Volunteers are the Park Authority’s Superheroes

Volunteers-superheros

They can’t fly through the air faster than a speeding bullet.

They spend time building bat houses, rather than hiding out in a bat cave.

Their only “spider-sense” is the sense to calm others with a fear of eight-legged critters.

But the Fairfax County Park Authority’s (FCPA) volunteers are superheroes in their own way, bringing the wonders of nature, the healing power of recreation and exercise, and the lessons of history to park visitors year-round. In conjunction with National Park and Recreation month, everyone at the FCPA wants their superheroes to know how much they are valued and appreciated in their local parks.

In fiscal year 2015, volunteers contributed 180,642 hours to the Park Authority. Those hours translate into more than $4.5 million in cost savings for county taxpayers and more than $6.4 million in cost savings and benefits based on nationally-used formulas.

The numbers certainly help to explain the critical role of park volunteers, but it’s hard to quantify the lasting impact volunteers have on those who visit FCPA sites.

How do you put a value on the awe a child feels the first time a volunteer lets them feed a turtle or hold a snake? What currency can measure the insight into our history that can be gained by an archeological volunteer’s discovery? Who will ever know the power a volunteer’s friendly face or welcoming smile has to encourage people to keep returning to a RECenter for their workouts?

This month, #Superjuly, the National Recreation and Park Association has been using the fictional superheroes Captain Community, the Green Guardian and the Fit Twins to guide park visitors on adventures across the nation. In the Fairfax County Park Authority, our real-life superheroes will be honored in November when the Elly Doyle Park Service and Outstanding Volunteer Recognition awards are handed out.

Volunteers from teen to retirement age have been honored in recent years for a wide range of contributions. They have been honored for helping to care for nature center animals, assisting in RECenter fitness centers, working the front desk at park and rec sites, bringing history to life through interpretive programs, helping in the archeology lab, pulling invasive plants, maintaining landscaping, offering gardening advice, managing farmers markets, and even for coordinating other volunteers.

No special cape is required to be a park superhero. Just bring your talents and expertise and indulge your passions by joining the Park and Rec Brigade at your local park.

 

Author Carol Ochs is a Management Analyst for the Public Information Office of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Pokémon Go in the Parks

searching4pokemonThe creatures wandering through the parks with their heads down and their vision locked on their cell phones are not zombies. They’re searching for creatures you can’t see.

For the past week, hundreds of people have been seen wandering the trails of Fairfax County parks in a kind of mass trance, and then they’ll suddenly and randomly stop and start waving their cell phones about.

If you don’t know what’s going on, remain calm. They are sane. In fact, they’re having a blast.

A Nintendo game called Pokémon Go has gone viral, and casual players are joining rabid players in chasing the characters of this game in augmented reality. Millions of people have downloaded the game in its first week on the market. Simply put, the app causes virtual characters from the game Pokémon to appear on a virtual map of wherever you are standing, and from there the fun begins as you chase them, capture them and advance to further challenges through several levels of play. The characters can pop up anywhere. (I downloaded the game and immediately found three in my yard.) If you play the game, you’ll also want to use it to seek out Pokéstops, which are public places where you can download Pokéballs to throw at the Pokémon. Trust me, if you’re not familiar with the game, that does make sense.

Huntley Meadows Park intern Megan Massa points out that parks and other public areas are designated “Pokéstops,” places where people can gather to catch Pokémon. Some places are designated “Pokémon Gyms,” where trainers from three competing factions meet and battle each other. For example, the overlook on the boardwalk at Huntley Meadows is a Gym, and there is at least one Pokéstop in the park.

Virginia Commonwealth University student Laura Weimer of Springfield was playing the game this week at Hidden Pond Nature Center. “It’s kind of the dream that all Pokémon fans have been doing since the games originally came out,” said Weimer. “Everyone’s always wondered, well, what if Pokémon were in real life, and now they are.”

The Fairfax County Park Authority is happy to welcome players to the parks. In fact, we’re thrilled that so many folks are coming. While you’re there, take time to learn a little something about the natural and cultural resources surrounding you. Need some information about trails in the parks? Maps and more are on our web page.

So come play the game in parks. Please, a couple of precautions, though. Playing the game requires you to frequently look at your phone, so:

  • Be sure to keep looking around to see where you are. We don’t want you walking into a tree or a yellow jackets nest or bumping into other people.
  • Frequently check your surroundings because, in other parts of the country, some folks have been lured into situations where they were robbed.
  • Be sure to put safety first and look around if you’re on a street or in a parking lot.
  • Parks close at dusk. (Staff will chase out the Pokemon, then, too.)
  • Don’t let the game lure you into trespassing.
  • Please stay on the park trails even if the Pokémon don’t.

One final note – all of this is happening while we are running a selfie contest. Great timing. So while you’re in the park with your phone out, snap a few selfies and enter the contest.

 

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

 

 

 

Discover Parks through Discovery Trail: Presidential Edition

What are you doing this summer? You could visit eight Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) parks, learn about United States presidents, and win big!maptitle16

Visit our sites, learn about the presidents, and receive a prize package along with the chance to win one of three bikes, courtesy of the Fairfax County Park Foundation and Spokes etc.

So, how do you do all of these fun activities? You take part in Discovery Trail. Get a map at a staffed FCPA location or print one online at http://go.usa.gov/x3cnj. Before September 5, 2016 visit eight of the 12 selected sites in the program, and collect a sticker at each one to put on your map. Turn in your completed map to get the prize package that includes admission tickets for mini-golf, a carousel ride, a train ride, a tour boat ride, a pedal boat outing, camping, a wagon ride, a RECenter pass, AND a boat rental! Enter to win a bike, too!

Participating sites are Sully Historic Site, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Huntley Meadows Park, Colvin Run Mill, Frying Pan Farm Park, Riverbend Park, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Green Spring Gardens, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Burke Lake Park, Lake Accotink Park, and Lake Fairfax Park. After visiting eight parks, redeem your map at Burke Lake Park, Lake Accotink Park, or Lake Fairfax Park. Directions to each of the parks can be found on the Park Authority website.

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Each site in the program has a connection to a former United States president. Did you know that President Lyndon B. Johnson played golf at Burke Lake Park? The first president of the United States, George Washington, used to own the Colvin Run Mill property. Learn what the turkeys at Frying Pan, the vegetable gardens at Green Spring, and the railroad remnants at Lake Accotink have to do with former U.S. Presidents. Discover what Presidents Eisenhower, Roosevelt, and Madison did while in Fairfax County.

Discovery Trail is a great way for students to keep the knowledge flowing during summer months and to learn how history shapes the present in Fairfax County. Get into the parks, learn, and win!

 

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

Super is as Super does: Creating Nature Super Heroes

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A #SuperJuly blog to celebrate Park and Recreation Month in #FairfaxParks 

Being a super hero is typically a harrowing experience. If you’re not being exposed to some toxic chemical, you’re being traumatized by bad guys or flung out of your own galaxy to deal with backward Earthlings. Your superpowers may be helpful destroying aliens, outracing locomotives or challenging the newest mutant national nemesis, but truly, how often have you had to personally deal with these issues? Leaping a tall building would be fun until the Federal Aviation Administration curtails your leaps with new regulations passed faster than a speeding bullet.

A useful superpower would be beneficial on a daily basis, not just when a rogue asteroid is zooming towards Fairfax County. Better still, a superpower would enhance your ability to deal with mundane, certain life challenges such as bumping your head, losing a wallet, failing a test, or missing a two-foot putt. Given a choice, you might wish for a superpower that lifts your spirit, such as robust health, less stress, or success in academics, work, and two-foot putts. Maybe you would long for something as simple as having more friends and fun.

Imagine, if you could obtain those powers, not through a science experiment gone awry but by doing something easy at no cost — how great would that be? Well, the great thing is, you can do that. The superpowers of resilience, robust health, razor focus and bonhomie are there for the taking, just outside your front door – literally.

Most children and adults are disconnected from nature, particularly unstructured outdoor play experiences. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Wildlife Federation cite University of Michigan studies that say children average four to seven minutes a week in unstructured outdoor play activities and seven hours a day plugged into electronic media.

Outdoors is Super

The Children & Nature Network compiles research studies, many with assistance from the American Association of Pediatrics, that indicate myriad benefits from spending time in nature. Pediatrician and founder of the Whole Child Center Dr. Laurence Rosen, writing for The New Nature Movement, says seven reasons to get your kids outside are to:

  • Encourage exercise
  • Reduce anxiety
  • Enhance focus
  • Improve intelligence
  • Bolster a sense of community
  • Deepen family connections
  • Increase interest in environmental stewardship.

The Natural Teachers Network adds improved creativity, collaboration and communication abilities to that list. If you compare this list with the five skills that Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) deems necessary for success in the FCPS Portrait of a Graduate, you’ll discover something. The lists match!

Students are not the only ones who benefit from being outdoors. Any one at any age gains from being outdoors. Nature provides a tapestry of sensory stimulators from fresh air, to vitamin D from the sun, to the decrease in tension. A connection to nature does a body good. Medical News Today cites an article in the journal Neuroscience as showing the benefits of getting dirty or inhaling natural serotonins in soil challenge the logic of germophobes always reaching for hand sanitizer. Feeling low? Make a mud pie!

From preschoolers to seniors and in-between, outside is the best side for physical, social and mental health. A super power that boosts anyone at any age to live a longer, healthier, more successful life is priceless. And this power is free. Just go outside. Nature is waiting to play.

 

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

 

 

 

Making Sure Plants, Animals and Artifacts Get Top Level Care

Every once in a while, you sit back, look around a room and think, “These walls need a fresh coat of paint.” There’s nothing really wrong with the wall. It just needs a touchup.

That’s going on in the Park Authority. The Fairfax County Park Authority Board recently reviewed the policies that govern how we take care of our museum and archaeological collections and how we take care of the live plants and animals that are on exhibit at some of our historic sites and nature centers. The Park Board also reviewed and adopted an update to the agency’s Institutional and Professional Code of Ethics for Museum Operations.

Strawberries & Cream Witch Hazel

Strawberries & Cream Witch Hazel

This isn’t just government office paper shuffling. There are good reasons for these actions. As Cultural Resource Protection Branch Manager Dr. Elizabeth Crowell explained, accreditation with the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) requires that the Park Authority have a formal collections policy approved by its board. Accreditation from the AAM is assurance to county residents of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s commitment to, and demonstration of, the professional standards for education, public service and collections care. Crowell noted, “It’s the proof that we’re doing the job the way it’s supposed to be done.”

“The new policy is far more in-depth that the previous policy,” Crowell said, adding that it is appropriate to what AAM requires. Sully Historic Site and Colvin Run Mill were first accredited in 1979, then reaccredited in 1990. In 2002, Green Spring Gardens joined Sully and Colvin Run as accredited AAM sites. “The reason for the updates is that we are seeking reaccreditation for all those sites, plus Frying Pan, and all collections – historic, archaeological, and live plants and animals,” said Heritage Resource Specialist Megan Leining. Combined, Leining said, they are now considered a museum system.

Another reason for the updated policies is that the Park Board first passed a collections code of ethics in 2000. Reviewing and reaffirming the code today reconfirms its value. Since there has been substantial turnover in members of the Board over the past 16 years, this update confirms that the current board approves and supports the ethics code. The AAM Code of Ethics for Museums is online.

The revisions to the policy that governs the handling of exhibit animals “brings the live collections format in line with the industry standard version that is used for the Historic Objects & Archaeology collections,” said Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Manager John Shafer, who worked on the updating. “These revisions are being done to comply with the requirements for the four park sites that are seeking re-accreditation or initial accreditation through AAM,” he said. Those park sites include Frying Pan Farm Park, which has farm animal collections, and Green Spring Gardens, which has living, nationally-significant plant collections. Shafer said the Park Authority’s policy that governs live collections was expanded in this update from covering just animals to now including plants.

“Previously, the collections policy for plants was documented as a plant collections guideline, instead of as policy for FCPA,” said Green Spring Gardens Manager Mary Olien.

So the Park Authority is updating its policies to assure that our employees are using the best practices known for taking care of the historic and archaeological collections, plants and exhibit animals in county parks. It’s how the Park Authority assures county residents that we’re doing our job the right way. 

The formal name of the park policies that were reviewed are Policy 206 Museum and Archaeological Collections with Appendix 15 and Policy 207 – Live Collections Management with Appendix 16. They can be seen in the Fairfax County Park Authority Policy Manual.

 

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

 

 

On the National Register: Historic Huntley

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. 
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Fairfax County and Preservation 50

Historic Huntley

It was next door to George Washington’s home.

Land adjacent to Mount Vernon belonged to the Mason family, and there is a house overlooking much of that land. It was built for Thomson Francis Mason, a grandson of George Mason, who drafted the Constitution of Virginia and its Declaration of Rights. Many of George Mason’s words appear in the U-S Bill of Rights that Congress passed 15 years later.

The land owned by George Mason was flat, suitable for farming. His grandson expanded the family’s holdings in 1820 by acquiring the nearby hill that provided an expansive view, and he built a house there because, in the words of author Dorothy Troth Muir, “Virginia gentlemen built their homes on top of hills.”

“When George Washington was in residence at Mount Vernon, he would take regular rides up through his Dogue Run Farm (part of which is now Huntley Meadows Park),” said Huntley Meadows History Interpreter Cheryl-Ann Repetti. “Imagining him riding through the woodlands and fields that once extended all the way down to Mount Vernon is neat.” The house on the hill had a view overlooking it all.

The house is called Huntley, probably named after a family ancestral home in Scotland called “Huntly,” without the E. The Mason home in Alexandria, the one with the E, was built around 1820 – tax records indicate 1825 — and was nominated for a place in the National Register of Historic Places in March 1972. This blog is based on that nomination, and it gives us a chance to look back and learn why the site was considered in the first place to be a significant historic place.

At the time of the nomination, Historic Huntley was a private residence owned by Col. and Mrs. Ransom G. Amlong. It had undergone a Historic American Building Survey in 1969 and was considered significant because of its Early Federal Period architecture and its connection to American history.

Thomson Francis Mason was born at Gunston Hall in 1785 and grew up at Hollin Hall, the home built by his father. He and his family owned several houses, and Huntley was a secondary house for him. Huntley was on a productive farm, and the site included a tenant house (which subsequent research suggests was built in 1827, probably for the overseer), an ice house, a springhouse, a root cellar and a necessary.

The nomination form says the house called Huntley “was constructed with a refinement and individuality very much in keeping with the Mason family’s remarkable building tradition.” There are indications that a trained architect was involved in the home’s design, notably because of its placement on the hill. It sits near the top of a hill with a view of several miles over the Hybla Valley and on to the Potomac River. The home is built not at the very top of the hill, but into the hillside. A full basement was constructed under the structure, which compensated for the degree of slant on the hillside, and all of the parts of the building work together quite well. The nomination points out that outside roof and pavilion designs, as well as the style of the interior rooms, reflect a sophistication and knowledge of advanced early 19th century architecture. Author Tony P. Wrenn argues that Huntley’s design is similar to designs of George Hadfield, a significant architect of the day. Hadfield served as superintendent of the Capitol and helped design Washington City Hall and Arlington House, the one-time home of Robert E. Lee that stands as a central point in Arlington National Cemetery.

Mason began building Huntley a few years after marrying Elizabeth C. Price of Leesburg in 1817. He was a prominent lawyer and, in the 1820s, played a key part in the efforts that led to the separation of Alexandria from the District of Columbia. He later served two terms as Alexandria’s mayor.

Upon his death in 1839, Huntley passed to Mason’s widow who kept it for the next 20 years before it was transferred to two of Mason’s sons as security on a debt to a family friend. In 1868, Albert W. Harrison shared partial title to the house, and by 1871 he was listed as the farm’s sole owner. The National Register nomination form notes that a correspondent for the Syracuse Journal in 1875 wrote, “The house stands boldly on a hill spur, looking over broad acres of corn, rye, wheat, oats and fertile meadow—a site to see. Beyond, in plain vision, rolls the Potomac.” Harrison died in 1911, and the property passed to his heirs. Historic Huntley today is located on Harrison Lane, just outside Huntley Meadows Park.

Wrenn, the author, wrote of Huntley: “It survives as a notable example of early nineteenth century architecture; as an example of a farm or country house of an early nineteenth century city dweller; as a Mason family house and as part of a well sited and relatively complete complex. When considered together, these factors make Huntley an important architectural landmark.”

Historic Huntley is located at 6918 Harrison Lane in Alexandria. More information is on the Historic Huntley 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.

 

On the National Register: Sully Historic Site

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. 

sully-exterior-spring-2015

Fairfax County and Preservation 50 

Sully Historic Site

There’s a sense of gratitude and wonderment as you hold a few pieces of paper and read the several paragraphs on it that were written just over 45 years ago. The gratitude is for the time taken to write those words. You wonder if the author had any idea that someone would read them nearly a half-century later.

The words are on a National Register of Historic Places Inventory Nomination Form that was submitted on December 18, 1970, to the National Park Service by Dr. Edward P. Alexander, the chairman of the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. There are eight paragraphs, and the nomination form suggests they were probably written by someone on the staff of James W. Moody, Jr., the director of the Virginia Historic Landmarks Commission. Along with those eight paragraphs are basic site information, latitude and longitude coordinates, notes about the significant architecture and condition of the property, a map, bibliographical references, notes on preparers and the certification that completes the six-page nomination.

The nomination submitted in December 1970 was for Sully Historic Site, the home of Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first congressman. The site was listed on the nomination form simply as Sully. It is one of Fairfax County’s 59 properties and districts today listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Although the 1970 application is cited in National Register records, there is evidence that Eleanor Lee Templeman, the great-great granddaughter of Richard Bland Lee, wrote to the Department of the Interior in January 1961 requesting Sully be recognized as a historic site. The acting director of the Department of the Interior replied that staff was “generally familiar with Sully’s history and architecture,” adding that “the Historic American Buildings Survey…has recently completed measured drawings of the structure.” Further studies were completed later that same year.

In 1971, in a letter to Interior’s Chief of the Office of Archaeology and Historic Preservation, Templeman wrote, “Gentlemen: I wish to express my delight and appreciation that at long last, my great-great-grandfather’s home in Fairfax County has been approved for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.” She noted in her letter that she had not been notified, learning of the registration “only through the grapevine, followed by my personal request to your office.”

The 1970 nomination form says that Sully had public buildings with restricted access. The buildings today are open for tours, and the site has a museum. In 1936, a federal Historic American Buildings Survey was conducted at Sully. The main building, which was the house of Richard Bland Lee, was in good condition, unaltered, and stood on its original site as it does today. Upon seeing it near completion, Lee’s father-in-law said of Sully, “It is a very clever house, has an elegant hall 12 feet wide and a handsome staircase and two very pretty rooms on the first floor.”

The nomination notes that Sully was built in 1794 as “a three-part frame farmhouse set on a foundation of local brown sandstone.” It mentions a side hall plan, two brick chimneys, the gable roof, an east wing that was added in 1799, and a west wing added as a kitchen in the 1840s. Also highlighted is “the original one-story porch or ‘piazza’ on the south side, which has handsome scrolled work beneath the eaves and is supported on fluted square columns,” and the building’s center section, where “nearly all the beaded clapboarding and the window sash is original.”

Most of the original woodwork at the time was in the house’s earlier, center section, including mantels, floors, chair rails and baseboards. The handsome mantels, noted in the nomination, appeared to be adapted from a 1750 publication of Betty Langley’s The City and Country Builder’s and Workman’s Treasury of Designs. The hall retained its original staircase that rose all the way to the attic.

An assortment of outbuildings is mentioned in the nomination, including a log cabin thought to have been built in 1745 and later converted into a kitchen when the main house was built. Also listed are the site’s smokehouse and a stone building built around 1800, possibly as a home for the farm’s overseer. Through archaeological research, we now know that the 1745 cabin was actually the original kitchen, built sometime around 1794. We also now know that the stone building was the site’s dairy.

Over the past 40 years, staff also has learned much about the slaves and indentured servants who were at Sully. There are records revealing an inventory of slaves, their names and functions and, in some cases, letters referencing the sale of slaves.

Richard Bland Lee built Sully. He was a younger brother of “Light Horse” Harry Lee and an uncle of Robert E. Lee, and Richard eventually became Northern Virginia’s first congressman, a member of the First Federal congress from Northern Virginia. The congress was held at that time in Philadelphia. Though the original application says that while at Sully, Lee played host to prominent visitors such as James and Dolley Madison as well as George Washington, we’re no longer certain that Dolley Madison or Washington were there. We do know that James Madison was a visitor, as were a grandson of Benjamin Franklin and former Virginia Governor General Light Horse Harry Lee.

Lee sold Sully to a cousin in 1811, and it passed out of the Lee family at auction in 1839. After a series of private owners, the Federal Aviation Agency acquired Sully in 1957 with plans to burn it in preparation for the building of, what is now, Dulles International Airport. A special act of Congress forbade its destruction and stated it should be preserved as a museum. Sully underwent a full restoration of the main house and outbuildings in 1974-75 to bring the appearance of the buildings back to 1794, and a grand re-opening was held in September 1975.

In accordance with that act of Congress stating that Sully be preserved as a museum, it remains so today.

 

Sully Historic Huntley is located at 3650 Historic Sully Way in Chantilly. More information is on the Sully Historic Site 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.