Monthly Archives: June 2014

Huntsman Hole Soon To Be Huntsman Lake Again

UPDATE: December 4, 2014

Huntsman Lake

Huntsman Lake is almost completely full after being drained for a summer upgrading of the dam and associated structures. There is a new paved area at the upper end of the lake that the public can use for launching small boats such as kayaks or canoes, but the entrance gate leading to the paved road will be kept locked, so no towed boats can be launched. Gas motors are prohibited on the lake.

Wildlife is returning to Huntsman Lake.

Wildlife is returning to Huntsman Lake.

Wildlife is returning to Huntsman. Coir logs have been placed around the shoreline. These are completely biodegradable rolls that will protect the shoreline from erosion for two to five years. That will allow time for new plantings of native flora to take hold. When the water is at normal depth, the tops of those logs will be barely visible.

Biodegradable coir logs have been placed around the shoreline to prevent erosion.

Biodegradable coir logs have been placed around the shoreline to prevent erosion.

The wooden stakes you see on the land around the lake protect the new plantings. Those native plants include:

River birch (Betula nigra)
Mockernut hickory (Carya alba)
Black gum (Nyssa sylvatica)
White oak (Quercus alba)
Pin oak (Quercus palustris)
Northern red oak (Quercus rubrum)
Serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
Ironwood (Carpinus caroliniana)
American holly (Ilex opaca)
Silky dogwood (Cornus amomum)
Blackhaw (Viburnum prunifolium)
Witchhazel (Hamamelis virginiana)

Update: November 13, 2014

Beavers have returned to Huntsman Lake!

Beaver at Huntsman

Update: November 6, 2014

Huntsman Lake has been restocked by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. Fairfax County Stormwater Planning Ecologist Shannon Curtis joined VDGIF officials on November 5 for the restocking. Curtis says officials dropped almost 15,000 fingerlings into the rising lake waters. Some bluegills were up to 4.5 inches long, but most were tiny.

Officials say there were about 1,500 catfish, 8,000 bluegill and 4,500 red ear sunfish placed into Huntsman. Eventually, largemouth bass will be added to the lake. That won’t happen, though, until the forage base is allowed to grow over the next year or two, and the bass will be small when they are added.

The lake remains open for fishing, however catches in 2015 will likely consist of mostly small sunfish, bluegill and catfish.

UPDATE: October 31, 2014

Huntsman Lake is refilling after work this summer to upgrade the dam. The state plans to restock the lake, possibly as soon as November. Wildlife is already returning. A berm midway down the lake will trap sediment so that the entire lake will not have to be drained the next time sediment is removed. Work crews were planting trees along the shoreline as it refills this week. Work crews have left some debris, stumps and channels in the lake as structure that will attract fish when the lake is restocked. All that’s left to do is the landscaping. Crews were there this week planting trees and native plants along the shoreline.

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June 27, 2014



Last summer the Park Authority posted a blog that said, “Huntsman Lake to be drained later this year.” This summer, it’s “Huntsman Lake to be filled later this year.”

The 28-acre lake in the Pohick Creek watershed was drained last year to allow for dam maintenance. That project is well under way, and Project Engineer Jacob Edwards says people may see water returning to the lake bed in September or October.

Separate projects are being conducted this summer at both ends of Huntsman Lake. Downstream at the dam, improvements are being made to the riser that stands out in the water and to the spillway, which is being extended and strengthened. Upstream, the lake is being dredged. Project Superintendent Bill Callaway says about 36,000 cubic yards of silt that has washed into the lake will be removed, leaving upstream areas about five feet deeper than they were before the lake was drained. Ecologist Shannon Curtis of the county’s Department of Public Works & Environmental Services says that trapping sediment is one of the lake’s primary functions.

At the downstream end of the lake, repairs to and replacement of some of the riser is under way. The riser is the concrete structure that visitors see standing in the deep end of the lake. It houses a pipe that drains the lake into the stream below the dam. It’s the work on that riser that required the draining of the lake. That repaired riser will have a second gate in it – the original had only one – and it will have baffle irons on top to stop debris from going into the structure. The riser also will have a drain that pulls water from the lower part of the water column and sends it downstream to Middle Run below the dam, a benefit to the animals living there.
Callaway says the old riser “wasn’t up to code for seismic activities.” In addition, the lake’s emergency spillway is being upgraded because of new state regulations governing dams. There’s nothing wrong with the Huntsman Lake dam. This is just an upgrade to meet the new regulations.

The project offers a chance to see how a spillway is constructed and the pieces that will be underground when all is completed. Think of it as a layer cake. At the bottom is the subgrade, which is just the dirt that’s already there. Next is black geotextile fabric, a kind of sheet that is permeable, increases soil stability and provides erosion control. On top of that goes four inches of 57 stone, which are stones crushed to about ¾ of an inch in size – the kind you’d enjoy tossing in the creek as a kid. Next is the geogrid. This is the structure’s reinforcement. It’s comprised of preformed concrete blocks in 8-by-20 foot sections that lock together with cables and rebar, allowing them to have a little flexibility. Those are filled with smaller stones about 3/8-to-1/2 inch in size, and once it’s all in place you have a spillway. Callaway says that if water ever does flow down the 10% grade of the spillway, the interlocking sections will act like armor and protect the subgrade, which means the dam won’t be eroded out. It’s protection against scour, which is the damage done by running water when it scoops out holes along its path.

Those are the layers of the cake. The icing is about six inches of topsoil where grass will grow, adding stability and aesthetics.

Analysis of the watershed has determined that it would take 5.8 inches of rain in a six-hour period or 6.2 inches in a 24-hour period to create conditions where water would flow into the spillway in a situation called Stage II in a flood preparedness plan. Stage I occurs when the National Weather Service issues a flood watch. Stage III, which means major flooding is imminent, would be triggered by 8.6 inches of rainfall in a six-hour period or 9 inches over a 24-hour period.

At the upstream end of the lake, dredging is taking place. Fortunately for fishermen, some of the stumps that were underwater in that part of the lake and that provide shelter for fish will remain. They’re in a part of the lake along the southern shoreline that will see little dredging. The added depth should be good for the lake’s biodiversity, and there may be fish structures added to the lake. Curtis says the heavy rains of early June made sediment control challenging, but they are working with the contractor to remove as much as possible from the lake bed.
Also in the plan are native plantings around the shoreline, which may give the lake a different look than it had prior to the current work. Edwards says those plantings likely will be put in place in September or October. The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries will then restock the lake next spring.

Dredging operations are expected to be completed this summer, possibly by the end of July. After silt removal on the upper end of the lake is completed, officials say the two small creeks that feed the lake at the lower end of the lake may also see some silt removed.

Some of the silt removed during the dredging is being recycled as topsoil through facilities in Virginia and Maryland. Tests showed no dangerous levels of any contaminants in the silt.
There’s no target date for returning the lake to its normal, historic level. There are regulations that set the amount of water that can be retained in a lake as it refills following dam maintenance, and nature has a say in the amount of precipitation that falls.

Lakes Woodglen and Royal are in line for future dredging, but there’s no set schedule for when that will happen. Officials say some of Woodglen’s fish might be moved to Huntsman. Department of Public Works and Environmental Services Project Manager Charles Smith says those lakes may be dredged “in the wet,” which means there will be no draw-down and the silt will be removed either by machines on barges or by hydraulic dredging using pipes and pumps. In the meantime, look for the Huntsman Dry Bed to start becoming Huntsman Lake again later this year.

Author Dave Ochs is the manager of stewardship communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Appreciating Our Pollinators

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Does anyone out there like food?

What’s your position on chocolate? How about coffee, blueberries, apples, almonds? If you are in favor of eating – and I believe that most of us are – then you are a natural fan of pollinators. Three-quarters of the plants on earth, one-third of human food, require animals such as bees, butterflies, flies and beetles for pollination, the process by which plants develop seeds and reproduce.

Large farms may bring in truckloads of honey bees to help to pollinate their crops, but on a small farm like Frying Pan Farm Park, native bees – which are better at pollinating plants than honey bees – and other insects are essential to the success of the crops. Native bees need our help. Disease, loss of important habitat like meadows, and widespread use of pesticides threaten their survival.

So, starting in July 2012 a team of people from Frying Pan Park, the Fairfax chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist program, and representatives of the Virginia Native Plant Society and Earth Sangha designed, planted and is now caring for a special garden around the park’s Dairy House. The garden includes plants important to bees, butterflies and other pollinating insects: goldenrods, beebalms, milkweeds, and many more.

I’ll be writing regularly about pollinators and the pollinator garden at Frying Pan Park. The next article about the pollinator garden will highlight milkweeds, a family of plants essential to the life cycle of one of our favorite butterflies, the monarch. Until then, I’ll be in the garden, so come visit!

Author Kim Scudera is a certified Virginia Master Naturalist and a volunteer at Frying Pan Farm Park.

Toddlers Love Our Garden Oasis

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Are you looking for a garden oasis in the suburban jungle to explore with your toddler or little one? Go explore Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria , one of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s most popular sites. I am ashamed to admit that I have lived in Fairfax County for nearly 30 years and never knew that Green Spring Gardens existed until just a few years ago. Since then, Green Spring Gardens has become my “go to” get away to a not-so-secret garden paradise right in the heart of the community.

As a busy working mom and Park Authority Board member, free time with my three year old is precious to me and I am constantly trying to expose my little guy to nature and beautiful things. I was born without a green thumb but I am grateful to the hundreds of volunteers and staff who have transformed Green Spring Gardens into such an amazing place.

Green Spring is the perfect destination for a family with young children to explore. First of all it’s FREE! But more importantly, the paved pathways are stroller friendly and the surroundings are peaceful and gorgeous. If you are a new mom looking for a place to stroll safely and quietly with your newborn or if you have an active toddler that needs some space to run and explore, Green Spring is a wonderful place to visit for an hour or two any day of the week.

The great thing about Green Spring is that even on the hottest days of summer it seems a bit cooler in the park. There’s lots of open space to safely run and play and there are plenty of butterflies to chase.

My toddler is enchanted by the secret pathways that wind through the trees (Mommy Tip: one “Secret” pathway is directly to the right of the stairs from the parking lot – so you can begin your exploration adventure right from the start).

Another favorite draw for my toddler is the newly refurbished gazebo which he loves to run around and play in. We practice our stretches and “Simon Says” skills in the gazebo and he just lights up as he hops and jumps down the stairs.

As a bonus, Moms and Dads who are looking for ideas to renovate even the smallest of yards can explore the demonstration gardens. These are great examples of how to use native plants to transform a townhouse size yard into your own garden oasis. Little ones will love exploring these too!

Throughout the gardens there are small bridges to cross and hidden benches to climb. A stroll down to the ponds to look for frogs and lily pads is sure to delight any child. If your children are older, many of the plants and trees are labeled so you can begin to teach them the names of the species surrounding them.

Not only is Green Spring a beautiful and peaceful place but it’s the perfect environment to develop your child’s imagination and connect nature to the stories you are reading to them. Whenever we visit we always spot one or more of what I call the four B’s: butterflies, bumble bees, birds and bunnies! Is your toddler into getting their hands a little dirty? Then steer them to the recently renovated Children’s garden. Here children can dig in the dirt and practice their planting skills.

If it’s raining OUTside then head INside to explore the Glasshouse “jungle” to look for imaginary jungle animals. Little girls may dream of fairies and connect with fairy tales in patches in pretty flowers. Spend some quiet time in the library. There is a book corner with large and small chairs set aside just for children and their accompanying adults.

The Horticulture Center has a wonderful little gift shop that includes children’s gardening themed items. Net proceeds come back to the park to be used for programs. Even a few moments admiring the art on display will start your child on a lifelong appreciation of drawing and painting. Check out the program and events calendar. Garden Sprouts programs are targeted to the preschool set.

In this busy Mom’s opinion Green Spring Gardens offers a wonderful opportunity for you to find a place to clear your mind and for your little one to explore in an unstructured way and learn to delight in the natural world around them. As a parent I think one of the best lessons to teach our little ones in the early years is that beauty is everywhere and we need to protect and nurture it.

So bring your little one to Green Spring Garden to discover what a beautiful world it can be!

Here are some of my Mommy DO’s and DON’Ts for visiting Green Spring Gardens with your toddler or little one:

  • DON’T stress about parking. There’s plenty of parking with easy access to the gardens. If you have a stroller, park at either end of the parking lot (closer to the Historic House or Horticulture Center for the easiest access. No need to stress about long walks and you don’t have to haul a diaper bag along because the car is never far away.
  • DO bring bug spray and sunscreen.
  • DO bring a change of clothes. If your toddler has a little too much fun in the Children’s garden you’ve got a back-up plan.
  • DO explore the “secret pathways” which are marked with stepping stones.
  • DO explore the Children’s Garden.
  • DO encourage your children to stop and smell the flowers. Remember this is a no picking and collecting park, that includes flowers, leaves, sticks, rocks and insects.
  • DO take photos of the flowers. These are a great teaching tool for your kids when you get home.
  • DO bring a snack (there are lots of benches and plenty of grass to lay on – bring a blanket just in case).
  • DO bring nature themed books to read with your child while you have a snack in the Gardens.
  • DO visit the horticulture center and the glass house!
  • DON’T worry about changing diapers – the bathrooms in the horticulture center have a place for you to change your little one. There are even footstools to give your child a boost so that they can wash their hands at the sink. In a pinch, there are always quiet out of the way spots and garbage cans throughout the park if you can’t get to the restrooms for an emergency diaper change.
  • DO visit the garden store. After exploring the gardens take a few items home for your child to continue to develop their green thumb and bring a piece of the adventure home.

Written by Kala Leggett Quintana, Fairfax County Park Authority Board Member, At-large

Finding Babes in the Woods — Then What?

A child attending a birthday party at Hidden Oaks Nature Center discovered this camouflaged fawn hiding under a fallen tree.

A child attending a birthday party at Hidden Oaks Nature Center discovered this camouflaged fawn hiding under a fallen tree.

“Mommy! Quick. I need a shoebox.”

Parents hear this cry spring and summer. Somebody has found a baby animal.

Before you respond to this plea in your home, take a moment for you and your child to learn about these cute, fuzzy, lovable baby animals. And remember – it’s a wild animal.

Most everyone has found, or knows someone who has found, a baby animal. Children are especially good at locating them, and reasonably so. Kids are curious, low to the ground, outside playing and willing to venture into areas adults would shun. Children have a difficult time understanding that animals naturally do what kids most fear – leave their young alone. The excitement of finding a bunny in tall grass or a helpless young squirrel at the base of a tree is enrapturing, and the urge that follows is irresistible – the baby must be saved! The idea of a new, exciting pet also appeals to children and, likewise, to many adults.

A young Suzanne Holland holds Baby Rabbity.

A young Suzanne Holland holds Baby Rabbity.

I have fond childhood memories of Baby Rabbity, a week-old bunny that I pulled from the mouth of a neighbor’s dog. I was thrilled that we couldn’t find the nest and that my parents agreed to let us keep it. I did not have the responsibility of the feedings throughout the night, so I was happier about the new visitor than were my parents. (In hindsight, we exacerbated our foundling’s problems because nestlings are typically fed only twice a day, and cow’s milk is an inappropriate substitute.) Our beagle paid no attention to the guest for about three weeks. Then the howling began. The rabbit’s scent had developed, as did an unfortunate trait of not wanting to be handled by little girls. After it bit a friend, my mother found a home for it with a breeder who had to promise to provide milk for Rabbity since it had never learned to drink water.

Although that rabbit’s chances of survival, if we had left it in the brush, were slim, we were not qualified to raise a young, wild creature effectively to achieve a successful release into its normal habitat. Today, those who live in Northern Virginia are fortunate to have a dedicated group of trained, licensed volunteers who are wildlife rehabilitators. When a young animal has been truly abandoned, injured or is ill, a call to your nearest nature center is a prudent step. We can provide you with the phone number of the nearest wildlife rehabilitator.

Most foundlings are not really abandoned but have been left alone for their own protection. As is the case of our bunny foundling, the young have no scent, whereas the mother does. Rabbits and deer both leave their young in a protected area for most of the day, returning only to feed them. A predator would be unlikely to find a quiet, still creature without scent to assist him. By the time scent is developed, the young should have developed skills for survival.

Allowing wildlife to remain wild is as important for human safety as it is for the wild animal itself. Many federal, state or county ordinances prohibit the harboring of wild “pets.” One reason is that these creatures can carry diseases which are transmittable to humans, including rabies, histoplasmosis, roundworm, salmonellosis and tuberculosis. Grey squirrels, while not common carriers of rabies, are flea infested. Fleas can rapidly spread disease.

Even if the goal is to release the animal back into its habitat at the earliest possible opportunity, caretaking is not advisable. Less than 10 percent of adopted wild animals survive in captivity. Relocating animals also has a low success rate. Rescuing wildlife and providing the care required for a successful release into the wild takes time, patience, training – and the proper permits! Rehabilitators are trained periodically. For information, contact the Wildlife Rescue League at 703-440–0800.

Author Suzanne Holland is the Assistant Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

Oak Marr RECenter Renovations Update

UPDATE: October 22, 2014

A ceremony marking the official reopening of Oak Marr RECenter was held Saturday, October 18, 2014. View photos from the event.

UPDATE: September 12, 2014

Thanks for attending the open house! Here are some photos from the event.

UPDATE: September 4, 2014

Open House Slated for Saturday, September 6, 2014

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The fitness expansion project is complete and the RECenter is open today! Come experience your new facility at an open house this Saturday (9/6) from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. After a year of construction, we are excited to showcase the facility and what Oak Marr has to offer. General admission will be free all day!

Free activities for all ages include: petting zoo, trackless train, magic shows, balloon sculptures, face painting, Fairfax County Animal Shelter, popcorn, snow-cones, and more.

Open House Event Schedule:

  • Fitness Center 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. – Free In-Body Monitor Testing
  • Swimming – 1 p.m. to 7 p.m.
  • Child Care Tour – 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Meet and Greet the Staff!
  • Mini Golf – 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. (2 for 1 pricing)
  • Diving – 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.
  • Free Class Demos – Zumba, Pilates, Cycle, Spin, Karate, Dance, Arts & Crafts, Yoga, and Tai Chi

The slideshow above highlights the:

  • Upper and lower fitness rooms with new equipment
  • Hardwood fitness studio for additional programming
  • Spin studio with a projector and pull-down screen
  • Child care room to encourage family fitness
  • New vibrant and welcoming lobby and sitting room

We hope to see you Saturday!

Watch this video to see what patrons are saying about the new facilities.

June 3, 2014

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Staff members are buzzing about the changes we’re seeing at Oak Marr RECenter. With each passing day the year-long project takes another step toward completion. We are excited to share the improvements with our customers who have been waiting patiently for the RECenter to reopen.

The building’s new glass façade now protrudes into the old parking lot, and customers are taking notice. Everyone seems to agree that the building looks great, and many people are curious about what amenities are being added. In case you haven’t heard, Oak Marr is undergoing more than your average building makeover; the RECenter is being transformed into one of the area’s most modern fitness facility.

The finished project will include:

  • A new, two-story, 5,500 square-foot fitness center with state-of-the-art equipment
  • A dedicated stretching area in the fitness center
  • Three new multipurpose rooms for fitness classes and other activities
  • An expanded fitness center entry area with cubbies
  • A 700-square-foot babysitting area with a restroom
  • An updated lobby and administration area
  • A new entrance to improve facility access and security

But the question on everyone’s mind is, “When will it be finished?” The answer is: soon. A grand opening will be held this fall to mark the occasion, and everyone is invited to join in the celebration.

Manager Kirt Chase said, “For the past 12 months we have been watching our new expansion being built from the ground up, and now that we are getting close to completion we are excited to see the public’s reaction to our new state-of-the-art facility.”

Program Director Robert Arguinzoni is excited about the enhanced space for dance, gymnastics, and tot programs this fall. “It will allow us to introduce new levels of classes that kids and parents have been looking forward to since construction began last spring,” Arguinzoni said. He is also sure parents will love the new childcare room adding, “It will be a wonderful option for parents who are looking for time to work out and not have to worry about making other arrangements for child care.”

Aquatics Supervisor Nicole Marko said the physical changes have been surreal. “I have been at Oak Marr for so long – starting in 1999 as an adapted aquatics volunteer – having taught as a part-time swim instructor 2001-2005 and then full-time since February 2007.  I have seen its evolution in customers, program offerings and even paint colors.  It’s interesting to see the new integrated with the old. But we all look forward to replacing the constant sounds of banging and drilling with the sounds of treadmills and ellipticals!”

Fitness Director Jennifer Elgas is thrilled about the new fitness center and is happy to be part of the exciting changes. She said, “I am anxious for it to open and am most excited to see everyone’s reactions to it, as well as being able to serve more members with our variety of state-of-the-art equipment.”

Oak Marr has seen significant transformations since opening in 1988, but none as sweeping as the expansion of the fitness center. We look forward to presenting Oakton area residents with this top-tier fitness facility. In the meantime, stop by and see the changes for yourself. Then join us for the grand opening this fall!

We can’t wait to see you!

This post will be updated with new information and photographs as the project nears completion. Check back often to see what’s new!

Written by Alex Barnard, recreation specialist, Oak Marr RECenter

Oak Marr Panarama