Riverbend Park’s Adapted Kayaking Program

Kayaking at Riverbend Park

More Boating, More Fishing, More Opportunity

Can you canoe?

You can, it’s true.

Step in and drop.

Or sit on top.

We’ll borrow a little Dr. Seuss rhyming to reinforce his theme that there’s a place and a way for everybody.

Riverbend Park in Great Falls has provided recreational programming for children and adults along the banks of the Potomac River for decades. For the past five years, the park has offered canoe and kayak tours, fishing programs, water-based scout merit badges, and summer day camps that include boating and fishing. In 2014, Riverbend created more river opportunities by implementing ideas that made the river accessible to more people.  These changes promote accessibility, diversity, more environmental education and outdoor recreation.

Kayaking at Riverbend ParkOne year earlier, Riverbend Park and the Park Authority’s Americans With Disabilities Act coordinators sought partners for new adapted programming ideas. Along with hiking, the park’s most popular recreational activities are fishing and boating on the Potomac River. At the time, many of the Park Authority’s adaptive programs did not focus on fishing or boating. Branching into outdoor recreation would provide quality outdoor recreation opportunities for persons with disabilities.

The first order of business was to acquire less restrictive and more accessible sit-on-top kayaks that offered ease of access. Sit-on-top kayaks are ideal for park visitor needs and for the river setting. They are open-air and allow for a variety of body types to enter and exit with relative ease. The park incorporated the new kayaks into new adapted programs. Funding for the new fleet of sit-on-top kayaks and fishing gear was provided by a pair of Take Me Fishing grants through the National Recreation and Park Association. The two grants totaling $10,000 provided Riverbend the jump start to purchase kayaks and fishing rods equipped with push button reels that generally are easier to cast.

To promote these exciting new programs, Riverbend staff attended an adapted recreation fair for individuals with disabilities hosted by Therapeutic Recreation Services of Fairfax County. A little marketing boosted interest and tossed away existing misperceptions that outdoor, riverfront and water-oriented recreation was unavailable and inaccessible for the disabled community.

Kayaking at Riverbend ParkThe next step was an Adapted Family Day Open House at Riverbend. Families had the opportunity to kayak, fish, and hike with an instructor. When the actual programs began in the summer of 2014, the first four-week Adapted Kayaking program for ages 8 to 21 years filled seven of its eight openings.  The class provided an opportunity for participants and their families to paddle single or tandem two-persons kayaks while learning different strokes and basic water safety on the Potomac River. By the end of the class, many of the participants were paddling single kayaks with little or no help. The class activities were highlighted by a 1.5-mile float trip down the Potomac River through riffles and gentle rapids.

That fall, the park hosted its first Riverside Connections class for 11-to-21 year-olds. It was designed as a four-week introductory class into outdoor recreation: hiking, fishing, and kayaking. The class filled. The participants were able to hike to see Great Falls at Riverbend’s downstream neighbor, Great Falls National Park. They caught and released fish and paddled on the river. Two brothers who took part said they wished the class could meet every Saturday morning.

The adapted programs use volunteers and family members to establish an effective guide-to-student ratio and increase the time students are engaged in activity.  Each student has the opportunity to work with both tandem kayaks and single kayaks in order to gain the highest level of independence.  The kayaks are used for both classes and rentals, which means skills learned in class can be used and reinforced when families rent kayaks at Riverbend outside of class time.

After those first experiences with adapted programming in 2014, Riverbend planned and offered more programs that filled. The current adapted programs are:

  • Riverside Connections: A four-week class that provides an introduction to outdoor recreation with hiking, kayaking, and fishing
  • Adapted Kayaking: A four-week class that provides instruction and safety for kayaking on the Potomac River while building paddling skills
  • Adapted Potomac Adventures Summer Camp (8-12 years old & 13-21 years old): A week-long camp that provides outdoor adventures, including kayaking, fishing, hiking, and tubing

Kayaking at Riverbend ParkAn important part of the Park Authority’s mission is to provide opportunities for recreation and to create new, enriching experiences for participants. These programs do just that. They also support a diverse community need by providing access to a family activity in a structured environment. Adapted Kayaking is intended to teach basic kayaking skills, such as paddling and steering, to participants and their families.  The ultimate goal is to allow families to support each other independently both at Riverbend and other recreation locations. It increases the opportunities for families to recreate together both in and outside of Fairfax County parks.

In an opportunity rich landscape such as Fairfax County, the Park Authority is poised to find other opportunities for inclusion and access for everyone who loves to recreate! Who knows what will be possible next year?

 

 

 

A Duel of Designers

 

Dueling Designers

– A Competition between Professional Florists

It was a duel – a prearranged combat between two persons, fought with weapons according to an accepted code of procedure and in front of witnesses. The combatants were at the top of their game, highly skilled, with hands and fingers attuned to the nuances and wickedness of their weapons:

Flowers.

These were duelists skilled in weapons of mass construction. The witnesses were the attendees at Green Spring Gardens’ Dueling Designers program on Sunday afternoon, July 27. About 50 people watched as professional florists David Pippin from Richmond, Virginia, and Bryan Swann from Vienna, Virginia, designed arrangements of their choosing. Each used identical vases and the same selection of flowers, however, separated by a curtain, they could not see what the other was producing.

The audience delighted in the unfolding of the individual styles. Throughout the process the guests asked questions about the mechanics of floral design and the variety of events for which the two provide arrangements.

Dueling DesignersRight from the start, the differences in their styles were on display. While Swann constructed a frame of curly willow, Pippin installed a leaf and floral base for his arrangement. As Pippin arranged long stems of bells of Ireland, Swann quietly engaged in a weaving project, using green aluminum wire as the weft in his leaf-based weaving. Pippin could not resist teasing his fellow Virginia Tech alumnus about taking basket weaving as an undergraduate, while Swann explained that he had recently taken a continuing education course on the topic. He has since then exercised his creativity to add woven elements to his work.

The attendees learned tricks and tips to achieve success with their own arrangements. Bells of Ireland will want to remain upright, so incorporating them as a horizontal element in an arrangement is never successful. Swann explained the importance of making fresh cuts to stems and avoiding the placement and removal of a flower multiple times, as it creates too many holes in the oasis, the green product that holds water and supports the flowers.

Dueling DesignersUpon completing their work, both artists were invited to view the other’s design. Pippin’s design followed an ‘S’ shaped swoop, drawing the eye from curly willow at the top to a momentary rest on a flower cluster in the middle, ending with a fern-like spray of leaves and roses. Swann envisioned an open meadow of flowers with his arrangement, manifested by clusters of flowers suggesting the arrangement one might find in a garden. The curly willow provided height while hinting at transparency that allowed the viewer to gaze either at, or through, the arrangement.

Pippin, owner of David Pippin, Inc., is currently the floral designer for The Executive Mansion of Virginia, where he provides floral arrangements for gubernatorial events. He was quite amused, in the manner of Mozart being told in the film “Amadeus” that one of his compositions had “too many notes,” that after his first event for the governor and his wife he was told the arrangements were “too flowery!” He is in demand for weddings, parties and educational events, where he shares his talents for all to enjoy or to learn. He has a sizable number of fans in Williamsburg, Virginia, who have dubbed themselves The Pippinettes.dueling-designers6

Swann is Creative Director and Director of Weddings and Special Events at Karin’s Florist in Vienna. His work is sought by brides at Meadowlark Botanical Garden and hosts of gala events at Wolf Trap Farm Park. He has won numerous awards, including the 2012 Society of American Florist VaseOff! challenge and the 2014 Society of American Florist VaseOff! All Stars challenge.

Floral designer Chuck Mason selected the vase and the types of flowers available to each contestant. Mason teaches floral design classes for Green Spring Gardens.

 

Author Mary Olien is the Manager of Green Spring Gardens, which hosts floral design events among its many gardening programs for the public.

Garden Dreams

kingstowne9Are your dreams about your vegetable garden and what you’ll harvest this year coming true? Are thoughts of big juicy tomatoes dancing in your brain becoming reality? Will you be able to can for the winter and feel confident your family is getting good quality? Will you have local garden bragging rights?

You thought you did everything correctly. Although the variety of tomato plants can be overwhelming, you planted the tomato varieties recommended for Virginia. You fantasized about Big Beef in a salad, canning Mountain Spring, and walking through the garden popping Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes in your mouth. Now you’re getting a few tomatoes, but those ugly, gross leaf spots ruined much of the crop and then the leaf wilting began. You’re not getting the tomatoes of your dreams to eat or share with neighbors. Where are the 10 to 15 pounds of fruit the plant was supposed to yield? You wish you had better luck.

But gardening is not all luck.

If you lived next door to a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener, he or she would tell you that the first thing to do for a successful crop is to get a soil test. The ideal vegetable garden soil is deep, friable, well-drained, and has high organic matter content. Soil test kits are available from the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) offices or at Green Spring Gardens. VCE will mail results with recommendations for correcting any deficiencies in your soil. VCE also has a tomato publication that gives guidance on growing tomatoes.

You can get help from Master Gardeners at the Fairfax County farmers markets or at the Green Spring Gardens Help Desk on Saturdays (4603 Green Spring Road, Alexandria, VA 22312). You also can call the VCE help line at 703-324-5369, and your question will be answered by a Master Gardener.

If you don’t have your own neighborhood Master Gardener, why not become one? For information contact Pamela.smith2@fairfaxcounty.gov.

Once you grow that perfect tomato, you might enjoy my favorite tomato dish. It’s my grandmother’s Panzanella (Tuscan bread and tomato) Salad.

panzanellaPanzanella

4-6 large ripened tomatoes cut into large cubes
½ pound Italian bread, cubed (about 7-9 cups)**
1 ½ thinly sliced red onions
Garlic (optional)
½ cup red wine vinegar
½ cup Italian extra-virgin olive oil
1 bunch fresh basil, torn into pieces
Salt/pepper to taste

Directions

Combine tomatoes, bread, and onions
Wisk the garlic (optional), vinegar and oil together
Pour the dressing over the bread salad and let it sit for 20 minutes
Add basil, salt and pepper to taste and toss

 

** Rosa Milano Rinaldo made her own bread for this salad but you can buy a good hearty Italian bread.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener Intern

The Yellow Pickle Adventure

Sully Historic Site

DON SWEENEY – FCPA

Richard Bland Lee and his family, the original owners of Sully Historic Site, left behind more than a place for tours of history. They left us some practical tips we can use – like recipes.

They’re practical tips if you have a little patience.

Having enjoyed canning and the reading of historic recipes since childhood, I decided to try making Mrs. Lee’s Yellow Pickle. I was intrigued by this spicy cabbage dish found in, to use the 18th century term, her receipt book. Just reading the ingredient list left an impression of the early 19th century — exotic locations of spices from China, India, Greece, and the spice islands of Indonesia; the global market economy that was in place; and the vast world-wide trade routes.

Reading through the recipe proved to be a “pickle” itself. Spice quantities in ounces? On the web I searched for modern day equivalents. I put the pickle in a glass jug and diligently followed the directions, leaving it outside for six weeks and shaking it every day. Family helped do the pickle shake dance daily, and the neighbors didn’t know what to make of my exploits. Prepping the cabbage and letting it dry outside was another mystery. What seemed like tons of cabbage gradually turned into dried out leaves of paper that fit into a lunch bag. Then there was the ambiguous “put [the cabbage] away until wanted for the soaking pot.” That was troublesome. What in the world was a soaking pot? How long would the cabbage need to be in the pot until ready for consumption? Would the cabbage be safe to eat after leaving everything outside all of this time?

Calls and emails to food historians were fruitless until I contacted Leni Sorenson at Monticello, the historic home of former president Thomas Jefferson, and turned to antique cookbooks. They led me to the next steps. I found that soaking pots were earthenware containers with tight fitting lids. As I did not have those on hand, I used some containers at home with tight lids, placed the cabbage in them, and poured the recipe’s yellow pickling concoction over the top. I never discovered how long to let the mixture rest, so I placed everything in the refrigerator to let the ingredients meld for about a month. Next, I tackled the safety issue. I tried the yellow pickle as a side with pork chops. What a surprise! The pickle was spicy, on the order of kimchee, and had a fantastic punch.

The next time you visit Sully or any historic site, stop at the dining room and consider the vast array of textures and foods that were on the Lee family dining room table. Think of the exotic places represented through food. My journey with the Yellow Pickle was quite an adventure, bringing me closer to the early 19th century world of the Lees.

The Yellow Pickle Adventure

Mrs. Lee’s Recipe as written in her receipt book:

Yellow Pickle– Put 6 quarts of best cider vinegar in a stone jar. Put in it 4 oz. mustard seed pounded fine, 4 oz of coriander seed, the white ginger 2 oz preferable bruised- bruised 6 oz of race ginger soaked in salt and water 24 hours, then pealed and sliced and put in the sun to dry, 5 oz of garlic, 1/2 oz of mace pounded, 1/2 oz of nutmeg pounded. Have a wooden stopper for the jar to fit tight, tie a cloth over it and put it in the sun for six weeks shaking it every day. In the mean while prepare the vegetables. Put Cabbage in salt and water after quartering it until it turns yellow. Then scald it in the last brine until a little tender, sprinkle salt over it and lay it in the hot sun in the morning the inside down- before night open the leaves and sprinkle salt through them turning them up on the dish, let them remain out that night in the dew- in two days if the sun is hot they will be quite white, and dry enough in two more to put away until wanted for the soaking pot—Prepare radish pods, Beans, Young corn, melons, Peppers &c in the same way. Radish pods will become white and dry in one night—and day Nothing should be dryer than to keep until the soaking pot is ready— E Lee

Sully Historic Site was the 1794 home of Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress.

Author Noreen C. McCann is the Visitor Services Manager at Sully.

Behind the Scenes: What’s Inside the Interpreter’s Thing Bag?

Thing BagForget raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens. If you want to connect kids to nature, favorite things might include crayons, clipart and clues. Whether at a camp or a campfire, Thing Bags create learning.

Thing Bags are my favorite interpretive tool. What’s a Thing Bag? It’s a bag. Full of things. Stuff. But this is cool stuff.

A Thing Bag is a collection of objects that represent an aspect of whatever we’re talking about in a park. If we’re talking about owls, our bag may include swim goggles to represent the nictitating membrane of an owl’s eye, a toy tiger to explain owls as tigers of the night, and a slip wrench to depict how an owl’s beak opens wide. We encourage each child at a class to blindly pull something out of the bag and think about how it is similar to what we’re talking about.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center keeps 13 Thing Bags at the ready. We also have additional lists and items that are ready to assemble so that we can create up to 20 interpretive bags. We’ve learned to be flexible with bag contents, and we’ve learned that we can learn along with the kids in a class.

Thing Bags inspire curiosity, anticipation, wonder, and excitement in children, and there are never any wrong answers. A prepared interpreter can spin any answer into an appropriate response. A child may select a neck-tickling party blower from a Frog Thing Bag and then state that a group of frogs is like a noisy birthday party. That works! The interpreter could add that, when blown, the party blower rolls out like a frog’s tongue zipping out to catch a fly. The children may have additional ideas. When pulling out a model T-Rex from a Snake Thing Bag, answers range from “Snakes are scary!” and “Snakes are reptiles,” to “Snakes are carnivores.” Asking everyone to wait for the child whose turn it is to answer first can be a challenge. By inviting each child to have their own turn to speak first, the activity becomes collaborative rather than a test.

During a summer camp on dinosaurs, a Thing Bag can recap an entire Mesozoic era! A Thing Bag can be taken out on a trail. A tip for parents – we often use thing bags as a calming device because they’re instantly popular. Children are willing to join a circle just to see what pops out next as they wait their turn.

Prior to a park program, Thing Bags are great planning tools. Our naturalists like brainstorming items for the bags. Surprisingly, having an actual thing is not critically important. Children love to pull out an envelope and slowly unfold the enwrapped paper containing a graphic. For an earthworm Thing Bag, we use the “No” symbol of a circle with a diagonal line over a cartoon of a hairy leg. Even preschoolers can guess that this means, “No Legs”.

By the time an interpreter has loaded a Thing Bag with clues, the salient points to make about the objects is loaded into memory. Since there is no particular order in which things may be drawn, the program leader needs to be ready with the relevance of the object and ready for different interpretations.

Thing Bag

At Hidden Oaks Nature Center, we have successfully used Thing Bags with children as young as four.   As children get older, at about six, they become worried about sticking their hand in a bag. Maybe it is because we have live snakes in the building! We find that by assuring everyone at the outset that no one will get hurt or surprised by reaching into the bag, we quell trepidations. We take volunteers first. The more gregarious children demonstrate the high success and low worry of plunging into a Thing Bag for the cautious who are risk averse. Typically, every child will join in by the end of the activity, and many beg for a second turn. We’ve seen returning campers cheer at the announcement of Thing Bag Time and proudly describe the process to new campers.

In preparing a Thing Bag, we let creativity run wild! We start with a list of characteristics we wish to review and unleash stream-of-consciousness. Once we start connecting meaning to objects, it is hard to stop. It is just the right thing to connect a visitor to a resource.

Here’s an example — our list of 12 items for a Snake Thing Bag:

  • Toy globe: Snakes live in most of the world, especially warmer climates
  • Fondue fork: Snake have forked tongues, but soft ones
  • Medal of Honor (clipart): Snakes are heroes for eating mice and rats
  • Plastic egg: Snakes typically hatch from eggs, which are not as brittle as chicken eggs
  • Inside-out sock: When snakes shed, the molt is turned inside out
  • T-Rex toy: Snakes are carnivores
  • Lizard toy or picture: Lizards and snakes are both reptiles
  • Baby’s rattle: Timber rattlesnakes. Discuss native species and the difference between neurotoxin and hemotoxin
  • Tuning fork: Snakes sense vibrations. Review senses as experienced by snakes
  • Balloon: Snakes have no breastbone, so ribs expand and the body can expand it eats
  • Small child’s jacket: The jacket would purposely be too small for a class participant. When a snake grows, the skin is too tight and is removed through a shed. Review how the growth of a reptile differs from the growth of a child
  • Sign: Fragile. Snakes’ ribs are thin and, even though surrounded by muscle and skin, can break easily under pressure

These are a few of our favorite things.

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

A version of this story was originally published in the NAI Region 2 publication Chesapeake Chat.

Learn, Play, Discover! Discovery Trail Map 2015!

 

Discovery Trail MapWe love nothing better than exploring and learning about the great outdoors.

Gwendy Cheek agrees, and her children were the first Fairfax County residents to discover parks on The Discovery Trail this summer.

What’s Discovery Trail? Family adventures in 12 distinct parks. A garden. A farm. An historic mill. A wetlands. Three lakes. A river. Historic houses. Wooded paths. Nature centers.

Green Spring Gardens

Green Spring Gardens

We’ve picked a dozen distinct parks out of the more than 400 sites overseen by the Fairfax County Park Authority, and youth under age 18 who visit eight of them before September will walk away with a pocketful of freebies.

Gwendy is an adventure-loving mom who took her two sons to eight parks in just two weekends. She knows her parks and all they offer, and said among the favorite activities are “the great trails, the nature centers, and the playgrounds for my boys to play on. There were activities for both my sons and I.” She took note of Burke Lake’s many activities, listing the playgrounds, train, carousel, picnic area, boat area and more. Her family enjoys going to parks several times a week because her sons enjoy playing outside, and she gets her exercise. She said Frying Pan is close to their home and has “lots of activities for my young sons. They love the playground, carousel, and animals, and I enjoy the Farmers Market.”

Frying Pan Park

Frying Pan Park

Gwendy learned about Discovery Trail at the Chantilly Library and saw that further exploration of Fairfax County parks would be a great way to get her boys interested in the great outdoors. They headed to Sully Historic Site, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Burke Lake, Huntley Meadows, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Green Spring Gardens, Frying Pan Farm Park and Hidden Pond Nature Center. She timed her Frying Pan visit to the site’s Farmers Market schedule. That means not only did her sons hit the playground, ride the carousel, and pet the animals, but she enjoyed eating fresh produce from the market.

Discovery TrailDiscover Discovery Trail

Just for visiting eight parks this summer, we’ll give youngsters 17 and under a prize package that includes a free round of mini-golf, a carousel ride, a wagon ride, a train ride, a tour boat ride, a boat rental, a pedal boat use, a camping site, and a RECenter visit. All free. In addition, you’ll be entered into a drawing in which we’re giving away three bicycles and helmets courtesy of Spokes, etc. and the Fairfax County Park Foundation.

Here’s how it works.

Drop by a county library, community center, or a staffed Fairfax County Park Authority park and pick up a 2015 Discovery Trail Map. You also can download the map online. Then visit the parks. While you’re there, get a stamp or a stamp code that you will enter on your map. When you visit your eighth park, hand in your map at the park or submit it, with the codes, online. You’ll receive your amusement prize package via U.S mail.

The 12 parks that are part of the Discovery Trail are Green Spring Gardens, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Huntley Meadows, Lake Accotink, Lake Fairfax, Burke Lake, Riverbend, Sully Historic Site, Colvin Run Mill, Frying Pan Farm Park, and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park.

Lake Accotink Park

Lake Accotink Park

Twelve parks that will have you saying, “I didn’t know Fairfax County had that!” Yeah, Fairfax County does have that. There’s a reason the Fairfax County Park Authority has been named the nation’s best park agency three times. Great parks.

Make this the summer you discover your parks.

 

 

Where Have All The Monarchs Gone?

UPDATE:

Come to Hidden Oaks to watch the amazing growth of recently hatched monarch caterpillars.

Monarchs munching milkweed at Hidden Oaks

Monarchs munching milkweed at Hidden Oaks

The caterpillars are approximately 3-5 days old and range in size from .25 to .50 inches. They are feasting on native common milkweed leaves and are on public display at the front desk. As they mature they will be in a six foot tent in the classroom.

We are too early in summer for monarchs to be developing from eggs laid on our milkweeds. These caterpillars were purchased from Monarch Watch. These caterpillars are in their first of five instars. For each instar, the caterpillar molts, and usually eats the molted layer. Caterpillars, as in all insects, have their skeletons on the outside. These caterpillars will each eat about eighteen inches of milkweed over two weeks and then will metamorphose into a chrysalis. After about ten days a monarch butterfly will emerge and within a day be ready to fly.

Encourage monarchs to visit your yard, office or school by planting native milkweeds. To find out more about the challenges monarch butterflies are facing go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/resource-management/monarch-butterflies.htm

You can be part of the solution! Ask at the front desk at Hidden Oaks Nature Center for your complimentary native swamp milkweed seed packet. www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/hidden-oaks

Monarch

What you plant makes a big difference

Revel in a flower’s color and shape or in the twitter and flight of birds. at beauty of sight and sound in our gardens depends on something very small.

Insects. Bugs that move pollen from plant to plant.

Asclepias tuberosaThe common milkweed boasts the largest leaves, but other species may be more welcome in your garden. The common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca, grows into a gangly, five foot stalk. The more compact swamp milkweed, Asclepias incarnate, tops out at 2-4 feet and displays crowns of rosy purple flowers. The commonly-known butterfly weed, Asclepias tuberosa, is even smaller at the mature height of 1-3 feet. Thomas Jefferson favored this species, which sports orange or yellow flowers, for Monticello’s garden. All these native species support monarch butterflies, but the larger plants display more surface area for the caterpillars.

Pollinators.

One of those insects is in trouble. The population of the monarch butterfly, an insect that is itself a work of art, is in steep decline because there aren’t enough of the right plants growing in the right places.

Many butterflies can sip nectar from a variety of flowers, and their caterpillars happily munch different plants; not so with the monarch butterfly. This iconic black and orange beauty is monophagus — as a caterpillar, the larvae can eat only milkweed. That means the female monarch has to find milkweed leaves on which to deposit her eggs. No milkweed, no monarchs.

And it takes a village full of milkweed. A monarch can lay about 700 eggs over a few weeks, but each caterpillar needs more than six inches of plant to develop properly. That’s 350 feet of plant growth needed for a single butterfly’s egg-laying efforts.

That much milkweed isn’t out there anymore. Unfortunately, many gardeners consider milkweeds mere “weeds” unfit for a proper garden.

What is a weed?  A plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.
-Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fortune of the Republic, 1878

This is where you come in.

The main reason for the decline of the monarch butterfly is loss of habitat. You can make a natural difference by just planting milkweed seeds, and the Fairfax County Park Authority is working with conservation groups to make that easy for you. This spring, these park sites will be distributing free swamp milkweed seeds to visitors on request while supplies last:

Directions: Place your seeds in moist paper towels and refrigerate for four weeks. Check the bag regularly for signs of sprouting. Plant the newly-spouted seeds under ¼-inch of soil in full sun and water regularly. The milkweed should mature to its full size within a few years. It is well-behaved since it does not spread as dramatically as common milkweed.

MonarchThere are 110 species of milkweed native to North America, however relatively few are native to Fairfax County. The name implies milk, but it actually derives from the leaves’ latex sap, which is distasteful to other animals because it contains toxic cardiac glycosides, compounds that can interfere with the workings of the heart. Monarchs store this compound in their wings and exoskeletons, which makes the insect noxious to predators.

Once established, milkweed can spread through its roots as well as seeds while sporting surprisingly beautiful flowers of orange, purple, pink or white that attract many other pollinators.

If you plant milkweed or butterfly weed, native pollinators will join the monarch butterflies in thanking you for protecting the monarch migration phenomenon across the eastern United States.

There’s more information on monarch butterflies on the Park Authority website

Author Suzanne Holland is the Visitor Services Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, Va.