Monthly Archives: April 2012

Great Parks, Great Food

Locally produced food and farmers markets are like peanut butter and jelly. A perfect pairing.

Farm-fresh produce.

Fill your reusable shopping bag this summer with local goods from any of 11 Fairfax County Park Authority farmers markets throughout the county. You’ll find local fruits, vegetables, flowers, baked goods, eggs, honey, cider and cheeses, and all products come from vendors located within 125 miles of Fairfax County.

When you buy local produce, you support sustainable agriculture in the Chesapeake Bay watershed, and you bring home the freshest foods you can get outside of your own backyard.

Local parks, local food

Colvin Run Mill is part of the local food chain. The historic mill grinds white and yellow corn meal and whole wheat flour that is available in the historic site’s general store, at Frying Pan Farm Park and at the Maple Avenue Market in Vienna.

Get a taste of what professionals can do with local grain. Three area restaurants use Colvin Run’s grain – the Maple Avenue Restaurant in Vienna, the Cock and Bowl in Occoquan, and elements at the Hyatt Dulles Hotel near Dulles Airport.

Executive Chef Matthew Warschaw of elements says using local food is “part of the restaurant philosophy.” His menu also includes cured salami, ham, turkey, ice cream and peanuts from local sources.

“We have such great products here in Virginia,” Warschaw said, adding that the benefit of using local produce in his restaurant is “exposure for the guests.” He was introduced to Colvin Run Mill’s product last year while attending the 4-H Fair at Frying Pan Farm Park, and since then he’s used the mill’s grain regularly on his menu, in his buffet and for special occasions. He recently hosted a themed buffet that featured tastings of Colvin Run Mill foods that included the showcasing of paraphernalia from the mill. And he’s had guests ask about the mill’s products.

Fresh eggs are available at Frying Pan Farm Park.

When you visit the markets, you’ll find that Colvin Run Mill isn’t the only Park Authority site that produces local food. Eggs from Frying Pan Farm Park are available and, of course, the animals on the farm take part in their own local food program by eating the farm’s corn and hay.

So follow the professional’s advice, and eat local this summer. You’ll find some unexpected treats at the many enticing, local markets across the county in Annandale, Burke, Herndon, Kingstowne, Lorton, McLean, Reston, Mount Vernon, at Oak Marr and Wakefield Parks, and at Frying Pan Farm Park. Addresses and schedules for each site are on the Park Authority website. In addition to the local produce, Fairfax County Cooperative Extension Master Gardeners offer plant clinics at some markets to help you with lawn and gardening issues.

Great food, support for local producers, sustainable agriculture, and a healthy Chesapeake Bay watershed. They’re all good reasons to visit a local farmers market this summer.

Written by Dave Ochs, stewardship communications manager and ResOURces editor

 

Grassroots Efforts Grow Skate Parks

Local youth helped break ground for the expansion of Wakefield Skate Park.

Just last week, skaters and officials gathered in the shade to officially kick off the expansion of Wakefield Skate Park.  On a warm Saturday afternoon, folks took a few moments to dig into a symbolic pile of dirt and throw a shovelful into the air, thus marking the start of construction.  It’s symbolic and it’s an important affirmation of the Park Authority’s commitment to those individuals, mostly teens, who want to take part in the individual challenges that skateboards and BMX bikes offer.

The expansion will be built in the skate plaza style and feature street skating elements.

So what will the expansion bring in the near future?  In 2008, the citizens of Fairfax County, as part of a Park Authority Bond Referendum, approved an expansion of the existing skate park, adding approximately 6,220 sq. ft. to the existing 21,500 sq. ft. structure.  Construction is scheduled to begin immediately and the new section will open later in the summer.  The expanded area is designed in the skate plaza style and will feature elements for street skaters to slide, grind, and jump off.

The park is divided into three skill levels, beginner, intermediate and advanced.  Height and difficulty rating of ramps and rails increase as the skater advances into a higher and more difficult section of the park.  Each of the park’s sections feature ramps with decks at the top, along with rails or grind box, and a half-pipe was recently added. The park is also open to in-line skates, BMX bikes and non-motorized scooters. 

The skate park hosts many special events during the year.  Late night sessions on weekends allow the skaters into the park until 11 p.m.  The park also holds an annual “SkateFest,” featuring demonstrations, competition and giveaways.

A launch ramp shoots skaters into the air.

And now, not only is this facility a great place to skate and hang-out, but since March, it’s also free. Skaters now use the park as a skate at your own risk facility. Although the site is unsupervised, helmets and protective equipment are still encouraged.

Skating and skate parks are legitimately a part of the Fairfax County landscape now.  Skaters worked hard to get these facilities built.  They still show up with skateboards in hand at public hearings to remind officials about their desires, and they even help to design and plan the skate parks.  That’s the way these things are supposed to work.

 

Written by Michael Cadwallader, manager, Audrey Moore RECenter

 

Become Your Own Health Advocate

Editor’s note: Fairfax was recently named the healthiest county in Virginia in a report by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute, and Community Catalyst.

What does it mean to be your own health advocate? A simple definition is to be proactive about your health and to make a conscious effort to improve and/or maintain good health. As Monica Philips, Fitness and Wellness manager, states, “The most important asset that an individual has is his or her health. Yes, you’ll invest time to learn and live a healthy lifestyle, but the returns are priceless.”

By educating yourself about health topics and staying up-to-date about current health issues, you will be one step closer to becoming your own health advocate. Join the Park Authority’s free Take 12 Steps for Health program to receive health information each month. Each month there is a new health theme, tips to keep you motivated, and a calendar of free monthly workshops on different health topics.

According to Elizabeth Ittner, Fitness & Wellness Program coordinator for the Fairfax County Park Authority, “Our free workshops span a variety of topics including nutrition, water consciousness, stress, anxiety, fatigue, back pain, as well as grocery store tours and wellness screenings.”

Committing to becoming and staying healthy for life is the next step. You can eat smarter and healthier, buy local and organic foods, start your own garden, develop an exercise routine, sign up for a new fitness class, increase your water intake, or train for a race, such as the first annual Healthy Strides Community Race at Burke Lake Park on April 28, 2012. Depending on your fitness level, you can choose a 5K or 10K, and kids can start healthy habits by participating in a Fun Run.

Finally, community involvement and volunteering play a role in becoming a health advocate. Take 12s theme for September is “Serve your Community as a Volunteer.” You’ll receive tips on volunteering and how to find grass-roots projects, such as becoming a mentor, creating pieces of art, serving meals, or planting a community garden to build strong and vibrant neighborhoods.

The important thing is to start becoming your own health advocate today. Visit Take 12 online to learn how.

Written by Tina Tuliszka, George Mason University graduate student and Fitness and Wellness Section intern

Lawn Runoff Fuels Duckweed Problem at Hidden Pond

Along with neighbors who enjoy hiking tranquil trails and families who bring their children to play on the playground at Hidden Pond Park, over 50,000 people visit the nature center each year. Many of them venture to the pond to see the frogs, turtles, and other aquatic life. Children participate in netting programs where they learn about insect larvae, damselflies, and diving beetles by scooping them out of the water. But the popular pond in Springfield has a problem, and Manager Jim Pomeroy is reaching out to neighbors for help. 

Duckweed grows on the surface of Hidden Pond.

Each summer a thick, unsightly mat of duckweed spreads across the surface of the pond. This floating layer of green inhibits the nature center’s ability to use the pond as an educational resource, and its unattractive appearance may have an adverse effect on visitation during the summer months. To combat the annual duckweed scourge, Pomeroy, with financial assistance from the Friends of Hidden Pond, has mailed letters to over 500 households in the neighborhoods surrounding the park to explain the problem and offer a solution.

“Duckweed is a very real problem, and I intend to make a dent in it through education and awareness,” said Pomeroy, who welcomes calls and visits to discuss the issue. “We want to take care of an important educational resource and, hopefully, this outreach helps our neighbors become better acquainted with us and they come enjoy the park,” he continued.

Duckweed is a small, floating plant with a single root that dangles beneath the surface. It provides food for fish, waterfowl, and other aquatic life and naturally occurs on most ponds. But given the right conditions it can take over by forming dense colonies which effectively block sunlight from reaching submerged aquatic plants. As the vegetation is snuffed out, the entire pond habitat suffers. Aquatic animals and fish lose their food source and shelter, and the pond’s reduced oxygen levels make it difficult to support life.

According to Natural Resource Specialist Kristen Sinclair, “Duckweed responds really well to bursts of fertilizer. It acts almost like an algal bloom and does very well in shallow, stagnant water.” This is where Pomeroy thinks neighbors can make a difference. In developed areas, like the neighborhoods surrounding the park, one of the major contributors to excess nutrients in waterways comes directly from lawn runoff.  When it rains, fertilizer not taken up by turf is carried down storm drains and into streams, rivers, and ponds. “If residents were to fertilize in an environmentally way, it would have an effect,” he said.

Soil test kits help homeowners choose the correct about of fertilizer for their lawns.

In his letter to the neighbors Pomeroy suggests a solution to limiting over-fertilizing and preventing under-fertilizing. Residents can learn exactly what their lawns need by testing the soil with a simple kit available at the nature center and at all Fairfax County public libraries. The kits have instructions on how to collect a sample and where to mail it for analysis. The fee for a routine analysis is $10, and recommendations are usually generated within three working days. Pomeroy points out that homeowners and homeowners associations that rely on lawn care services may request soil testing and ask that they be conservative in what they apply. Taking a simple soil test may save neighbors money on fertilizer, will certainly benefit the environment, could help alleviate Hidden Pond’s duckweed problem.

The duckweed problem isn’t a new one at Hidden Pond, but it’s one Pomeroy has seen grow measurably worse during his 30-year tenure as manager. Pomeroy and his staff have tried different ways to control duckweed over the years, but nothing has been able to stop its spread. A common method for removing duckweed is to simply rake the pond’s surface in the same way leaves are raked in the fall. “We tried paddling around in a jon boat and scooping it out, but it grows faster than we can possibly remove it,” Pomeroy said. A notch was cut into the wooden flashing to allow more duckweed to exit the pond during rain events, but it wasn’t effective. In 2009, an aerator was installed to stir up the water column and force oxygen into the deeper areas. This tactic helped, but it just wasn’t enough.

Children use nets to explore Hidden Pond.

Applying aquatic herbicides has been suggested since it seems to work well for golf course ponds. However, these chemicals are not very selective and will kill virtually all submerged aquatic vegetation, such as various arums, buttonbush, and water lilies. “Because we use the pond as an educational resource, we have plants in the pond we want to keep. That ties our hands as far as using herbicides. The whole system would be lost,” explains Pomeroy.

New methods of adding various enzymes and aerobic bacteria to digest decaying plant matter which would deprive duckweed of nutrients have yet to be proven safe and effective. “It’s a very tough problem, especially in older, woodland ponds where leaves continuously fall into the water,” said Pomeroy. “We encourage a lot of vegetation along the shore to take up excess nutrients,” he added. Pomeroy and staff have also planted cattails and other aquatic vegetation in a small pool above the pond designed to capture sediment, pollutants, and excess nutrients.

Of course, weather plays a big role in the health of the pond. If the area receives adequate rain throughout the summer, the pond is constantly refreshed and the duckweed can’t flourish. Conversely, during prolonged periods of drought the problem is much worse. So until the results of the soil tests are returned, a wet summer may be the only deterrent to duckweed’s return.

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer

New Boot Brush Stations Curb Hitchhiking Seeds

Boot brush stations will capture hitchhiking seeds.

Most of us have learned over time to wipe our feet before entering the house. This spring, Natural Resource Specialist Kristen Sinclair will put a new spin on this message with the installation of three boot brush stations at Lake Fairfax Park. The goal of the one-year pilot project is to stop the spread of non-native invasive plant species such as wavyleaf basketgrass and garlic mustard by removing unwanted seeds from the soles of hikers’ shoes and boots.

Boot brush stations have been installed successfully by park agencies in the Midwest and the National Park Service. The Lake Fairfax stations will be located at trailheads and near the campground. Stations include a framed educational sign, mounted boot brush, and a gravel reservoir to catch fallen seeds. To deter new weeds from sprouting up in the soil around the stations, a pre-emergent herbicide will be applied to the gravel area.

Funded by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors’ Environmental Improvement Program, the stations provide an opportunity to educate park users about the negative effects of non-native invasive plants on the local environment. Aggressive invaders can choke forests, suppress native plants, and damage wildlife habitat. A startling example of invasive species spreading unchecked on parkland can be found at Maryland’s Patapsco Valley State Park, where wavyleaf basketgrass engulfed 100 acres in less than 10 years.

Wavyleaf Basketgrass

The threat of this happening at Lake Fairfax is very real. Erin Stockschlaeder, coordinator for the Invasive Management Area (IMA) and Early Detection and Rapid Response (EDRR) programs, has discovered and mapped wavyleaf basketgrass in the park. This plant blankets the forest floor, and its small, sticky seeds cling to pant legs, socks, and boots.  As the invading plant spreads, native plants including deer’s tongue (a native grass), violets, trout lilies, and a variety of ferns disappear. According to Sinclair, one measure of success for the program would be finding no new populations of wavyleaf basketgrass in the campground or on the trails. If the program is deemed successful, brush stations may be installed at other parks throughout the system.

A sign identifies common invasive species.

Getting the most bang for your buck is important in these lean budget years, and once installed the new inexpensive brush stations will require little maintenance. Three brush station kits and sign will be purchased from Genesis Graphics of Escanaba, Michigan, and assembled and installed by Groundskeeper Specialist Ferlin Mathews and the Area 6 crew. Graphics for the sign were developed by Graphic Designers Joanne Kearney and Alex Ngyuen. “We will monitor the stations the first season to make sure there aren’t any undue maintenance issues,” said Sinclair.

When implemented, this project will accomplish one of 12 best practices to assist in the prevention, control, and eradication of non-native invasive plan species, as recommended in the Park Authority’s 2009 Natural Resource Management Plan. Sinclair concluded, “I believe an interactive sign is a great way to raise awareness of the issue of “hitchhiking seeds.” It certainly can’t make the problem any worse.”

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer