Heritage Preservation, “It’s all about teamwork.”

Remarkable Level of Cooperation Helps Preserve Civil War Relics

On Wednesday, October 14, 2015 the Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch (CRMPB) received a call from Mohamed Kadasi, an engineer with the Fairfax County Utilities Design and Construction Division (UDCD). Kadasi thought that excavations for a shoulder and sidewalk improvement project near the City of Fairfax might have unearthed a historic resource. Backhoe trench excavations had struck an old, buried macadam surface. When that was lifted it exposed a cedar log road. Ken Atkins, senior inspector with UDCD, had the construction team very carefully remove the macadam so as not to disturb the logs. Inspector Atkins is very interested in history and wanted to make sure that the past was not lost. His fast action and the care taken to not impact the logs were absolutely invaluable in understanding an important part of Fairfax County history.

ExcavationThe CRMPB sent archaeologists to assess the discovery. When they arrived, it was clear to the archaeologists that a historic roadway had been found. In the past, it was common to use logs as a road surface, in particular during the Civil War when high traffic in the area mucked up what had been dirt roads. The archaeologists took numerous pictures and devised a plan to properly record the site. Both CRMPB and UDCD staff coordinated so that no important archaeological information was lost and so that the improvement project could continue with as minimal an impact to the construction schedule as possible. At the end of the day Atkins secured the site and placed a steel plate over the trench, both for public safety and to protect the logs.

However, the need for cooperation did not end there. The project was being conducted within an easement held by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). In order to conduct archaeological investigations on state-controlled property it is necessary to first receive a permit issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). The acronym soup was getting thicker, now requiring coordination between CRMPB, UDCD, VDOT, and VDHR! CRMPB archaeologists provided VDHR with the work plan and submitted the permit application; as the easement holders, VDOT would have to agree to plan and co-sign the permit. All the agencies involved moved with remarkable speed and efficiency. Within 48 hours of submitting the application, CRMPB received the permit.

MapUpon receiving the permit, CRMPB merit and limited term staff drew a detailed map of the logs by hand to permanently record this resource. Then, they attached two numbered plastic tags to each log. Storm water management for the improvement project called for installation of a pipe below the grade of the historic, Civil War period road surface. Instead of removing the logs mechanically, they were saw cut. After the pipe was installed, the trench was backfilled to the level of the log road. Tagging had allowed for the placement of each cut end back along its corresponding log. Then the trench was backfilled to present-day grade.

image007However, this was only part of the preservation process. CRMPB archaeologists also used a surveyor’s total station to record the historic road surface in three dimensions within millimeter accuracy. Assistance from yet another agency was again necessary. The Fairfax County GIS department is processing high definition LiDAR data to create very fine topographic maps of the entire county. At CRMPB request, the GIS department processed the data in the vicinity of the project area. This imagery clearly shows the remains of a Civil War circular fort that had served to protect against enemy movement along the historic roadway. Combined with the information recovered about the log road and other, now long-gone, Civil War encampments and fortifications in the area, the hope is to virtually reconstruct the historic landscape of this area, providing a better understanding of Fairfax County’s Civil War history. None of this would have been possible without the remarkable and expedient coordination between county and state agencies from the moment of discovery though reburial.

When the CRMPB archaeologists left the site, we thanked Ken for saving this piece of the past. “It’s all about teamwork,” he said. How true that is.

Author Christopher Sperling is the Senior Archaeologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Nature Centers are Busy Places

Hidden PondPerhaps you’ve walked into a nature center and it’s been gently quiet. The exhibit animals weren’t moving. A person behind the desk worked on a project. You strolled past the exhibits, stepped back outside, and hiked through the woods. A quiet day, it looked like nothing was going on.

If so, you missed all the excitement.

Nature centers are busy places, and there’s a lot happening. Take a look at Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield, a tiny spot overflowing with activity, much of it family-focused and much of it behind the scenes or in the woods. So how busy is this one, small park? Look at the activity from just one, recent October week:

Seventh graders from Lake Braddock Secondary School visited for Meaningful Watershed Experience programs on Tuesday and Thursday. They spent several hours in the park stopping at designed stations that reinforce classroom learning with practical, in-the-field experience. The park’s visitor services manager, Michelle Alexander, assured that all stations on the tour functioned well. Eight staffers and volunteers were on hand to serve the students in the field.

There was a Daisy Petal scout program hosted by staffer Brian Umanzor and volunteer Megan Miller.

A.J. Barhard teamed with the Abalos-Green brothers, John and Aaron, to host a Wednesday Pohick Puddle Jumper program for three-to-seven year-old naturalists.

Hidden Pond

Monday’s Nature Quest program for that same age group was a hit because leader Becky Conway got those preschool naturalists out on fun adventures. She does that every week.

Saturday brought a birthday party to the nature center, and once again staff and volunteers guided the visitors through a fun park experience.

Those exhibit animals? Folks were checking on them and caring for them every day. Those critters don’t take days off.

Cleaning crews kept the place looking great.

Staffers from the Cultural Resources branch of the Park Authority were at Hidden Pond running tests on an area planned for a new playground and educational site project. They tested spots in the scrubby area between the park’s current playground and the staff parking lot, finding several old nails, broken glass, a staffer’s lost Batman binoculars and an old cassette tape of the greatest hits of Barry Manilow. Not the sort of cultural resources that would prevent the area from becoming the site of a new educational shelter, but it does show the concern and care for land and history that the Park Authority displays before construction occurs at any site.

Duckweed Removal Eagle Scout ProjectSeveral scout projects were conducted during the week. One produced new railings on the pond dock, with some filling in of an eroded area. The other led to the removal of roughly a quarter-acre of invasive multiflora rose and the placing of an invasive plant educational footpost at a trail head.

Porcelain berry vines and their seeds were removed thanks to efforts of the Lake Braddock seventh graders. They also snatched away other invasive plants like oriental bittersweet vine and multiflora rose. Park Manager Mike McCaffrey said, “We know we will not get rid of it all, but it will and does make a difference.” He cited work of a few years ago when invasive garlic mustard was taking over several large patches in the park. Staff and volunteers worked diligently to hit it hard and, while still there, it is contained now to only one large patch which will be targeted in the spring of 2016.

Inside the office, staff was coordinating future invasive plant removals and seeking volunteers for a campfire program that would require fire tenders, s’more makers, critter handlers and trail walk assistants.

Hidden PondTwo seasonal Haunted Pond programs were held – one for children aged three to six, the other for the six-to-12 group that can handle slightly spookier stories.

Then there was the end-of-the-week staff gathering ‘round the campfire after the Haunted Pond visitors went home – a chance for staff to kick back, relax, and enjoy the small park they’ve grown to love. And maybe, since it was close to Halloween, hear another ghost story or two.

So if you walked into Hidden Pond and the area looks quiet, remember that the staff is a lot like the wildlife. There’s a lot going on in those woods even if you don’t see or hear it.

Hidden Pond Nature Center is at 8511 Greeley Blvd. in Springfield, Va. The phone number is 703-451-9588.


Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

They’re WILDlife. They Do What They Want.

BeaverPartnering with Wildlife

There was some unauthorized – or perhaps, unscheduled would be a better word – construction on a county creek recently. We learned about it through an email from a county resident:

“I just wanted to send a quick note about a Cross County Trail crossing just south of the Fairfax County Parkway.  There appears to be something that has dammed Pohick Creek and has caused the cement pillars used to cross the creek to become submerged in water and impassable.  I know some of the crossings become submerged in water when the creek is high, but this is different.  All of the other crossings along this section of Pohick Creek are well above water and the creek is otherwise at a pretty low level right now.  I’ve never seen this particular crossing submerged when the creek was otherwise at this low level.  Additionally, the water in this area is quite still.  I could see an area just downstream that looked, perhaps, like a bunch of dead wood that was possibly damming the creek, but I’m not certain. “

The email was forwarded to Area 4 Manager Ed Richardson, who oversees maintenance in parks in that area of the county. Richardson went to see what was going on and found the “bunch of dead wood.” Sure enough, it was a beaver dam that had been built just downstream of the creek’s fair weather crossing. Richardson opened the dam at both ends to give the water a path, hoping that storms would do the rest. Instead, the beaver rebuilt the dam within a couple of days, so a work crew was sent to demolish the structure.

“A final resolution depends on how committed the beaver is to damming the creek here,” Richardson said. “Hopefully it will move on without much fight.”

Senior Natural Resource Specialist Kristen Sinclair explained that the Fairfax County Park Authority follows a Standard Operating Procedure when it comes to wildlife conflict:

“Beavers, in particular, generate about 5-10 complaints each year involving trail flooding or tree damage. Beaver are tolerated whenever possible in our stream valley parks because they are a highly beneficial native mammal in Northern Virginia. Beaver-created habitat provides pollution control and helps mitigate erosion by slowing down streams. Progressive measures considered for resolving wildlife conflicts include tolerance, exclusion, harassment and, lastly, population control. In the case of Pohick Creek, staff must balance the need for public recreation against the beaver’s chosen spot to set up home, for now.“

This beaver may be lodging in the ground. Richardson said he didn’t see a lodge at the dam, but did see large burrow entrances with fresh spoils nearby. Sinclair said beaver sometimes do lodge inside banks.

If this beaver moves elsewhere, the problem’s solved. If the beaver rebuilds in the same spot, we’ll have to monitor it until he learns what we always have to keep in mind – that wildlife and people share the same places in this county. We each have to give a little in order to protect each other and the county’s natural resources.

There’s more information about beavers and wildlife conflict at these links:


Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.




What’s Swimming in Your Water?

HellgrammiteEver wonder what creepy crawlies live in your neighborhood creek? There’s an app for that.

The Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) this past summer launched an app called “Creek Critters” that guides you through finding and identifying small aquatic organisms and the creation of a stream health report based on your findings. Fairfax County Park Authority volunteers have used the app, including a group that conducted a monitoring session on October 11 in South Run, not far from South Run RECenter.

Meaningful Watershed Education ExperienceThe Park Authority, ANS, the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, the Fairfax chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists, and Friends of Accotink Creek are partnering in this monitoring project. The Park Authority occasionally offers opportunities for you to join other volunteers and get into your streams, find and identify the living organisms (macroinvertebrates) that live there, and learn what these organisms tell us about stream health.

There are several places to seek information about joining any of these monitoring events.

For sites near Lake Accotink Park in Springfield, contact steward@accotink.org or see the calendar at www.accotink.org. For South Run sites, email Vera.Tangiri@gmail.com. And for information about surveys at most other streams in the county, visit https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov and search for “stream monitoring” or email Dan.Schwartz@Fairfaxcounty.gov.

Download the free Creek Critters app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play. If you volunteer, you’ll need your smartphone and shoes or boots that will get wet. At scheduled events, all of the collection and identification information will be provided. For more information, contact Dan Schwartz at Dan.Schwartz@Fairfaxcounty.gov or call 703-324-1422.

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.


Benefits Increase for Park Volunteers

VolunteersThere are good things happening for Fairfax County Park Authority volunteers. There are new benefits available and new opportunities to get behind-the-scene peeks at historic sites.

This past summer brought changes to volunteering in parks. Some are simply organizational and boost efficiency. Others will have direct impact on volunteers.

One of the biggest changes allows most volunteers at most parks to earn free use of RECenters. That means volunteers from Clemyjontri Park, lakefront parks, historic sites (including archeology and collections), nature centers and resource parks, Frying Pan Farm Park, Turner Farm, and Green Spring Gardens can earn free RECenter use. RECenter volunteers already had that option.

There is a minimum hourly requirement to earn the RECenter pass, but it’s not much. Four hours a week will do it. Here are the details:

Each month, a volunteer’s total hours will be calculated and averaged over the past two months. A volunteer who averages 16 hours per month during the most recent two-month period is eligible for the RECenter pass. Another way to look at is: If you volunteer 32 hours over a two-month period, you qualify for a one-month pass. If you continue to volunteer and you keep your two-month average at 16 hours/month, you continue to receive a pass card that allows you to use any RECenter. That’s another improvement. Volunteers are no longer limited to using only one RECenter.

Bear with me for a little further explanation, then we’ll get back to the good stuff. Each site has a volunteer coordinator who oversees that site’s volunteers. We’re planning for each volunteer to log their own hours by the end of each month. The volunteer coordinators will have until the 5th of each month to approve those hours. Then we’ll figure out who is eligible for passes by the 10th of each month. If you qualify, your free month of RECenter use will run until the 10th of the following month.

This upgrade in benefits comes as we launch a new agency-wide Volunteer Management System (VMS). That’s the fancy name for a software program that we’re using to manage all aspects of volunteering. VMS will make volunteering easier – easier to sign up, easier to find long-term or one day-opportunities, and easier to find particular volunteer opportunities based on location, need, people you’d like to serve, or your interests.

More Benefits

There are volunteering benefits even if you give less than 16 hours per month. All volunteers, including golf volunteers, who work four or more hours in a month receive a 10% merchandise discount coupon that will be emailed to them around the 10th of each month. There are some exclusions to the 10% discount, and they are explained on the coupon. In addition, any FCPA volunteer will be able to purchase a RECenter Discount Fast Pass (DFP) at the county employee rate. A DFP allows 25 RECenter visits over two years. This pass can be used to admit friends and family members, too. One of the 25 allowed visits will be deducted for each guest. The passes can be purchased at any RECenter. Benefits for volunteers at golf courses remain the same with two additions. Golf volunteers now can purchase a DFP at the employee rate, and they are entitled to the 10% merchandise discount. The volunteer coordinator at each golf course will have details.   If you would like to become a Park Authority volunteer, there are several places to get more information. Drop by or call any staffed park site and ask to speak with the volunteer coordinator. Or, get more information from these online sites:


Volunteering at Historic Sites

Volunteers with an interest in history may enjoy being part of the new Historic Site Volunteer Corps. These volunteers help care for the historic buildings and structures and the historic artifacts that fall under the Park Authority’s stewardship. Parks need volunteers with expertise in carpentry, construction, landscaping, history and other skills to help with replacement of door and window trims, stair railings and siding as well as painting, invasive plant removal, landscaping, fencing, cleaning, caulking, documenting of building conditions, follow-up inspections, and outreach at public events.

There is an introductory video about the Historic Site Volunteer Corps on the Park Authority’s website.

For more information about the Historic Site Volunteer Corps and protecting Fairfax County’s cultural resources, contact Todd Brown at 703-324-8676 or via email.

Register to become a Fairfax County volunteer on Fairfax County’s volunteer page




Author David Ochs is the ResOURces newsletter editor and the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Tales of the Super-natural In County Parks

Accotink Creek TresselLights that mysteriously flicker off and on, empty chairs rocking on their own, footsteps being heard on abandoned floors, and specters dressed in stovepipe hats — these are among the creepy tales from Park Authority staff to make your spine tingle on Halloween.

Hidden Pond Manager Mike McCaffrey is a master of the spooky campfire story, and the site has given him plenty of material over the years. In his first weekend on the job at Hidden Pond Nature Center, a family complained to him about a woman who had glared at them from the house. The complaints have continued over the years, and staff members have seen the woman in the window after the doors have been locked and the alarm set for the night.

Hidden PondMcCaffrey once contacted the former owner of the house that is now Hidden Pond’s administration building. She told him about a night when she thought she heard her ailing mother’s rocking chair. But when she went to check on her, she instead found a man in a stovepipe hat sitting comfortably in the chair. She quickly turned the lights on and the man faded away, but the rocker kept rocking.

During a Hidden Pond Halloween program, a group of students saw a man in the shadows watching them. As he moved toward them from the darkness, they noticed he wore a stovepipe hat. But when they shined their flashlight on him the beam went right through him. The sighting occurred on the exact same spot where a family had seen a similar man five years earlier.

Tawny Hammond has stories to tell about mysterious happenings during her 12 years at Lake Accotink Park. She says she was pretty good at dismissing or explaining away sudden shadows, glowing balls of light in the air, breezes on windless evenings, and doors that seemingly shut themselves, but there is one episode that defies her explanation.

As she was doing some research at the Library of Congress in 2003, she came across a Civil War era photo of the train trestle in the park. She thought it looked just like the photo hanging in her office back at the park, but this photo had a man in the foreground wearing a long black coat and stovepipe hat. She thought about purchasing a copy of the photo but wanted to make sure it was different from the one already hanging on her wall. So, she called the office and had staff check to make sure there was not a figure in a stovepipe hat in the park photo. After being assured the photo was different, she made her purchase. When Hammond got back to the office, she was surprised to see this same tall man hanging on her office wall. She called the staff together to ask why they misled her. Hammond says they stared at the photo in disbelief and thought she was playing a trick on them because the figure in the stovepipe hat had not been in the photo the last time they looked.

Years earlier, a watchman abruptly quit at Lake Accotink after being frightened by a man apparently walking with half his legs beneath the soil. He was tall, dressed in a long black coat and wore a stovepipe hat. Another past worker told a similar tale about the distinctly dressed man.

In 2001, Chrissy Mead thought she was working alone at Lewinsville House when she heard footsteps in the house. The parking lot was empty, but she looked around to see if someone had returned. She even called out to whoever it might be, but she didn’t see anyone or hear anything but the footfalls. When she later shared her story with her Cultural Resources coworkers, they weren’t surprised. Seems others had heard the footsteps in the past, too.

Over the years, many people have reported seeing a 1940s era limousine parked on Stoneybrooke Mansion’s front lawn. A police unit that was sent to investigate one such limo sighting claimed to have seen the car with a steaming exhaust pipe, but then it disappeared right before their eyes.

Closing managers at Hunter House in Nottoway Park have stories to tell about mysterious footsteps, and one night Park Specialist Matt Devor says that each time he locked the front door, the lights in the small front room would turn back on.

In Round Tree park, people have told stories about a lady who walks the creek bed looking for her kids.

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park sits on Walney Road in Chantilly, and Northern Virginia Magazine puts Walney Road on its list of “5 Best Places in NoVa to pick up…Ghosts.” The magazine reports that before the road was paved, a pedestrian out for nighttime walk was hit and killed by a car. As the tale goes, if you now drive down the road around midnight, you’ll come across his ghost. If you drive past him twice without giving him a ride, he may cause an accident by materializing in your car.

So, keep your eyes and ears open this Halloween. You might be in for a spooky treat.

Story compiled by Carol Ochs.  Contributions from Matthew Kaiser.


The Value of Exhibit Animals at Nature Centers

OwlTouching a live turtle, smelling skunkweed, or seeing a beaver up close for the first time is a personal, memorable, and educational experience.

At Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) in Chantilly, Va., we have three live birds of prey that we use for programming, and standing a few feet from a raptor that most people only see circling in the sky or hear on a faraway tree branch can be an eye-popping experience. We want people to have these meaningful and memorable experiences, and housing exhibit animals is one way to do that.

Caring for a raptor is a little more complicated than providing a home for a parakeet. There are challenges, and chief among them is meeting the federal and commonwealth legal requirements for their care and use. We can’t just catch an animal and put it on display. By law, wildlife belongs to Virginia, and we must have permits from the commonwealth in order to care for and display animals. Jim Dewing, ECLP’s Resource Manager and Interpretive Naturalist, has the personal permits and permissions that are required to hold, house, and display these unique animals.

Our use of the birds for interpretation requires care and a range of humane needs, and those needs may include issues related to an injury that may prevent a rehabilitated animal from being released back into its wild habitat. We have to consider the safety of the birds, the public, and the staff. These are, after all, predators. There are ethical concerns in keeping and confining live animals for interpretive purposes, and we address those with established policies and industry standards that guide how, when, and in what way we use the animals. Once again, there are state and county regulations governing these issues, and each of our staffed sites has procedures in place that can go beyond these requirements. In addition, our care of domestic animals, such as the cows, pigs and chickens at Frying Pan Farm Park, follow county Animal Control Services guidelines.

We use exhibit animals:

  • To support summer, spring break, and school holiday camps
  • To enrich animal club activities
  • To support traditional programming
  • For school and public outreach
  • To support agency summer camp staff training
  • At campfire and wagon ride programs
  • To support home school classes
  • For special community events such as Springfest
  • As tools for first aid and safe handling training of animals by Animal Control personnel.

In addition to the priorities of care and interpretation, we create a business model to ensure the animals help us earn enough revenue to pay for their care so that they are of value to each park’s overall mission and objectives. Before assuming responsibility for an animal, a park has to ensure hosting the animal meets the site’s objectives effectively, efficiently, and ethically.

One of those objectives is interpretation – personal, memorable, educational experiences that bring us closer to natural resources, makes us more comfortable outdoors, and helps everyone to become better stewards of the natural resources that keep us healthy and the cultural resources that help reveal who we are.


Author John Shafer is a Naturalist and the Manager of Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly. Call ECLP at 703-631-0013 for information about programs that include raptor interpretation. A version of this story was published in the NAI Region 2 publication Chesapeake Chat.