Nature in Your Own Backyard

Stewardship: Fairfax County’s Family Backyard Initiative

The plan was to dig a hole in the backyard to China. However, as soon as the first worm turned up, the adventure became a worm hunt. Until a butterfly flittered past. It begged to be caught, but kept teasing with its dips and darts over the flowers. Watch out for bees, they sting. Are there any bears here?

You can’t smell the flowers from the living room.

Backyards are a natural world of adventure to children. Backyards are ball fields, ships, mountains, jungles, the moon, or any other place you can imagine. And kids do imagine those places in their yards. They also learn about nature while they play in a backyard, and nature is the most, well, natural of teachers in the outdoors.

But kids aren’t getting outdoors to learn. A University of Michigan study says children spend only one percent of their time outdoors. A University of Rochester study reveals that being in nature reduces stress in kids and, in simple terms, makes them nicer people.

“What can we do with these logs?”

So you’re invited to be nicer and to come out to nature in your own backyard. If you don’t have a backyard, you probably have a park nearby where you can be part of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Family Backyard initiative. Its goal: go outside and play in nature.  Everything’s right there in your backyard, where you’ll find sticks, rocks, trees, dirt, flowers, mud, and water – all of the important necessities for fun.  Add kids, turn them loose without any formal goals, and watch the imaginations soar and the discoveries mount.  Nature play works best when the children are in charge and making the decisions. The more time they get outdoors, the more they grow and develop in healthy ways while fostering a love of nature.

Ahh, the simple joy of burying your feet in the sand.

Need some fresh ideas to get started? We’ve got some. Even if you’re a veteran of the outdoors and you know your backyard well, the Family Backyard initiative can suggest fun, effective ways to promote building wildlife and family-friendly backyards. By providing requirements such as water, shelter, food and stewardship, you can manage your backyard and make it more welcoming to wildlife and kids. To get some new ideas or to get started, click here.   Don’t spend a lot of time on that website, though. Remember, you’re supposed to be outside playing.


Written by Dave Ochs, stewardship communications manager

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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