Monthly Archives: March 2012

Trail Planner Liz Cronauer Discusses Park Authority Trail Development

Trail Program Manager Liz Cronauer speaks at the 2010 opening of the Clarks Branch Crossing bridge in Riverbend Park.

Liz Cronauer, trail program manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority, recently updated members of Fairfax Trails and Streams (FTAS) on the agency’s Trail Development Strategy. Cronauer visits the group at least once a year to discuss completed trail projects and future connections. FTAS’s primary focus is on trails in Great Falls and McLean, but they’re also interested in seeing the completion of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail (PHNST) in southern Fairfax County, which, according to Cronauer, could be completed within the next decade. “This is a good crowd of people to talk to. They’re all pro trails, and members have lots of ideas,” she said.

Trails are consistently ranked as the most popular park amenity by Fairfax County residents. According to Cronauer, the reason trails are liked so much is because trails appeal to such a wide range of people. “You can use them for walking, cycling, and bird watching. All ages use trails, and they’re free,” she said. “There is a big demand for passive recreation,” she continued. (Although most recreational pursuits on trails are considered active, trails are officially classified as passive recreation. Organized facilities such as ball fields and swimming pools are classified as active recreation areas.)

Flooding from remnants of Tropical Storm Lee ravaged trails throughout the county last September.

In September 2011, the remnants of Tropical Storm Lee ravaged Fairfax County, and some areas within the Park Authority’s stream valley trail network were washed away. “Significant damage remains,” said Cronauer. She said the damage was so extensive in some places that the short term goal of the Park Operations Division was to simply make the trails functional again rather than restore them to their original condition.  In certain places the damage was severe.  It will take a little longer to restore functionality in those areas.  “Long Branch Stream Valley was hit hard, specifically the bridge.  A bridge needs to be replaced and plans are now in place to move that project forward in the next 12 to 18 months. Part of the trail along Difficult Run has also been severely damaged. Parks Ops has done a tremendous amount of work and replaced tons of stone,” Cronauer said. Repairs to trails throughout the county continue.

The Cross County Trail connects the Potomac River in the north to the Occoquan River in the south.

Although the Park Authority is always trying to add new trails, Cronauer said it’s important to “improve areas that we already have.” She’s always looking for ways to forge new connections to the Cross County Trail (CCT), the 41.5-mile trail which links Great Falls Park in the north to Occoquan Regional Park in the south. In 2010, the Park Authority completed the Barbara Lane connector trail, which made it easier for people in the eastern Mantua neighborhood to access the CCT.  Cronauer said future trail connections include “fixing the footpath within Mount Vernon District Park along Fort Hunt Road.” Once this trail has been improved, people will be able to safely walk and bicycle to Mount Vernon RECenter. There are also plans to improve the South Run Stream Valley trail by paving the section that traces the north side of Lake Mercer and connecting it to South Run RECenter. “Any time you can create ways for people to bicycle to a RECenter is just great,” Cronauer said.

The Lake Fairfax trail network continues to grow.

The 2012 Park Bond, still to be authorized and then potentially approved by voters, allocates additional funds for trail improvements. The Park Authority Board will decide where to spend the money if Fairfax County citizens pass the bond.  Cronauer hopes to see funding for some particular trail projects noting, “Pohick Stream Valley is one of the last major stream valley trail areas that hasn’t been completed. That would be a high priority for me because we could make a really good connection to the Cross County Trail. Additionally, we would like to finish the trail network at Lake Fairfax Park.”

The Park Authority is regularly approached by volunteers with an interest in trail building and maintenance. Cronauer said “The best way for them to be involved is through a trails group. The Park Authority coordinates with trails groups such as M.O.R.E. (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts) and FTAS, and they manage volunteers and coordinate with area managers to identify projects. Together they get a lot of work done.”

Cronauer was hired as the trails program manager in October 2005, when the Park Authority created the position. She leads a small team of two project managers.  

As a resident of Prince William County, Cronauer spends a lot of time in majestic Prince William Forest near Quantico, but she has her favorite trails in Fairfax County, too. “I really love the section of the CCT in the Pohick Stream Valley and all the Riverbend Park trails. I also like the single track trails we built in Laurel Hill,” she said.

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer

Controlled Burning as a Management Tool for Fairfax County Parkland

One of the characteristics of human culture is our control and use of fire. But even though it is an essential tool, unplanned fires can take human lives and damage property; so fire suppression has been a common practice for over 100 years in the United States.

Although most people don’t realize it, almost every ecosystem in North America is fire adapted – it has species and processes that rely on periodic fire to maintain their health. This is true of forests as well as fields.

The Fairfax County Park Authority began using fire in 1997 to manage meadows. These grass-dominant systems flourish if burned as regularly as every one to three years.

Controlled (prescribed) burning is a common management practice throughout Virginia. As stated by the Virginia Department of Forestry in Virginia’s Smoke Management Guidelines, “The use of prescribed fire as a resource management tool has long been regarded as indispensable.” The Virginia Department of Forestry, Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Department of Conservation and Recreation, USDA Forest Service, National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, etc. – in short, almost every entity that owns and manages natural areas in the state – all conduct prescribed burns annually in forest and field environments. According to the National Wildfire Coordinating Group, over eight million acres each year are managed using prescribed burns in the southern United States alone. Burning is considered a standard, highly-effective maintenance practice.

Most eastern ecosystems evolved with fire as an integral part of their lifecycles. In meadows, fire removes accumulated plant debris, heats the seed-bank in the soil, and exposes soil to sunlight.  These actions allow native plant seeds to come in contact with the soil, make nutrients available to the plants, remove old material that inhibits new growth, and promote and allow new plants to sprout. Fire also helps to suppress many invasive, non-native plants (e.g., tall fescue) that did not evolve with fire as part of their lifecycles. The result is a healthier plant community that supports a greater diversity of plants, animals and other organisms. No other maintenance method can provide the habitat benefits that fire does in meadow systems.

Given the fact that meadows are the fastest disappearing habitat type inFairfax County, preservation of the few remaining large meadow complexes through proactive means should be a priority. Burning is considered the best way to manage meadows for the health of the system and to prevent future fires by eliminating fuel that cannot be properly removed by mowing.

The successful burns at Riverbend Park in 1997 and Ellanor Lawrence Park in 1999 demonstrated that fire can be used safely in Fairfax County without adverse effects on human property or activities. In both of those cases, well-planned fires were conducted in partnership with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue and the Virginia Department of Forestry in small meadows in relatively close proximity to homes and public roads. The fires not only were accomplished without complication, but there were no complaints from neighbors and the public who responded positively to educational materials and programs which discussed the controlled burns.

The Park Authority formalized its prescribed burn program in 2006. The controlled fires support state rare species that rely on meadow habitats and a great diversity of wildlife including grasshopper sparrows, eastern meadow voles, black racer snakes, red foxes, owls and northern harriers. Each year fields ranging in size from a few acres up to 40 acres are burned at multiple parks. The most recent burns occurred in February and March 2012 at Laurel Hill Park in Lorton, Elklick Preserve west of Centreville, and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Centreville.

Written by Charles Smith, manager, Natural Resource Management and Protection Branch

Fred Crabtree: One of A Kind

He was one of a kind. A mover and a shaker, a dedicated volunteer and public servant with the ability to get things done, a family man and friend of young athletes, and most of all, a really nice guy that all of us are going to miss.  We lost former Park Authority Board member Fred Crabtree on Sunday, March 11.  At age 96 he left the game and is now remembered fondly as “Mr. Baseball.”

Fred Crabtree, aka "Mr. Baseball," stands near a sign at a park renamed for him in honor of his commitment to Fairfax County parks.

He left behind a legacy of love and accomplishment.  He was the loving husband of the late Ann Ruth Crabtree and father of Joyce Cockrille and Frederick “Rick” Crabtree, Jr.  He is also survived by his two sisters, Gaynell and Joan and six grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren. Those were his immediate family members, but beyond these individuals were hundreds of colleagues and admirers on boards and commissions, in youth athletics and on the fields of Fairfax County.

Fred loved baseball.  He spent much of his adult life in Vienna, Virginia, working closely with Little League teams and ensuring that the kids had someplace nice to play. He was a volunteer with Vienna Little League for more than 50 years.  In a 2012 interview with the Fairfax Times, Fred recalled that he learned the value of baseball during World War II.  As he tells it, when stationed in Okinawa, Japan, he helped build a diamond for fellow soldiers to enjoy.  Each day he would set it up, and each night the Japanese would bomb it.  “Every night, they would drop a string of bombs right on the damn field,” said Crabtree with a laugh. 

Bill Cervernak, chairman of the Vienna Little League, added in that article, “God knows how many kids he has reached out to and made a difference to, either directly or indirectly.  He’s been a manager, a coach, umpire and administrator.  He has been involved in every aspect of baseball you can think of.”

Fred’s ability to reach out to others found form in programs for children with disabilities as well.  He started the Challenger program for those with disabilities.  That program expanded nationwide.  He also created accessible basketball and softball programs in the mid-1990s and seemed to have an unquenchable thirst for doing the right thing and making the lives of those he touched that much better.  As a result, he received honors and accolades from President Bush, local officials, organizations and towns as well. He was honored by the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials for his work as an outstanding public official in 1993.  Honors kept coming over 40 years.

In July 2006, the Park Authority Board unanimously broke its own naming policy to rename Fox Mill District Park in his honor.  Generally, that is an honor bestowed posthumously. The Reston park is now Fred Crabtree Park and in a letter to Mr. Crabtree at the time, then Park Board Chairman Harold Strickland wrote, “On behalf of the FCPA and the citizens of Fairfax County, I want to thank you for a lifetime of service and providing the ultimate example of what one person can accomplish through their unselfish commitment to the community and their fellow citizens.”

A miniature version of the park sign was presented to Fred Crabtree at the renaming ceremony in October 2006. Pictured from left to right are Hunter Mill District Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, Park Authority Board Member Hal Strickland, Former Park Authority Board Chairman Fred Crabtree, Park Authority Board Chairman Bill Bouie, and U.S.Congressman Gerry Connolly.

Fred was pleased, stating at the time, “It makes me so happy, it really does.  You feel like you accomplished something and I know that I have.” It was a well-deserved honor.

Fred was so generous with his time.  He served with distinction on the Park Authority Board from 1969 to 1992, including service as the chairman from 1977 to 1978.  At various times he also served as vice chairman and secretary/treasurer. 

He was visionary and understood how important land acquisition was to a growing community.  He was instrumental in the acquisition of Fox Mill District Park, Peterson Lane Park, Nottoway Park, Frying Pan Farm Park, Clarks Crossing Park, the Floris School Site, Baron Cameron Park, Lahey Lost Valley Park, Lake Fairfax Park and numerous others.  He served on the Founders, Benefactors, Supervisors and Friends of Frying Pan Park, Inc for more than 40 years.

He made it his mission to acquire parkland.  Years after he left the Park Authority he recalled one donation of 21 acres from a friend he knew.  He remembered regularly meeting with her, cutting her grass and speaking to her over meals about this contribution.  She donated the land and an historic home in 2000.  Crabtree ascribed to the notion that “It’s just knowing someone.  I got several pieces of property from knowing people.”

Two iconic former members of the Park Authority Board who recently passed also had kind words to offer about Fred in published reports.  John Mastenbrook for whom a matching grant program is named said of Fred, “Fred always maintained close contact with people in the community. He brings to every endeavor energy and enthusiasm.”  The late Gilbert McCutcheon, who represented the Mount Vernon District and was a friend of Fred’s for over 30 years, said, in 2004 “Fred’s a wonderful person.  He’s always thinking about what he could do for someone else.” 

Former Park Authority Director Mike Kane said, “Fred was the epitome of what a citizen board member is. He redefined what public service is. Fred was the Park Authority. While his heart was in athletics, in particular little league baseball, Fred promoted the full mission of the Park Authority 100 percent of the time. He knew the value of what parks bring to a community and he fought long and hard to protect parks.”

Kane continued, “One event in Fred’s career as a Park Authority board member was when he and John Mastenbrook charmed and swooned Mrs. Lahey to leave her property to the Park Authority in her will to insure that it would be protected from development forever. And to hear Fred tell the story, or any story for that matter, just made you laugh and smile. His presence in the community was large too. Well respected and revered. I will miss Fred, but I am so thankful for all his work for the parks and people of this county.”

Former Park Authority Deputy Director Tim White, a close friend of Crabtree over the years commented, “The number of young lives that he touched and his contributions to the citizens of Fairfax County are immeasurable.  He lives on through his accomplishments, the good that he did and the way that he lived his life.”

One of his lasting legacies was the creation of the Elly Doyle Park Service Award which recognizes an individual’s or group’s contribution of service to the Park Authority. Dozens of volunteers have been honored through the years for their work on behalf of local parks and those who enjoy them.

Fred and his late wife Ruth Ann are surrounded by family at the park renaming ceremony in 2006.

Fred was one of those rare individuals that just made the world a better place.  He had a smile and an opinion.  He made seemingly impossible feats look easy.  He cultivated his friendships and gave back way more than anyone could give to him.  He was a believer in the effect that sports and parks can have on encouraging children to stay away from trouble and lead positive lives.  I am grateful to have known him.

A memorial service will be held on March 25 at 3 p.m.  at Bruen Chapel Methodist Church, located at 3035 Cedar Lane in Fairfax. Contributions may be made to Vienna Little League or Bruen Chapel Methodist Church. Online condolences and fond memories of Fred can be offered at: www.moneyandking.com.

Written by William Bouie, Chairman, Fairfax County Park Authority Board

Mike Bonneville Discusses Rec-PAC Summer Camps

Rec-PAC (Pretty Awesome Children), a six-week summer camp program operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority Youth Services Division, has provided elementary age children with fun, memorable, and affordable summer camp experiences for over 50 years. Camps take place at 50 elementary school sites throughout the county, and each week has a different theme. Fees are based on a sliding scale, and partial scholarships are available for families receiving public assistance.

Participants enjoy a wide variety of activities such as: fitness, indoor and outdoor games, team sports, nature, crafts, storytelling, sports festivals, talent shows, and supervised play sessions with an emphasis on bully prevention and character education.

The summer culminates with a special Rec-PAC gives back week.  Staff and campers come together to complete projects that benefit the community. Over the last three years, Rec-PAC has collected over 4,000 pounds of canned goods for a local food bank. Campers have also written thousands of letters to soldiers oversees, cleaned up school and park areas, and collected clothing for local homeless shelters.

Mike Bonneville, Rec-PAC program manager

For the past five years, the program has been led by Mike Bonneville, who was a Rec-PAC camper at the Lake Ridge Elementary School site for three years before working his way up the ranks to his current role as program manager. He sat down to discuss his experience, what’s planned for 2012, and the future of the program.

What is your best memory from your experience as a Rec-PAC camper? My best memory from Rec-PAC was a prize I earned. The site director at my site had a reward system for those who had a positive attitude, showed team work and also respected others.  Each day you were able to earn a sticker, and at the end of the week if you had five stickers you could pick a prize from the prize box. There was an action figure I had my eye on from day one. I worked very hard all week to earn this action figure. By the end of the week I had all five stickers. When it was my time to pick a prize, I noticed that it had already been taken.

I decided not to pick anything and was upset that I had worked so hard for nothing. One of the staff noticed that I was down and came and talked to me. I told him about the prize and how hard I worked to earn it. Later that day my mom came to pick me up. As I was leaving the staff member I spoke with came running out the door calling my name. I turned around and was greeted by the staff member who had a big smile. He leaned down and handed me the action figure. He told me that I worked hard and that I should be rewarded. It was the action figure I really wanted. I was so excited and happy. I later found out that the staff member had run out during lunch to buy me the action figure with his own money.  This is a memory I have never forgotten and always think about. I think about how this one person changed my life. When I talk to the Rec-PAC staff, I talk to them about smiles and laughs, and that the feeling they give the campers can last them more than just that day, that they can last a life time.

Rec-PAC campers sing, dance, and make memories.

What can you say about the kids who participate in Rec-PAC? They are amazing! Every year I learn something from the kids in the program. They are so creative and have wonderful imaginations. There was a third-grader who had been in the program a couple of years and I had the chance to get to know him. This past summer while visiting his camp site location he came up to me and starting asking me about my job and what I do. After talking with him he turned to me and said, “Mr. B., when I grow up I want to run Rec-PAC just like you.” I was a great feeling and moment.

What can you say about the youth leaders in the program? The CIT’s (Counselors in Training) in the program are terrific. It is amazing to watch many of them come out of their shell. At CIT training they are all nervous and scared.  Over the course of the summer they come out of their shell and begin working closely with the staff and campers.  They begin to use their creativity to think of new games and activities for the campers to do. There is nothing like seeing a young person really come into their own.

Where will the international event be held? Every site will hold an international event during the week of Globe Explorer. This is a great week for campers to talk about where they are from. It also allows the campers to see just how different we all are. We educate the campers on different cultures through games and arts and crafts. We end the week with an amazing international lunch. I think the parents have almost as much fun as he kids at this event. Parents and campers enjoy making dishes to share with the site and also talk about them. It is a fun event for everyone.

Where is the Search for the Lost Pirate Island event held? I have to admit that Pirate Adventure week is my favorite week. I love seeing the kids and staff dress up and transform their site into a lost paradise with artwork and decorations.  During the week we hide items and provide the kids treasure maps to find the items. We use this time to teach the kids about working on a team. The kids love the end of the week when we have the Lost Treasure Island party. We create games for the campers to play to earn prizes. We dance, play, and just have a great time.

Can you explain Character Counts? Character Counts! is a nationally recognized education program to help develop good moral character in today’s youth. Our goal is to promote good character through recreation and develop a positive environment for youth. The “Six Pillars of Character” are introduced within our theme-based programs on a weekly basis. The benefits have been demonstrated in schools by creating a positive climate, improving behavior, and promoting good citizenship.

Can you explain the letters to soldiers program? We work with different branches of the armed forces to provide them with letters and drawings the campers made to send overseas. Our goal is for them to have a little piece of home and for them to know that they are not forgotten.

Buddy the Wolf tells kids to "Take a Stand and lend a hand."

Does Buddy the Wolf have any new messages this year? Buddy has been an amazing addition to the Rec-PAC family. His message is, “Take a stand and lend a hand.” Buddy works hard to teach kids about bullying and what they can do if they feel they are being bullied or know someone who is. He teaches kids how to help others who are being bullied and to not just be a bystander. Just because we are all different doesn’t mean we should be treated differently.

What does the future hold for Rec-PAC? The Rec-PAC program has been in the county for a very long time. I love this program with all my heart. Many of my staff say I bleed Rec-PAC. This program has been very good to me through the years. I believe that Rec-PAC can be here for many more years if we continue to change the program with the times. Things campers liked 10 years ago are not what kids today want to do. The challenge is to listen to the campers and hear what they have to say and want to do, and to adapt to the changes around us and make Rec-PAC the best summer experience.

Find more information about Rec-PAC at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/recpac.

Summer camp information is available at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/rec/rec_camps.htm.

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer.

Heather Schinkel Leaves Natural Resources Well-Managed

Heather Schinkel leaves the Fairfax County Park Authority feeling good about where natural resource management is headed.

“We have strong policies; a well-educated public, staff, and leadership; and we’re moving towards active management,” she said.

Natural Resource Management and Protection Branch Manager Heather Schinkel mingles with colleagues at her going away party.

Heather and her family are heading west for other opportunities in Fort Collins, Colorado. Schinkel, the agency’s Natural Resource Management and Protection Manager, left the Fairfax County Park Authority last month after eight years of service. She joined the Park Authority shortly after the organization broke new ground in January 2004 by establishing an agency-wide Natural Resource Management Plan (NRMP). She remembers that, at the time, most people did not know what invasive plants were and how “incredibly important and threatening they are.” The agency had its dual mission at the time, but it was not as well integrated as it is now.

Today, the stewardship ethos and application is better distributed throughout the agency and park planning, development and maintenance processes integrate natural resource concerns. In addition, the agency has strong partnerships with the Department of Public Works and Environmental Services, Department of Forestry, Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Earth Sangha, REI and other organizations to protect resources and educate county residents. “We’ve done a good job in getting the word out,” said Schinkel.

“And we are finally actively managing on the ground. That’s what the NRMP is all about, restoring and maintaining our natural areas,” she said. That management takes the form of projects such as those at Elklick Preserve, Old Colchester, and Laurel Hill, where there are site-specific natural resource management plans in place and funding to implement at least some management activities.

Then there’s the Invasive Management Area program.  

“IMA has been incredibly successfully,” Schinkel said. In its six years, the program has drawn more than 5,000 volunteers who’ve donated more than 20,000 hours on over 1,000 workdays. IMA will hopefully get another strong boost this spring from its Take Back the Forest campaign, an initiative to host 500 volunteers at 40 IMA sites. Agency personnel recently selected the winner of a t-shirt design contest that is tied to the program.  

Schinkel also sees success at Old Colchester, where a resource assessment and planning project was fully funded and timed well before the master plan to allow proper planning for the park. Funding for natural resources and stewardship awareness activities is difficult to come by in this time of austerity and Schinkel says the solution to properly managing resources ultimately has to be big. She estimates some $8 million and dozens of staff would be needed to fully manage natural resources on all of Fairfax County parkland. In context with current funding opportunities, the need is quite daunting. 

Though fully funding the NRMP is not foreseeable any time soon, the Park Authority continues to seek funding for at least a first phase of NRMP implementation. In addition, a key step is an upcoming demonstration forest management project at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park that is funded in part with 2008 bond funds.  This project will set the stage for the anticipated bond referendum in November. Passage of the yet to be approved park bond would fund a larger scale natural resource renovation project for the Sully Woodlands park assemblage. It would be one more significant step that would follow the many significant steps the Park Authority took while Schinkel was managing and protecting the agency’s natural resources.

Written by Dave Ochs, stewardship communications manager and ResOURces editor

Welcome to Our Stories and Perspectives

Welcome to the official blog of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Our goal in this space is to share interesting stories and diverse perspectives on park related topics. With 420 parks in our system, there is a wide variety of ideas, opinions, and stories to share and discuss. If a story moves you or you have something to add to the conversation, we welcome your comments.

Our Stories and Perspectives is a welcome addition to our suite of social media and community engagement platforms.   Beginning today, visitors to the blog will find informative posts from staff, stakeholders, volunteers and Park Authority Board members that address provocative issues or simply highlight success stories which may have previously gone overlooked. We hope that these posts will provide greater context to better understand current park initiatives, and present expert opinions. Readers are encouraged to submit comments to further the conversation. This is a communication evolution and I sincerely hope you will join us on this journey.

Warmest regards,

Judy Pedersen, Public Information Officer

For more information, please contact the Fairfax County Park Authority Public Information Office at 703-324-8662, or via e-mail at Parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov