ECLP’s Connection to The Burning of Washington, 1814


Lewis H. Machen

Lewis Machen Saves History’s Records

President James Madison fled a capital in flames through the land that is now Riverbend Park, but did you know that there is another park in Fairfax County with a connection to the burning of Washington?

When the British approached the Capital City in the summer of 1814, Lewis Machen was a 24-year-old junior clerk in the U.S. Senate. He had, just a few weeks earlier, purchased his first property. Because he owned land in Maryland, he was released from his office in the D.C. militia, and that freed him to make a critical decision as the British drew near.

Many civilians were either fleeing Washington and seeking safety or joining their militia units on the outskirts of the city. The chaos prevented Machen’s superiors from accessing the Senate, and Machen had received no direct orders about what to do. Taking matters into his own hands, he arranged for the Senate’s archival material to be taken away by a wagon driver he hired. He convinced another junior clerk to help, and together they loaded the most important documents of the Senate into the wagon and saw them hauled away to Machen’s property in Prince George’s County. The wagon journey was not without its interruptions. At one point, Machen had to replace a wagon wheel and, later, the wagon overturned. However, Machen eventually delivered the documents to a secure point. His quick thinking and the ability to take responsibility when needed saved the written records of the first 25 years of the United States.

There’s a historic marker commemorating Madison’s crossing of the Potomac River at Riverbend Park, and after you visit there, follow up with a visit to Lewis Machen’s farm at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park. Although Machen did not live at the Walney farmhouse inside ECLP during the War of 1812, he moved there in 1843 and left his mark. At ECLP, you can follow the trails of history and the story of perseverance in the face of the fire, and you can see evidence of Machen’s ice house, dairy and ice pond on site.

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park has programs about its historic past. Find information about the park’s history and about the park’s programs on the Fairfax County Park Authority website.



Author Alli Hartley is a historian based at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly.

Elizabeth Collins Lee: 20th Century Nurse and WWI Heroine


Photo of a nurse in WWI Army Nurse Corp uniform. Courtesy of the U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History.

While sharing stories of Richard and Elizabeth Lee with visitors to Sully Historic Site, I’ve become curious about the lives of the Lee children and their descendants.  Using historical resources available online, I’ve discovered a treasury of information.  Particularly notable  is a female descendent whose life reflected the tradition of public service prevalent in the Lee family.

Elizabeth Collins Lee was the great granddaughter of Richard Bland Lee and his wife, also named Elizabeth Collins Lee. Richard Bland Lee was Northern Virginia’s first representative to Congress, and Sully was built during his ownership of the land. Elizabeth, his great granddaughter, was the granddaughter of Richard’s second son, Zaccheus Collins Lee. She was born in Mobile, Alabama, on July 31, 1870 to Zaccheus’s son, Richard Henry Lee, and Isabelle George Wilson.

Richard Henry Lee was a Confederate veteran of the Civil War. Historic records show that in the summer of Elizabeth’s birth, he was married and employed as a retail grocery merchant. By 1880, Richard and Isabelle had returned to their hometown of Baltimore, Maryland, and little Elizabeth had two younger brothers, six-year-old Richard Henry and two-month-old Joseph Collins. Elizabeth’s father died when the children were all quite young in March 1883, and they lost their mother nine years later in September 1892.

As a girl, Elizabeth attended the Baltimore Academy of the Visitation, a Catholic school for girls. She graduated in 1896 from the University of Maryland Faculty of Physics Training School for Nurses in Baltimore. Established in 1889, it was one of the nation’s early formal nursing programs and was originally directed by Louisa Parsons, a graduate of the Florence Nightingale Training School.  The school was located at University Hospital at Lombard and Green Streets, the present day location of the University of Maryland Health Sciences Library. Elizabeth also pursued graduate studies at Johns Hopkins in psychiatry, a very new field of medicine at the time.

A 1904 city directory and the 1910 Federal Census both show that Elizabeth was employed as a nurse and living in Baltimore. By 1910, Elizabeth had become the first University of Maryland School of Nursing graduate employed by the Baltimore City Health Department, joining its newly formed Tuberculosis Division. She joined the Red Cross on Nov. 2, 1911, and was later described in a University Hospital article about alumnae as “an ardent suffragist.”

A postcard photo of the Maryland University Hospital, where Elizabeth Collins Lee received her nursing training. It is postmarked from Baltimore, MD on Oct. 6, 1909. The postcard shows details such as utility lines, the tracks on the street, and people in period clothing.

A postcard photo of the Maryland University Hospital, where Elizabeth Collins Lee received her nursing training. It is postmarked from Baltimore, MD on Oct. 6, 1909. The postcard shows details such as utility lines, the tracks on the street, and people in period clothing.

A memorial published about Elizabeth following her death in 1927 described a heroic time for her from 1915 to 1920. In 1915, shortly after the outbreak of World War I, Elizabeth joined the American branch of Queen Mary’s Needlework Guild to provide first aid and emergency services, giving “every moment of her time, and all her strength, — sewing and laboring weekly until she was sent overseas, June 11th, 1918, and after her return, until August 1st, 1920.”

Elizabeth tried to volunteer as a nurse for the British Expeditionary Forces in June 1917, but after receiving all her inoculations and purchasing her own overseas wardrobe, she learned that she had not been selected. However, by May of the following year, she was enlisted in the Army Nurse Corps and was on duty at Base Hospital No. 45 in Blois, France on July 1, 1918.  She volunteered for field service, and on July 15, 1918 was assigned to Evacuation Hospital No. 4 with the 42nd Infantry Division. She remained with them until Dec. 1, 1918, when Evacuation Hospital No. 4 was ordered with the Army of Occupation to Treves, Germany. During its time in France, the 42nd Division participated in six major campaigns and incurred 1-out-of-16 casualties suffered by the American Army during the war.

On Nov. 2, 1918, just days before the Armistice would end fighting on the Western Front, Evacuation Hospital No. 4 was shelled by enemy artillery. Elizabeth was credited with carrying 11 stretchers to ambulances while under fire and helping three other men to safety.  For her bravery, on Dec. 12, 1918, Elizabeth and 38 other nurses with whom she had served received a Citation for Heroic Conduct from the command of U.S. Army General John J. Pershing, Commander of the American Expeditionary Forces.

Elizabeth contracted influenza during the devastating Influenza Pandemic of 1918–1919 in which millions of people died worldwide and returned to Base Hospital 15 in Chaumont, France. She was relieved from service on April 26, 1919.


The springs where Elizabeth was honored for her military services and her DAR service in 1924. Photo by Megan Johnson.

Details about Elizabeth’s life following WWI are elusive, but there are some clues that she continued a very active life. She was a member of numerous professional nursing, service and patriotic organizations, and she served them in leadership roles.  On June 5, 1924, Elizabeth was honored by the “Patriotic Societies of which Miss Lee was a member” when a bronze tablet commemorating her WWI service, as well as her service as Historian of the Francis Scott Key Chapter of the DAR, was unveiled at the newly restored and enclosed natural springs of “Ye Coole Springs” at Charlotte Hall, St. Mary’s County, Maryland.  It was an appropriate honor, as this was the location of one of the first hospitals of the American Colonies in the early 18th century.


Grave of Elizabeth Collins Lee, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jen Snoots.

Grave of Elizabeth Collins Lee, Arlington National Cemetery. Photo by Jen Snoots.

Elizabeth passed away after a long illness on May 15, 1927, and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery. Through at least 1992, The University of Maryland School of Nursing continued to honor her years of nursing service with the “Elizabeth Collins Lee Award” for the nursing student graduating with the second-highest scholastic average.








  1. Deaths: Elizabeth Collins Lee. (1927, August). American Journal of Nursing, 27(8), 699 – 700. Retrieved March 13, 2016, from http://
  2. Lee, Elizabeth Collins. (n.d.). World War I Service Record. Maryland in the World War 1917 – 1918 and Naval Service Records in Two Volumes and Case of Maps Volume II. Retrieved from online database.
  3. Lee, Elizab C. (1904). Baltimore, Maryland City Directory, 1904. Retrieved from online database.
  4. Lee, Elizabeth C. (1910). 1910 United States Federal Census, Baltimore Ward 14, Maryland. Retrieved from online database.
  5. Lee, Elizabeth C. (1927). U.S. National Cemetery Interment Control Forms, 1928-1962. Retrieved from online database.
  6. Lee, Richard Henry. (1920, July 29). U.S., Sons of the American Revolution Membership Applications, 1889-1970, Vol. 172. Retrieved from online database. 4
  7. Lee, Richard H. (1870). 1870 United States Federal Census, Mobile Ward 4, Alabama. Retrieved from online database.
  8. Lee, Richard H. (1880). 1880 United States Federal Census, Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved from online database.
  9. Marine, Harriet P. (1927, September). Tribute to Elizabeth Collins Lee. The University Hospital Nurses Alumnae Bulletin, 7 (1), 3-10. Retrieved March 3, 2016, from
  10. New York State Division of Military and Naval Affairs (NYS DMNA). (2016). History of the “Rainbow.” Retrieved May 21, 2016 from
  11. Nursing News and Announcements. (1919, August). American Journal of Nursing, 19 (11), pp. 883 – 903. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, pub. Retrieved May 25, 2016 from
  12. Obituary: Miss Elizabeth C. Lee Dies in Hospital At Age Of 53. (1927, May 16). The Sun, p. 4. 13. Baltimore, Maryland. Retrieved from Proquest online database.
  13. School of Nursing, University of Maryland. (1990 – 1992). Scholastic Honors for Graduates. Catalog, 1990 – 1992, p 18. Retrieved June 25, 2016 from–records/verifications/School-of-Nursing-Catalog -1990-1992-web.pdf.
  14. Timeline of Nursing History, University of Maryland School of Nursing 1889 – 2013. (2013). Retrieved March 3, 2016, from https://
  15. Warren, K. (2010, Spring). The Healing Waters of “Ye Coole Springs of St. Maries.” Southern Maryland, Vol. 12(1). Retrieved May 21, 2016, from
  16. Army Nurse Corps History (image of woman in WWI Army Nurse Corps uniform, 1917) “Army Nurse Corps Uniforms and Insignia.” Photograph retrieved from U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History ( Image used by permission.
  17. Johnson, Megan (photograph of enclosed spring at Ye Coole Springs, MD, July 1, 2010). “Taking the waters at Ye Coole Springs.” Photograph retrieved from “Write Meg!” blog (  Image used by permission.
  18. Maryland University Hospital, Baltimore, MD (postcard photograph of hospital, postmarked Oct. 6, 1909).   A.C. Bosselman & Co., New York, NY. Postcard from the private collection of Nanette T. Meo.
  19. Snoot, Jen. (Jan. 8, 2008). Find a Grave database (htttp:// Photograph retrieved from memorial page 15417740 for Elizabeth C. Collins (1870 – 1927).  Image used by permission.
  20. Reading, Alice Matilda (Portrait of Elizabeth Collins Lee, 20th Century).  Virginia Historical Society, Accession Number 1934.25.  Image used permission of VHS.



 Author Nanette Tippett Meo is a volunteer at Sully Historic Site.


Toad, Turtle or Snake? Get Out and Vote!

Vote for Your Favorite Herp!

It’s the most cold-blooded election you’ve ever known. One candidate is slimy, another is scaly, the third just hides when things get tough.

It’s a run-off among the American toad, the Eastern box turtle, and the Eastern ratsnake!

And you get to pick the winner.

Herpetology is the study of amphibians and reptiles, and we’ve picked three of Fairfax County’s most common and popular ones for this election. And this election is open to all ages. No ID required.

All staffed Resource Management Division sites, along with Cub Run RECenter, are polling places as you Vote for Your Favorite Herp now through November 8, 2016. That means you can cast ballots at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Riverbend Park, Huntley Meadows Park, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Green Spring Gardens, Frying Pan Farm Park, Sully Historic Site, Colvin Run Mill Historic Site, or at Cub Run.

There are ballots and a ballot box at each site, and you’ll see campaign posters on display. Sites also will have bookmarks that highlight fun facts about each animal and that list the free programs that will take place at the campaign headquarters.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale is campaign headquarters for the Eastern box turtle. Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria is home base for the American toad. Riverbend Park is Great Falls is throwing its support behind the Eastern ratsnake.

The candidates will appear in person at campaign rallies from 2 p.m. to 3 p.m. on September 24 at Huntley Meadows, from 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. October 16 at Riverbend, and 2:45 p.m. to 3:45 p.m. November 6 at Hidden Oaks.

This is a campaign to make you smarter. You’ll increase your understanding of and appreciation for reptiles and amphibians. And, although we are running this parallel to this fall’s national election, we must point out that it’s for fun and there is no intention whatsoever of mirroring any actual human candidate, past or present. Yeah, we know, you’ll think that way because Americans poke fun at politicians. But that is not our intent, so don’t go there. Let’s just have some fun.

To vote, visit any of the balloting sites. You can vote once per visit.

Here are the candidates’ campaign platforms:

American Toad

  1. Most commonly seen amphibian in our area. Favors moist spaces. Hibernates up to three feet underground. Most active in spring, when mating, and in fall when looking for a place to hibernate. Harmless, intriguing chubby creatures.
  2. Has an arsenal of defense strategies. Can ooze a toxin from parotid glands, play dead, inflate to look larger and/or urinate when threatened. Camouflage pattern and coloring adds protection.
  3. A gentle, peace-loving candidate, strong on defense and taking care of problem species (bugs and worms). Weak on population control (lays hundreds of eggs). Plagued with bad public relations regarding the causing of warts and folklore about association with witches.

Eastern Ratsnake

  1. Harmless. Most commonly seen snake. Juveniles are aggressive and often misidentified as the venomous Northern copperhead. Only snake native to Virginia that can be six–feet long.
  2. An excellent climber. Can lay eggs in trees and can eat eggs and baby birds in nests.
  3. A constrictor. Eats a variety of prey, including mice, rats, birds and amphibians.
  4. Adults are gentle unless provoked. Intimidates with its size and its method of eating its prey whole. Bad public relations as being a top predator and incorrectly thought to be venomous. Strongest of the candidates. Fast, lethal reactions toward small mammals, reptiles, birds and amphibians. Great at clearing out mice and rats that carry disease-causing pests (fleas/ticks/lice) and that spread disease through their droppings.

Eastern Box Turtle

  1. Most common terrestrial turtle known. Only local species that can entirely close itself within its shell.
  2. Numbers are down due to being collected for pets and loss of habitat. Lives in moist places such as woodlands and stream valleys.
  3. Longest living of all the candidates, potentially more than 100 years. Diet ranges from dead animals to plants to small animals. Can eat poisonous mushrooms, which will make their own meat toxic.
  4. Perceived as the friendliest of all the candidates. Has a defense-in-place strategy. Traditionally thought to be wise due to their age and slow, steady ways. Lays only a few eggs per year. Population control is not an issue, but rivals challenge its bravery in the face of any adversity.

Vote today! And again tomorrow!


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

What Do Animals Do During a Rainstorm?


It’s been a stormy summer. There have been more lightning and rainstorms than I ever remember during a Northern Virginia summer. What do our friendly park residents do during these storms? Some, like Canada geese, don’t mind rain, while others do mind and have developed ways of protecting themselves during storms.

You may remember our January 2016 blog, “Where Will Animals Go During the Snow Storm?,” where you learned how wildlife survive a heavy winter snow. I was curious how animals deal with summer thunderstorms, so I asked Kristen Sinclair, a Park Authority ecologist, about their habits and preferences with regards to rainy weather.

Here are some common members of Fairfax County’s wildlife community and their rain tolerance.

WDADimage001 Deer:  Deer go about their business in light rain. They still need to eat and drink, so they pretty much do what they usually do. Some deer hunters say that a light rain is the best time to hunt. In heavy rain, deer will seek shelter.
WDADimage003Squirrels: Squirrels have either leaf nests in tree branches or, like woodpeckers, in hollow trees. The hollow tree nests provide better protection from rain. Some young squirrels can actually drown in open leaf nests during a spring storm. Adult squirrels use their tails as umbrellas and will venture out in rain.
WDADimage005Birds: This woodpecker has made a nest in a tree, so it is safe from storms. Most birds have oil glands which they use to groom themselves, so their oil-coated feathers are essentially waterproof. Water rolls off them, well, exactly like off of a duck’s back. Owls are an exception. Their feathers are not waterproof, so they will usually not hunt in the rain.
WDADimage009Beavers: Beavers have oily glands in their skin that help them retain their body temperature, quite helpful since they spend so much time in and near water. The oil makes their fur impervious to water just as feathers do for birds. Fur and feathers are designed to repel water, and beaver fur does just that, so the critters do not mind the rain. However, they do make their homes on the water, so heavy floods have the potential to destroy their lodges.
WDADimage011Raccoons, Foxes, Mice, Rabbits, and other small mammals: Mammals that live underground will hide in their dens. They construct dens so they will not flood, which lets wildlife shelter at home during a heavy storm. Some small mammals hide in logs. This is why the Park Authority leaves dead wood on the ground on parkland and why snags (dead trees still rooted in the ground) are left standing. They are important habitats for many animals.
WDADimage013Bats: They hate the rain. Bats, like this silver-haired bat, actually have fur and are mammals. They are super light, weighing around five to 10 grams, which is approximately the weight of five to 10 raisins. If they get wet, their body temperature can quickly drop, and water affects their ability to fly. Their young need to stay dry as well. Bats will hide underneath certain trees where the bark provides space and protection.
WDADimage007Insects: The ones that fly can’t fly in rain, particularly butterflies and moths. The best weather for butterflies, like this Great Spangled Fritillary, is hot and sunny. Insects hide under tree leaves to keep dry, using leaves the way humans use umbrellas.
Fish: Since they live exclusively in water, they are not really affected by rain, although they may relocate because of a change from sunny to cloudy skies. Fish sometimes become active and feed before a storm arrives, perhaps due to atmospheric pressure changes, but any young bluegill or bass that mistakes raindrops on the surface for food learns quickly.
WDADimage015Salamanders and Frogs: Amphibians love the rain! Since their skin is sensitive to moisture, wet weather is perfect for them. Remember that amphibians spend time both in and out of water. Salamanders, like this spotted one, migrate and breed in the rain, using small pools created in the forest by storms.
Snakes: Some snakes are adapted to water, like water snakes and water moccasins, but the ones that do not usually spend their time in water would probably avoid it as much as possible. Water would not necessarily help their scales, and in desert climate areas some species have been known to take shelter during rain in man-made structures, including peoples’ houses.

In the event of a severe storm, like a hurricane, everything takes cover.


Author Lauren Rhodes is a student at Oberlin College in Ohio and a summer intern for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

On the National Register: Great Falls Grange and Forestville School

The Fairfax County Park Authority is taking part in the National Park Service’s (NPS) Preservation 50 celebration to mark the 50th anniversary of the nation’s protection of America’s historic places by posting a series of blogs about county historic places on park land. The National Register of Historic Places, a part of NPS, was established in 1966. This series is based on information that appears in each site’s nomination to the National Register. The nomination forms give us a chance to look back and learn why the sites were considered to be significant historic places.

Fairfax County and Preservation 50  Great Falls Grange  Forestville Schoolhouse

We’ve heard the stories. An ancestor or a friend’s great grandfather got his education in a one-room schoolhouse. That’s what Forestville School was. Nearby is a building with two concrete porch pillars, and on the parapet between them are the words, painted in black, “Great Falls Grange No. 738.”

The grange and the school are fairly recent additions to the National Register of Historic Places, with certification coming from the Director of the Virginia Department of Historic Resources on June 30, 2004. The two buildings are, in the words of the National Register nomination form, “associated with events that have made a significant contribution to the broad pattern of our history.”

ofs1The farmers and millers of Fairfax in the late 1800s didn’t have a countywide school system with a two and a-half billion dollar budget, but they had the same need for education. Out of that came the Forestville Schoolhouse, built in 1889 some 19 years after free public education was begun in the county. It was named for the area called Forestville, which today is the community of Great Falls. A school from the Floris Community, where Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon now sites, had been vacated in the early 1900s, and that building was moved and joined to the Forestville Schoolhouse in 1911. Thus came about the L-shaped building that continued to serve as a school until 1922. It then became a private residence before again serving the community as its local post office from 1959 to 1982.

The registration form states that these were two of fewer than 15 one-room schoolhouses remaining in the county, and Forestville was notable in that it still stood on its original site.

The Grange was a national movement originally called the Order of the Patrons of Husbandry that started in 1867 with a man named Oliver Hudson Kelley. He established the first Grange in western New York as a political, educational and social organization for farmers. The Great Falls chapter was formed in 1920, and the hall was built nine years later in the center of town. This was the first grange hall built in Virginia, the first of five eventually built in Fairfax County, and the hall became the largest chapter in Virginia in 1956. During the rise of the movement, the Great Falls Grange became a lobbying force that brought roads, schools and social services to the area. The Grange also funded a new school and established a pulic library.

Think of the barn-raising scene in “Oklahoma,” where the community came together for a reason and turned the affair into a picnic, a meeting or a dance. Fairfax County was dairy farms when the Grange Hall was constructed in 1929 to be that community gathering place. The architecture reflects a style called Craftsman – a prominent porch supported by concrete pillars and wood shingling in the gables. The Hall actually sits on a raised foundation of terra cotta bricks, and two concrete staircases lead up to the front porch. Visitors enter a foyer that leads into a one-room auditorium with hardwood floors, built-in bookcases, an arched ceiling and a stage at one end. The basement is similar to the main floor but with dining facilities and a kitchen under the main floor’s stage. Grange Hall changed little over the years. Upon its placement in the National Register it still had its original wood floors, and its original plumbing was still functioning when it was placed on the Register. The original hardwood floors eventually were replaced because of fire damage.

Today, the area’s rolling hills, parkland and large lots help a visitor visualize the dairy farms of years past when Great Falls was the leading dairy production community in Virginia. In those days of dairy and farming, the Grange Hall rose to host meetings, religious ceremonies, ice cream socials, dances, spelling bees, debates, carnivals, and voting. The suburban lifestyle that spun out of the growth oozing from Washington replaced the farms and diminished the influence and need for the Grange. The building was sold to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1980, and the Park Authority acquired the Forestville Schoolhouse three years later.

The Grange and the Forestville Schoolhouse are still used today for meetings and social events.

The Fairfax County Park Authority obtained Forestville School in 1983 and the Great Falls Grange in 1980. They are in the 9800 block of Georgetown Pike (Route 193) in Great Falls. More information is on the Great Falls Grange website and on the Forestville Schoolhouse website.

As part of Preservation 50, visitors to the Fairfax County Government Center at 12000 Government Center Parkway in Fairfax can see an exhibit case in the building’s lobby. The exhibit, a partnership of the Fairfax County Park Authority and the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning (DPZ), showcases some of the 59 county properties and districts that are listed in the National Register of Historic Places.

The Park Authority and DPZ host two symposia this year on the impact of the National Historic Preservation Act on Fairfax County. The first, “Setting the Stage for Local Preservation,” will bring together historic preservation professionals who have played roles in the National Historic Preservation Act on a federal and/or state level. It will be held on April 16, 2016, at the James Lee Center, 2855 Annandale Road in Falls Church, Va. The second symposium will explore grassroots results of how the Act has affected local historic preservation.  The date and place of that fall symposium are not yet confirmed.

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



Fun and Programming Expands at Lakefront Parks

But wait! There’s more!

We felt a little like a late night television commercial pitchman. We had three supremely popular parks that you’ve been visiting, and yet many people were missing much of what was there. Families were coming to Burke Lake for the train and carousel, to Lake Fairfax for The Water Mine, and to Lake Accotink for mini-golf and a carousel. Yet these parks have much more to offer, and we wanted you and other park visitors to know that. We also thought that educating folks about the care of resources that is required at these parks is important, too. So we came up with an idea that makes the parks more fun, more educational, and that includes taking care of our favorite parks.

The Park Authority’s three lakefront parks are like the chocolate chips in a cookie — large chunks of nature in the midst of a generally suburban county, and they are ideal platforms for teaching about the outdoors. Because teaching resource stewardship is one of the mandates of the Park Authority, the agency’s staff started looking for improved ways to do that using the built-in audience that already exists at the lakefront parks. So they came up with the perfect idea, and then they found the perfect person for that position.

Naturalist Tony Bulmer was plucked from Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and assigned the task of establishing high quality stewardship programs at our lakefront parks. He was free to build on whatever was already in the parks. For example, at Burke Lake that meant expanding existing birding programs to add classes that would take place on the tour boat that was already in the park.


Bulmer’s goal is to bring more nature programs to all of our lakefront gems. That means, along with the birding programs at Burke Lake Park, residents will have the opportunity to look for amphibians after dark, survey reptiles, and view bats feeding over the lake.


Three new educational programs that include conducting surveys of animals are allowing visitors to explore the worlds of reptiles, bats, and amphibians after dark. Fairfax County parks are closed at night except for fishermen on the water who launched at the Burke Lake state boat ramp. Bulmer wants to give participants in these new programs a chance to see what’s in the park in the dark.


The lakefront classes will center on natural resources that are specific to these lakefront parks.


There are plans for new winter programs as well, especially for adventurous individuals. Bulmer is planning an overnight backpack trek from South Run RECenter into woods adjacent to the RECenter and through the stream valley below the Burke Lake dam to the campground at Burke Lake Park. Class participants will spend a night winter-camping at Burke Lake, and then hike back to their cars at South Run the next day.

One of Bulmer’s programming goals is to teach you and other park users some little thing that will make your day/life/moment a little better, a little more knowledgeable, a little more fulfilled……..just a little bit better.


Bulmer’s long-term goal is stewardship education, ultimately providing visitors with a sense of their place in the natural world. He wants you and other park lovers who are already coming to the lakefront parks to view those parks in a new way – a way that includes taking care of these beautiful parks.


School and scout field trips are part of the new programming. Merit badges and Standards of Learning (SOL), the minimum expectations for students in Virginia public schools, were considered during the planning.


For more information on lakefront park programs, click the links.

Programs at Burke Lake

Programs at Lake Accotink

Programs at Lake Fairfax



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

Is Farmers Market Produce Organic?

FMBimage001You stroll through your local Fairfax County Park Authority Farmers Market, selecting fresh berries, inhaling the wonderful smells of baked goods, and learning about the farmers’ growing methods. You are looking over some zucchini when you wonder: is this organic?

This can be a complex question. It is one that you may ask yourself because you want to protect yourself and your family from pesticides, or because you do not want to eat GMOs. In general, most of the produce at our farmers markets is not organic. This means that most of the farmers who sell produce at our farmers markets are not USDA Certified Organic. However, the organic label is not the only important thing to look for on your produce, and farmers who grow and sell their food locally have many practices that are important to consider and are good for the farms and for you.

FMBimage003You have a unique learning opportunity at our farmers markets that you will not get at your regular grocery store, including the ability to ask the farmers themselves questions about their practices. You can learn about whether or not they use pesticides and their growing process. Through this transparency of where your food comes from and how it is treated, you can learn more about your food than you could at the store. All of the products at our farmers markets are producer-only, which means that the farmers themselves grow or make everything that they sell. You have access to the source of the food that you eat, which is a really useful and comforting ability.

Organic certification is in part meant to ensure sustainable practices, but having organically certified produce is not the only way in which food can be sustainable. Since many of our vendors are small local farms, they usually have a variety of plants, which make it easier to deal with pests and weeds. With a farm that only grows one kind of plant, they need to spray the plants with pesticides in order to ensure that they don’t lose their entire farm. Some of our farmers spray pesticides, but many of them use alternative pest management systems like Integrated Pest Management. This technique combines different ways of managing pests, by selecting hardy plants and controlling pests in the best ways possible. For example, some farmers may plant marigolds with produce to keep insects away.

FMBimage005Local farmers are more sustainable than their long-distance counterparts through transport, because they only move their produce within 125 miles to get to one of our farmers markets. This uses less fuel than shipping produce across the country, and lessens the amount of greenhouse gasses emitted through the production of the food.

You may still want that USDA Certified Organic stamp of approval on your veggies. If so, our certified vendors are listed here, along with their locations.

  • Jerry’s Organic Berries            Reston, Sat 8am-12pm
  • The Byrd Farm                        Wakefield, Weds 2pm-6pm
  • The Farm at Sunnyside           Reston, Sat 8am-12pm
  • Toigo Farm (tomatoes only)    Reston, Sat 8am-12pm
  • Radical Roots Farm                Burke, Sat 8am-12pm

We also have two Certified Naturally Grown Vendors, listed below. This certification is similar to growing food organically in that they do not use GMOs or synthetic pesticides, but is a different certification.

  • Terembry Farm                        Lorton, Sun 9am-1pm
  • Honey Brooke Farm               Burke, Sat 8am-12pm & McCutcheon/Mount Vernon, Weds 8am-12pm


As you leave one of our 11 farmers markets, you can rest assured that the herbs, raspberries, and hot house tomatoes in your tote bag are local and grown in the way that you want. You have spent the morning talking to the farmers themselves about their sustainable practices. If the food you chose is not USDA Certified Organic, you know that it was grown on a small farm by the person who you shook hands with when you bought it.




Author Lauren Rhodes is a student at Oberlin College and a summer intern for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.