Perhaps 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.
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.
Several 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.
Two 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.