessed with equipment. Get the best for what you can afford. If you really want to invest your money into an important part of the camera, invest in the lens. Scientifically speaking, photography is about capturing light and the piece of equipment that does that job the most is the lens. I’ve taken some great pictures that have ended up going on my website with my iPhone. Those things have some really solid lenses.

“Another essential piece of equipment, I’d say, for photographing still scenes/objects is a tripod. Even if you have hands steady as a surgeon, the tripod will do the job for you 100 percent right, 100 percent of the time, and it frees you up to move around the shot to see if there are better angles to get an even better shot without having to focus through the lens or lose where you were originally standing.

“And of course the big one is that if you really believe in your work, get it out there. Don’t be shy. Get a blog, get a website, and just post your photos somewhere. It really wasn’t until my friends started asking me, ‘why don’t you get a show for your work?’ that I started to truly push for my work to get more exposure. Getting my show opened so many doors for me, more people were seeing my work, and I was getting paid to do what I love. All because I was in my garden taking pictures of my plants wondering, how can I make money off of this?”

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Author Dominic Lodato is a summer intern for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division. To see more photos of Green Spring Gardens, visit Cindy Dyer’s website.

Editor’s Note: All professional photographers conducting business on FCPA property or in FCPA facilities must obtain a photography permit and submit appropriate fees in advance. To learn more and apply for a permit, visit Professional Photography in the Parks.

Going Green Partnership Benefits Students and Parks

This story was originally published in the summer 2014 edition of Virginia Parks & Recreation magazine.

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What do you think about this group of people?

They compost every day. They recycle. They share food with a local shelter. They have a permeable paver patio with native plants. They garden on raised beds. They maintain bat, pollinator, decomposition and lifecycle gardens. They maintain an adopted trail. They remove invasive plants and replace them with natives. They’re starting a seedling nursery.

And they go to grade school.

These are the students of Belvedere Elementary School in Falls Church, Va. They’re in their fourth year of a partnership with the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) in which they’ve adopted Belvedere Park next to their school as an outdoor classroom, and the students work several times a year with the Park Authority’s Invasive Management Area program. The Park Authority, the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park, and Hidden Oaks Nature Center are some of about two dozen local groups in partnership with the school in an initiative called Going Green. With support from her students, Belvedere Environmental Educator Stacey Evers writes greenBELVEDERE, a blog about their efforts.

“When we first adopted the park over three years ago, Park Manager Richard Maple spent time with me to help designate a trail from the school field into the heart of the open space,” Evers said. “School volunteers then built that trail, which is still used today.” Evers added that, prior to the adoption, the school didn’t take advantage of the nearby park, and many staffers didn’t realize there was FCPA property next door.

“Richard and I recently met to assess the park this spring,” said Evers. “Erin (Stockschlaeder) and Belvedere parent/IMA site leader Terri Lamb were also at that meeting. We are hoping to begin efforts in the next year to reforest it.”

Erin Stockschlaeder is the Invasive Management Area coordinator for the Park Authority, and she works closely with Evers and the students. “Every year students from Belvedere Elementary walk the short distance to Belvedere Park to remove invasive plants and plant native species,” she said. “Most recently I was there on Earth Day when several classes came out (despite the rain) and planted native trees, grasses and flowers. The kids were so small, and so curious! One little girl had to run to catch up to her class that was heading back into the school because she wanted me to tell her the name of all of the plants that her classmates had just planted. She would repeat the name several times and promise to come back to check on them.”

The partnership helps the students learn about nature and the responsibilities of stewardship while the park sees improvements that will still be benefitting the land and county residents when these youngsters are adults.

“Last year students from Belvedere Elementary also collected acorns from the park which they will grow in a protected location on school property. Once the oaks grow large enough they will be returned to the park,” said Stockschlaeder. “Without the partnership with Belvedere Elementary, Belvedere Park would not be on its way to restoration like it is today! In fact, the original Invasive Management Area (IMA) site is now pretty much free of invasive plants, and many of the species planted by the students are flourishing.”

Evers said that earlier this spring the Belvedere students planted a dozen new native trees on their school grounds. “UFMD (the Urban Forest Management Division of the county’s Department of Public Works and Environmental Services) donated the trees and provided scheduling, support and supervision on planting day. They also worked closely with me and Dale Taylor, director of FCPS grounds, to ensure that the trees were placed where they wouldn’t interfere with school use.”

Belvedere was the first school to join in such a partnership with UFMD. Evers says UFMD wants to work with schools in order to help the county achieve its 30-year tree canopy goal. It’s all part of a park partnership and a school curriculum teaching kids to take care of the future.

Stacy Evers can be reached at 703-346-8530.

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

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