Monthly Archives: August 2013

My Friend And Yours, Buddy The Wolf!

Buddy the Wolf enjoys playing street hockey with Washington Capitals' mascot Slapshot.

Buddy the Wolf enjoys playing street hockey with Washington Capitals’ mascot Slapshot.

Did you know that the Fairfax County Park Authority employs a wolf? Yes, a wolf! Well, someone in a wolf costume, anyway. His name is Buddy, and he is the official mascot of our Rec-PAC program. We tried to interview Buddy, but he was too busy howling with happiness. Now that Rec-PAC is over for the summer, Buddy will be attending special events around the community. If you see him, please don’t be shy. Go give him a high five! Buddy is a very likable wolf.

In 2011, the Rec-PAC program changed its logo to a pair of wolves and added a new slogan, “Join the PAC.” We interviewed many different mascots that year, but Buddy seemed like a perfect fit for the program and was hired on the spot. Buddy spent his first summer with us visiting camp sites dressed in his favorite t-shirt featuring the new Rec-PAC logo. It was no surprise to staff that Buddy was an instant hit with the campers, parents, and school staff. In 2012, the Rec-PAC program began selling stuffed mini Buddy’s and sold out within two weeks. The popular stuffed animals quickly sold out again in 2013.

So what else does Buddy do? He assists Rec-PAC staff with its anti-bullying campaign. He shows up at Rec-PAC with his mission to help campers learn about the importance of being a friend to everyone. He helps staff by encouraging campers to talk about bullying and how it can hurt people, not only physically, but also emotionally. Buddy has not only been a great addition to the Rec-PAC Program but to the Youth Services department as well.

Buddy believes that we all come in different shapes, colors and sizes, but we are all human and should treat people the way we want to be treated. His main goal is to make the summer a special one for every camper by helping staff educate kids on the harm bullying does to a person and how each of us can prevent bullying. Buddy reminds us that we all have the power to make someone’s summer the greatest it can be!

Buddy is also a fun-loving wolf. He loves playing games, dancing, and using his imagination to create new things, especially during arts and crafts. He can often be found in the game room playing Wii Baseball. He loves when his friend Slap Shot from the Washington Capitals Youth Development Programs comes to visit. The two of them have a great time playing street hockey together. The only thing you have to be careful about is keeping Buddy away from the popcorn machine. Buddy loves popcorn and will eat it all if you let him.

To learn more about Buddy and the Rec-PAC Program, click here.

Take care, and remember to be a Buddy to all.

Written by Mike Bonneville, Rec-PAC program director

RecPAC logo

Summer Snakes – Not To Be Feared, Just Respected

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Maybe it goes all the way back to Adam and Eve, this fear of snakes that humans often have; that and the fact that we generally don’t like things to bite us. But if you take the time to learn about snakes, that fear might diminish when you realize it’s just another animal that eats, poops, moves around and makes little babies like the rest of us. Okay, maybe they don’t put their pants on one leg at a time like you and me, but you get the point.

Fairfax County Park Authority nature centers are convenient local places to learn about snakes. Among the things you’ll learn – northern copperheads are the only venomous snakes in Northern Virginia, and they can be locally common in some parts of Fairfax County.

Copperheads are rather heavy-bodied snakes and are beautifully marked with dark brown, hourglass-shaped cross bands on a light brown or gray background. Adult snakes are usually two to three feet long, and the belly is a mix of white and black markings. They are eight to ten inches at birth, about the size of a pencil.

Baby copperheads look just like their parents, but they have a bright yellow or green tail that they wiggle and use to lure lizards and frogs within striking range. Like other pit vipers, copperheads have a triangular head with facial pits and vertical pupils, just like a cat.

Copperheads are most active at night, but can also move around or bask in sunshine during the daytime. In the hot summer, the woods are quite barren compared with our lush, irrigated yards, and various food sources around homes can easily draw rodents and snakes to your neighborhood.

What about snake bites?

The vast majority of snake bites occur when snakes are deliberately handled or poked by curious humans or curious pets.  About 45,000 people are bitten by snakes in the U.S. each year, with about 8,000 of those bites coming from venomous species.  Typically, unless you accidentally come into contact with a snake, you can avoid being bitten by maintaining a respectful distance from any snake that you see. Most snakes will remain motionless when you come upon them and will allow you to pass by safely. The best precautions you can take are to wear proper footwear such as closed-toe shoes on trails, wear fitted gloves when gardening or clearing areas of heavy foliage, and don long pants. Be aware of rock or wood piles outdoors. Snakes may hide there. Snakes also can be very hard to see in tall grass and under ground cover such as invasive English ivy.

I got bit

About seven years ago, I was bitten by a juvenile copperhead snake with a bright yellow tail. I was walking my dog at dusk on an asphalt trail through a wooded suburban park wearing flip-flops, and I probably stepped directly on the snake. It was just after a heavy storm, and leaves and mulch were scattered on the pavement, making the snake difficult to see. The snake bit me just below the ankle, and I probably could have prevented a bite if I had been wearing any kind of hiking or athletic shoe. Being a park naturalist, I always wear proper footwear and clothing when I’m out in the field, but I had let my guard down since I was at home in my own neighborhood. This taught me that you have to take the same basic precautions whenever you are in the outdoors.

If you fear snake bites, learning about snakes and keeping things in perspective will help. Though bites do occur, most people make a complete recovery with modern medical care.  I have no lingering effects from the bite I received.

When not dealing with an emergency, if you get a photo of a snake and would like it identified, take the photo to a nature center. Staff on hand will gladly try to identify the snake and share information about why it was where you saw it.

Author Kristen Sinclair is the Senior Natural Resource Specialist for the Fairfax County Park Authority.