Monthly Archives: November 2015

Heritage Preservation, “It’s all about teamwork.”

Remarkable Level of Cooperation Helps Preserve Civil War Relics

On Wednesday, October 14, 2015 the Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch (CRMPB) received a call from Mohamed Kadasi, an engineer with the Fairfax County Utilities Design and Construction Division (UDCD). Kadasi thought that excavations for a shoulder and sidewalk improvement project near the City of Fairfax might have unearthed a historic resource. Backhoe trench excavations had struck an old, buried macadam surface. When that was lifted it exposed a cedar log road. Ken Atkins, senior inspector with UDCD, had the construction team very carefully remove the macadam so as not to disturb the logs. Inspector Atkins is very interested in history and wanted to make sure that the past was not lost. His fast action and the care taken to not impact the logs were absolutely invaluable in understanding an important part of Fairfax County history.

ExcavationThe CRMPB sent archaeologists to assess the discovery. When they arrived, it was clear to the archaeologists that a historic roadway had been found. In the past, it was common to use logs as a road surface, in particular during the Civil War when high traffic in the area mucked up what had been dirt roads. The archaeologists took numerous pictures and devised a plan to properly record the site. Both CRMPB and UDCD staff coordinated so that no important archaeological information was lost and so that the improvement project could continue with as minimal an impact to the construction schedule as possible. At the end of the day Atkins secured the site and placed a steel plate over the trench, both for public safety and to protect the logs.

However, the need for cooperation did not end there. The project was being conducted within an easement held by the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). In order to conduct archaeological investigations on state-controlled property it is necessary to first receive a permit issued by the Virginia Department of Historic Resources (VDHR). The acronym soup was getting thicker, now requiring coordination between CRMPB, UDCD, VDOT, and VDHR! CRMPB archaeologists provided VDHR with the work plan and submitted the permit application; as the easement holders, VDOT would have to agree to plan and co-sign the permit. All the agencies involved moved with remarkable speed and efficiency. Within 48 hours of submitting the application, CRMPB received the permit.

MapUpon receiving the permit, CRMPB merit and limited term staff drew a detailed map of the logs by hand to permanently record this resource. Then, they attached two numbered plastic tags to each log. Storm water management for the improvement project called for installation of a pipe below the grade of the historic, Civil War period road surface. Instead of removing the logs mechanically, they were saw cut. After the pipe was installed, the trench was backfilled to the level of the log road. Tagging had allowed for the placement of each cut end back along its corresponding log. Then the trench was backfilled to present-day grade.

image007However, this was only part of the preservation process. CRMPB archaeologists also used a surveyor’s total station to record the historic road surface in three dimensions within millimeter accuracy. Assistance from yet another agency was again necessary. The Fairfax County GIS department is processing high definition LiDAR data to create very fine topographic maps of the entire county. At CRMPB request, the GIS department processed the data in the vicinity of the project area. This imagery clearly shows the remains of a Civil War circular fort that had served to protect against enemy movement along the historic roadway. Combined with the information recovered about the log road and other, now long-gone, Civil War encampments and fortifications in the area, the hope is to virtually reconstruct the historic landscape of this area, providing a better understanding of Fairfax County’s Civil War history. None of this would have been possible without the remarkable and expedient coordination between county and state agencies from the moment of discovery though reburial.

When the CRMPB archaeologists left the site, we thanked Ken for saving this piece of the past. “It’s all about teamwork,” he said. How true that is.

Author Christopher Sperling is the Senior Archaeologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Nature Centers are Busy Places

Hidden PondPerhaps you’ve walked into a nature center and it’s been gently quiet. The exhibit animals weren’t moving. A person behind the desk worked on a project. You strolled past the exhibits, stepped back outside, and hiked through the woods. A quiet day, it looked like nothing was going on.

If so, you missed all the excitement.

Nature centers are busy places, and there’s a lot happening. Take a look at Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield, a tiny spot overflowing with activity, much of it family-focused and much of it behind the scenes or in the woods. So how busy is this one, small park? Look at the activity from just one, recent October week:

Seventh graders from Lake Braddock Secondary School visited for Meaningful Watershed Experience programs on Tuesday and Thursday. They spent several hours in the park stopping at designed stations that reinforce classroom learning with practical, in-the-field experience. The park’s visitor services manager, Michelle Alexander, assured that all stations on the tour functioned well. Eight staffers and volunteers were on hand to serve the students in the field.

There was a Daisy Petal scout program hosted by staffer Brian Umanzor and volunteer Megan Miller.

A.J. Barhard teamed with the Abalos-Green brothers, John and Aaron, to host a Wednesday Pohick Puddle Jumper program for three-to-seven year-old naturalists.

Hidden Pond

Monday’s Nature Quest program for that same age group was a hit because leader Becky Conway got those preschool naturalists out on fun adventures. She does that every week.

Saturday brought a birthday party to the nature center, and once again staff and volunteers guided the visitors through a fun park experience.

Those exhibit animals? Folks were checking on them and caring for them every day. Those critters don’t take days off.

Cleaning crews kept the place looking great.

Staffers from the Cultural Resources branch of the Park Authority were at Hidden Pond running tests on an area planned for a new playground and educational site project. They tested spots in the scrubby area between the park’s current playground and the staff parking lot, finding several old nails, broken glass, a staffer’s lost Batman binoculars and an old cassette tape of the greatest hits of Barry Manilow. Not the sort of cultural resources that would prevent the area from becoming the site of a new educational shelter, but it does show the concern and care for land and history that the Park Authority displays before construction occurs at any site.

Duckweed Removal Eagle Scout ProjectSeveral scout projects were conducted during the week. One produced new railings on the pond dock, with some filling in of an eroded area. The other led to the removal of roughly a quarter-acre of invasive multiflora rose and the placing of an invasive plant educational footpost at a trail head.

Porcelain berry vines and their seeds were removed thanks to efforts of the Lake Braddock seventh graders. They also snatched away other invasive plants like oriental bittersweet vine and multiflora rose. Park Manager Mike McCaffrey said, “We know we will not get rid of it all, but it will and does make a difference.” He cited work of a few years ago when invasive garlic mustard was taking over several large patches in the park. Staff and volunteers worked diligently to hit it hard and, while still there, it is contained now to only one large patch which will be targeted in the spring of 2016.

Inside the office, staff was coordinating future invasive plant removals and seeking volunteers for a campfire program that would require fire tenders, s’more makers, critter handlers and trail walk assistants.

Hidden PondTwo seasonal Haunted Pond programs were held – one for children aged three to six, the other for the six-to-12 group that can handle slightly spookier stories.

Then there was the end-of-the-week staff gathering ‘round the campfire after the Haunted Pond visitors went home – a chance for staff to kick back, relax, and enjoy the small park they’ve grown to love. And maybe, since it was close to Halloween, hear another ghost story or two.

So if you walked into Hidden Pond and the area looks quiet, remember that the staff is a lot like the wildlife. There’s a lot going on in those woods even if you don’t see or hear it.

Hidden Pond Nature Center is at 8511 Greeley Blvd. in Springfield, Va. The phone number is 703-451-9588.


Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

They’re WILDlife. They Do What They Want.

BeaverPartnering with Wildlife

There was some unauthorized – or perhaps, unscheduled would be a better word – construction on a county creek recently. We learned about it through an email from a county resident:

“I just wanted to send a quick note about a Cross County Trail crossing just south of the Fairfax County Parkway.  There appears to be something that has dammed Pohick Creek and has caused the cement pillars used to cross the creek to become submerged in water and impassable.  I know some of the crossings become submerged in water when the creek is high, but this is different.  All of the other crossings along this section of Pohick Creek are well above water and the creek is otherwise at a pretty low level right now.  I’ve never seen this particular crossing submerged when the creek was otherwise at this low level.  Additionally, the water in this area is quite still.  I could see an area just downstream that looked, perhaps, like a bunch of dead wood that was possibly damming the creek, but I’m not certain. “

The email was forwarded to Area 4 Manager Ed Richardson, who oversees maintenance in parks in that area of the county. Richardson went to see what was going on and found the “bunch of dead wood.” Sure enough, it was a beaver dam that had been built just downstream of the creek’s fair weather crossing. Richardson opened the dam at both ends to give the water a path, hoping that storms would do the rest. Instead, the beaver rebuilt the dam within a couple of days, so a work crew was sent to demolish the structure.

“A final resolution depends on how committed the beaver is to damming the creek here,” Richardson said. “Hopefully it will move on without much fight.”

Senior Natural Resource Specialist Kristen Sinclair explained that the Fairfax County Park Authority follows a Standard Operating Procedure when it comes to wildlife conflict:

“Beavers, in particular, generate about 5-10 complaints each year involving trail flooding or tree damage. Beaver are tolerated whenever possible in our stream valley parks because they are a highly beneficial native mammal in Northern Virginia. Beaver-created habitat provides pollution control and helps mitigate erosion by slowing down streams. Progressive measures considered for resolving wildlife conflicts include tolerance, exclusion, harassment and, lastly, population control. In the case of Pohick Creek, staff must balance the need for public recreation against the beaver’s chosen spot to set up home, for now.“

This beaver may be lodging in the ground. Richardson said he didn’t see a lodge at the dam, but did see large burrow entrances with fresh spoils nearby. Sinclair said beaver sometimes do lodge inside banks.

If this beaver moves elsewhere, the problem’s solved. If the beaver rebuilds in the same spot, we’ll have to monitor it until he learns what we always have to keep in mind – that wildlife and people share the same places in this county. We each have to give a little in order to protect each other and the county’s natural resources.

There’s more information about beavers and wildlife conflict at these links:


Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.




What’s Swimming in Your Water?

HellgrammiteEver wonder what creepy crawlies live in your neighborhood creek? There’s an app for that.

The Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) this past summer launched an app called “Creek Critters” that guides you through finding and identifying small aquatic organisms and the creation of a stream health report based on your findings. Fairfax County Park Authority volunteers have used the app, including a group that conducted a monitoring session on October 11 in South Run, not far from South Run RECenter.

Meaningful Watershed Education ExperienceThe Park Authority, ANS, the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, the Fairfax chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalists, and Friends of Accotink Creek are partnering in this monitoring project. The Park Authority occasionally offers opportunities for you to join other volunteers and get into your streams, find and identify the living organisms (macroinvertebrates) that live there, and learn what these organisms tell us about stream health.

There are several places to seek information about joining any of these monitoring events.

For sites near Lake Accotink Park in Springfield, contact or see the calendar at For South Run sites, email And for information about surveys at most other streams in the county, visit and search for “stream monitoring” or email

Download the free Creek Critters app from either the Apple App Store or Google Play. If you volunteer, you’ll need your smartphone and shoes or boots that will get wet. At scheduled events, all of the collection and identification information will be provided. For more information, contact Dan Schwartz at or call 703-324-1422.

Author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Resource Management Division of the Fairfax County Park Authority.