Fairfax County 2020 Earth Day Festival: 50 Years of Environmental Awareness

BL Scenic050319_0007Fifty years ago, you could fill your car’s fuel tank with gas for 36 cents a gallon. Most people didn’t worry about how many miles they could travel on each gallon of gas.

Folks in industrial areas had grown used to skies filled with hazy, polluted air and waters that were unfit for swimming. There were no recycling bins at the curb, and English ivy was considered decorative — not invasive.

The first Earth Day, in 1970, was about to change that way of thinking. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson came up with the idea for a national day to focus on the environment. The senator was inspired by the student anti-war movement of the time and wanted to find a way to channel that energy into an event that put environmental protection on the national political agenda.

In 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans – 10 percent of the population – took part in Earth Day activities. This year, a billion people in more than 190 countries are expected to participate.

Earth Day LogoOn Saturday, April 25, 2020, Fairfax County will mark the Golden Anniversary of Earth Day at Sully Historic Site with the Fairfax County 2020 Earth Day Festival, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The event, formerly known as Springfest, will gather families from across the county for a day of fun and educational activities centered around the theme “Healthy People – Healthy Plant.”

For the Park Authority, every day is Earth Day. The agency owns and manages 427 parks on more than 23,500 acres of land. Throughout the year, Park Authority staff organize watershed clean-up days and invasive management events.Cub Run Stream Clean_040718_0330

Naturalists run programming for residents of all ages to introduce them to local plants and animals. The programs highlight the environmental importance of creatures ranging from the tiny macroinvertebrates in local streams to the raptors and coyotes at the top of the woodland food chain. HM Children's prog_052715_0205Some classes allow participants to play an active part in environmental stewardship. For instance, you can learn about important pollinators, such as bees and bats, and build homes for them to hang in your own yard.

Time spent in nature has curative powers for people, and in Fairfax County, 90 percent of people live within a half-mile of parkland.


More than 7,000 of those people volunteer in parks each year, providing close to 200,000 hours of service. There are plenty of ways to get involved in environmental stewardship in this special anniversary year of Earth Day.

Find volunteer opportunities online, join a Friends Group to support a specific park, register your kids for camps and classes to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards, and be a good park visitor – stay on trails, dispose of trash properly, keep your dog on a leash, and don’t forget that poop bag.

It’s the small things which make a tremendous difference. Environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Author Carol Ochs works in the Park Authority’s Public Information Office.

Help Keep Local Streams Clean

Scotts Run 2_dsc1659_0269Clean streams benefit people as well as wildlife. Fairfax County streams flow into the Potomac River, a major source of drinking water in Fairfax County. Water runoff from rainfall carries pollutants from the land downhill into streams. Forested stream buffers help filter pollutants out of the water before it reaches the streams. Help protect water quality by reducing land pollution and planting trees.

SymbolKeep waste out of storm drains

Storm drains lead directly to streams. Anything that enters a storm drain goes into a stream and to the Potomac River. Only water should enter storm drains. Dispose of household chemicals according to label directions, and recycle motor oil at a gas station. Even dumped leaves can clog drains and streams. Bag yard waste for curbside collection.

DogPick up pet waste

Cleaning up pet waste is neighborly and protects water quality. Water runoff washes pet waste, litter, and other contaminants into storm drains and streams. Scotts Run trash_043017_0194Bag the waste on your walks, and complete the job by throwing the bag into a trash can. Leaving bagged waste on the ground is littering. Pick up pet waste, even from your own yard, to keep both your yard and your local stream clean.

SackReduce pesticide, fertilizer and road salt usage

Follow directions on package labels, and do not overapply fertilizer, road salt or pesticides. More product is not better—excess product washes away in rainstorms, contaminating streams and wasting money.

TreePlant trees

Trees stabilize streambanks by slowing water runoff and reducing soil erosion. Trees protect water quality by filtering fertilizer and other pollutants from water runoff before it reaches streams. Because of their value to water quality, forested stream buffers are legally safeguarded Resource Protection Areas under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. Trees and other plants may not be removed from an RPA without a permit. Help protect streams by planting trees near an RPA to expand the stream buffer.IMA 1112_0105Author Tami Sheiffer is the Watch the Green Grow Coordinator for the Fairfax County Park Authority.Watch green


What’s the story on those new trees at Lakeside Park?

27Last November, 12 new trees came to Lakeside Park, all native species, river birch, black gum, and Eastern redbud. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy them, but perhaps you’ve wondered how they came to be there. Well, here’s the story…

During 2019, Friends of Royal Lake (FORL) leadership visited several communities that border Royal Lake to garner more FORL members and increase interest in the work we are doing to protect and preserve the lake and surrounding parkland. At the New Lakepointe HOA meeting in March, resident Michael Schindler came to us with a proposal to volunteer as part of his company’s Balfour Beatty US Spirit program. Under the general contracting company’s program, Balfour Betty employees give back to the local community and volunteer their time.

Michael is a 2018 George Mason University (GMU) graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Civil and Infrastructure Engineering. At GMU, he was active with the student organization Engineers for International Development (EFID) and traveled to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua to build a water supply for a local orphanage. While at GMU, he worked at the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) and established a connection with the Urban Forest Management Division (UFMD). Michael offered to act as middleman and reach out to UFMD.

UFMD deals primarily with land development, rezoning and working with site inspectors after projects begin construction, but it also provides education and outreach services to raise awareness of and encourage conservation of the county’s urban forests. Tree canopy loss to development is one of the main stressors impacting the urban forest, and planting new trees is necessary to maintain the county’s percentage of land area in tree cover, about 55%. For the last three years, UFMD has administered the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund to cover material costs and coordinated tree planting at public schools, parks, and other county properties. Volunteers and organizations like Balfour Beatty, EFID, and FORL have been valuable contributors to successfully implement these tree planting projects. The trees that now grace Lakeside Park were paid for by the Fairfax County Tree Preservation and Planting Fund.

After consultation with local experts and review and approval by the Fairfax County Park Authority to ensure the trees selected were appropriate for the venue, we were ready to go. On November 23, with some help from the KPW community, FORL, students from GMU’s Engineers for International Development, and Balfour Beatty volunteers, the trees became permanent residents of Lakeside Park. They will surely provide welcome shade in the hot sunny months as park visitors use the trails!

More improvements are under development for Lakeside and Royal Lake Parks, including porta-johns to be installed year-round and two dog waste stations (co-located with existing trash receptacles) at both parks. These stem from a FORL survey a couple years ago. If you have ideas, please feel free to reach out to Paul Gross at friendsofroyallake@gmail.com and Sarah Lennon at sarahgjlennon@gmail.com or parks@kpwca.org. See you at the parks!

Author Sarah G.J. Lennon is Vice President of Friends of Royal Lake. FORL member Lynn Cline provided the photos. Workdays are done under the umbrella of the Royal Lake Park Volunteer Team in coordination with the Park Authority. 

Animal Quackers: Frog Noises in the Woods

What has four legs and sounds like a duck?

wood frogIf your answer is a wood frog, you are correct, and you may be familiar with the duck-like quacking sounds they make. Each spring, wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) flock to local vernal pools with one goal in mind — to find the perfect mate and produce offspring. Male frogs are the ones who chorus. They emit their quacking croaks to attract females.

You’ll find wood frogs in Virginia’s mountains and throughout the Piedmont and the state’s northern coastal plain. Seeing them in the wild can be tricky, but if you know when and where to look, you will have a chance.


Contrary to logic, a good time to spot wood frogs in Fairfax County is late February and early March when winter has not quite released its icy-cold grip. This is the time the frogs gather in vernal pools and shallow ponds to breed.

IMG_4560Wood frogs have a special adaptation that gives them a jump on the other frog species seeking to breed in vernal pools. Wood frogs can survive freezing temperatures by producing glucose that acts like antifreeze in their blood. In winter, many wood frogs hide below leaves or under logs in forest areas near vernal pools. If they freeze, they can thaw as temperatures warm even if the pools still have an icy covering. Wood frogs are one of the first amphibians to come out of hibernation to breed, and you may find them just as snow is melting.

Vernal Pools

Vernal pools can be found in many places throughout Fairfax County. They appear in small and isolated areas that will be dry for part of the year. When full of water, vernal pools provide frogs and toads a safe place to breed and lay eggs away from predatory fish who may want to eat them.

Frogs are not the only ones taking advantage of vernal pools. In spring, vernal pools teem with life. Salamanders, insects and even small crustaceans can be found with close observation. These pools are habitats that many creatures rely on to survive.

You can help wood frogs

Many conservationists consider frogs to be the most imperiled animal group in the world. Recent reduction in their numbers is attributed largely to habitat loss and disease. Supporting areas with vernal pools and wetlands is a good way to help preserve frog populations.

Many Fairfax County parks feature wetlands and vernal pools. Parks help to conserve habitats that are vital to amphibians. At home, you can help by reducing pesticide and herbicide use. Look for natural alternatives because many wetland areas are sensitive to chemical pollution.

You can hear wood frogs on YouTube on the Park Authority’s video titled Frog Calls. The Fairfax County Park Authority offers many programs for the public on amphibians and vernal pools. Ellanor C. Lawrence Park will host Amphibians After Dark on Saturday, March 28, 2020, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Author Lara Dolata is a Park and Recreation Specialist at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, Va.

Metal Detectors Provide Clues to Old Ways of Life in Fairfax County



Figure 1: Metal Detecting and Mapping Finds at Patriot Park North Site.

There was a slave quarters at one time where Patriot Park North now sits. Fairfax County Park Authority archaeologists found some of its features the same way some beach walkers find things – with a metal detector.

During recent excavations, archaeologists identified the site where enslaved persons lived from approximately 1760 to 1820. They discovered features indicating there was a cellar, a storage pit and something else they are still trying to characterize. There were gaps where relatively few artifacts were recovered during a process called tight interval shovel testing or unit excavation. These methods generally are very effective at finding larger, domestic structures where there are substantial amounts of material left behind by the people who lived there. However, one goal of this investigation was to learn more about the built landscape, including all the man-made structures within the site and secondary structures, such as a smokehouse or corncrib. Those usually leave a relatively light archaeological signature and can be hard to find with standard practices. So out came the metal detectors.

Archaeologists have long used metal detection when working on certain sites, such as military sites. Other archaeological programs, including those at James Madison’s Montpelier, have proven that metal detection helps identify secondary structures at domestic sites. With the help of Montpelier-trained volunteers, Park Authority archaeologists went metal-detecting in two areas where little had been found. The areas were divided into 10-meter square blocks. Within each block, metal detectorists would walk rows spaced approximately two meters apart. When all the rows in a block were scanned in one direction, it would be investigated again in perpendicular rows.

Metal detector hits were marked with non-metallic flags. Each hit was then excavated, and anything found was bagged according to its location. The location of an


Figure 2: Bagging Finds.

archaeological find is critical to learning its use, and moving a find greatly diminishes its historic value and the lessons it can teach us. When multiple finds at Patriot Park North were identified within a half-meter of each other, they were placed in the same bag. FCPA archaeologists then mapped the location of the discoveries using surveyor tools, logged the bags, and collected them for transport and analysis in the lab.

Once the metal detection finds were cataloged, archaeologists needed a meaningful way to interpret the data. They turned to a Geographic Information System project. Because they were looking for structures, they only considered nails in their analyses. They started with methods commonly used (Kriging and Inverse Distance Weighted (IDW) analyses) to create nail distribution maps. The system maps areas according to the number of artifacts found, and then it projects expected results across areas from which there are no data. Of the two methods, the IDW analysis is more visually appealing and seemingly more useful (Figure 3). However, staff immediately discovered that these tools


Figure 3: Inverse Distance Weight (IDW) Analysis of Nails Found During Metal Detection.

didn’t answer the questions they were asking. Even lumping artifacts found within a half-meter of each other, the maximum number of nails recovered from any single location was four. FCPA archaeologists wanted to know if there were any significant clusters of nails in the area.

Onwards to another analysis, Nearest Neighbor 5 (NN5) function within the Optimized Hot Spot. This approach considers not only the number of artifacts (nails) recovered during metal detection but also the proximity of hits to each other. Using both of these factors, the analysis looks for meaningful clusters. This analysis revealed one cluster west of the storage pit features with another, less intense cluster northwest of the main cluster and, possibly, another minor cluster east of a cellar feature (Figure 4). It is possible that these clusters represent the locations of support structures.


Figure 4: Nearest Neighbor 5 (NN5) Analysis of Nails Found During Metal Detection. (Note: The number generated by NN5 analysis reflects the strength of relationship rather than the number of finds.)

The next step will be to look at the artifacts recovered from excavations near the clusters. These data may help archaeologists pinpoint how certain structures were used. Hopefully, this will lead to better reconstruction of the cultural landscape and

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

The Holly and the Ivy


There is a time for everything, including a time for removing invasive plants. Spring and early summer are good times to remove invasives like Japanese stiltgrass and garlic mustard, before they produce seeds and die back for the year. Late fall and early winter can be convenient times of the year to remove evergreen vines like English Ivy and Wintercreeper. These vines are easily visible when other plants near them drop leaves or die back. Native plants like American holly and Christmas fern are better alternatives for evergreen foliage through the winter.

Invasive Plants

Invasive plants are not just nonnative; they are invasive because they spread out of control and disrupt ecosystems. The adaptations that allow them to spread also make them difficult to remove. They produce many seeds that persist in the soil for years, or if cut down they regrow from roots left in the ground.

The following are tips for removing English ivy and wintercreeper.

English IvyEnglish Ivy

English ivy is an invasive vine. It grows over the ground and climbs trees. The ivy weakens and kills trees by blocking tree leaves from sunlight and by harboring bacteria. Weakened trees can fall in storms from the weight of the ivy. Ivy also provides damp breeding grounds for mosquitos and dense groundcover for rodents.

To control ivy growing up trees, cut the stems of the vine around the trunk of the tree, and then cut the stems again about a foot higher or lower. The cut vines do not need to be pulled off the tree. The roots may be pulled up or cut to the ground when they regrow. Rake ivy that is growing on the ground, and cut the stems close to the ground.


Like English ivy, wintercreeper is a vine that covers the ground and grows up trees. Its evergreen leaves cause wintercreeper to stand out in winter. Wintercreeper should be cut and pulled like English ivy.

Periwinkle and Japanese honeysuckle are semi-evergreen invasive vines that are similar in appearance to wintercreeper and may also be removed through pulling or repeated cutting.

Dispose of invasive plants in plastic bags with the regular trash. Prevent spreading invasive plants. Do not mix invasive plants with yard waste or dump it in the woods.

Native Plants

Native plants are those that have long been growing in an area without being brought there by people. Local wildlife is adapted to eating native plants. You can help expand wildlife habitat by planting native plants in your yard.

Here are some native plants that retain color in the winter.

american-holly.pngAmerican Holly

American holly has broad evergreen leaves, and the female trees bear red berries in winter. The trees are deer resistant and are a source of winter food for birds.

christmas-fern.pngWinterberry Holly

Winterberry is a deciduous native holly. While it sheds leaves in the fall, it retains red berries on its branches through the winter. The bright berries on bare branches provide visual interest and food for birds. Both American Holly and Winterberry Holly have male and female shrubs. Only female shrubs will produce berries, but a male shrub nearby is necessary for pollination.

Christmas Fern 1Christmas Fern

Christmas fern is a native, evergreen fern that can be planted as groundcover in shady areas. Its pinnae, or little leaflike segments, are shaped like holiday stockings with a long toes and small heels.


Partridgeberry forms a delicate groundcover under trees. It provides winter color with evergreen leaves and red berries. White flowers bloom in summer.
Have you removed invasive plants or planted native plants in your yard? Record your green actions on the Watch the Green Grow map at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/nature-history/watch-green-grow.

Author Tami Sheiffer is the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Watch the Green Grow Coordinator.


Evicting the Invaders


Before: Part of approximately 5,000 square feet of invasive plants on the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail.

This picture looks like simple greenery. You may not even notice these plants as you walk your dog or jog along the trail. But untouched, these simple plants quickly become invaders. They spread rapidly and cause ecological or economic harm by degrading our natural ecosystem. They choke out the native plants in their path.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s Invasive Management Area (IMA) Program fights these invasive plants in an effort to prevent them from taking over our parkland. The Park Authority can’t do it alone! Many hands are needed to clear a project site. IMA often partners with organizations like businesses, school groups, Scouts BSA and Girl Scouts to battle these invasive plants.

Scout Invasive Project Along Difficult Run 2Here’s one example. Every Saturday and Sunday in October 2019, Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, Fairfax County Public School students, college students and neighborhood homeowners gathered to pull invasive plants, primarily pachysandra, from a section of the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail off Miller Heights Road in Oakton. I am a Scout in BSA Troop 987, and I led the project with support from Hornaday Badge Advisor Sara Holtz and with sponsorship from the Invasive Management Area program.

Scout Invasive Project Along Difficult Run 1During 210 volunteer hours, 99 volunteers removed 85 bags of invasive plants from the parkland. The goal was to replace the pachysandra with native plants and trees. Volunteers planted white wood aster, hairy bush clover, American alumroot, trailing bush clover, dwarf cinquefoil, pussytoes, arrowleaf violet, common wood rush, Pennsylvania sedge, bluestem, goldenrod, arrowwood viburnum, witch hazel, hazelnut trees, ironwood trees, and redbud trees.


After: Invasive plants replaced with 110 native plants and trees.

I created the plan for this project in order to earn the BSA Hornaday Badge, an award created by conservationist Dr. William T. Hornaday. It is a prestigious award that requires a scout to lead a conservation project, complete several merit badges, and meet rank requirements. By successfully completing this project, I am one step closer to earning the Boy Scout Hornaday Badge, and the Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail is a step closer to being free of invasive plants.

Author Eli Edwards is a Scouts BSA Hornaday Badge candidate in BSA Troop 987.

If you’d like to volunteer on future projects, visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/invasive-management-area.