Monthly Archives: December 2016

Master Planning the Park System



“A goal without a plan is just a wish.” ― Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The Fairfax County Park Authority wants to make your wishes our goals, and we’re working hard to develop an Agency Master Plan for the entire park system.

The planning process includes the Parks Count Community Parks and Recreation Needs Assessment, which was completed in spring 2016, and has provided input and data from park users and non-users alike. With the help of more than 4,600 survey respondents, dozens of stake holder meetings with the community, open houses, focus groups and Park Board, and using new outreach tools through our website, email and crowdsourcing, we are now in the final phases of our development of a comprehensive park system master plan aimed at meeting the community needs.

Through our data collection and research to date, we have confirmed that our parks are highly valued and are considered extremely important in meeting the high quality of life desired by county residents. We also learned that more funding needs to be allocated and prioritized towards taking care of our existing parks and facilities and that residents rank walking/biking trails; small community parks; swimming pools; swim lessons; and exercise and fitness facilities as their highest priorities. Given this data, the Fairfax County Park Board recently established the following guiding principles for the Park Authority as part of the Park Authority Master Plan:

  • Inspire A Passion For Parks
  • Advance Park System Excellence
  • Meet Changing Recreation Needs
  • Be Equitable & Inclusive
  • Promote Healthy Lifestyles
  • Strengthen & Foster Partnerships
  • Be Great Stewards

The Park Authority Master Plan core objectives are to:

Incorporate the community input and updated data that has been collected from the planning process into one Agency Master Plan; and create clear direction and strategic alignment for all Park Authority policy, actions, programs, parks and facilities within the Fairfax County Park Authority system of services; and to

Align all major plans under the one Agency Master Plan and ensure consistent direction and service delivery to the community; and by doing so

  • Meet the accreditation standards of the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA)

Over the next several months, a team of technical experts, staff and Park Authority leadership will be drafting the initial plan within the guiding principal framework. We’ll be sharing that draft with the public this summer and seeking input on the draft master Plan at that time. In the meantime, stay tuned for more information about the Park Authority and our Agency Master Plan on our website and through emails and social media.


Author Samantha Hudson is a Planner in the Park Authority Planning and Development Division.



1,365 Photographs of White-tailed Deer


On the back end of 2014, volunteers with an initiative called eMammal did some research in Fairfax County. eMammal is a collaboration among citizen scientists, researchers at the Smithsonian Institution, and North Carolina State University.

emammel-logo007Volunteers, with permission and in coordination with the Fairfax County Park Authority, set up camera traps in parks and at other Fairfax County natural areas to learn more about the numbers and distribution of wildlife mammals in urban areas throughout the Washington, D.C./ Northern Virginia / West Virginia / Maryland region. Motion and heat sensors triggered the cameras, and volunteers monitored the equipment and the results. It was a bit like throwing dice. You know a number is going to come up, but you don’t really know what you’re going to get.

The Smithsonian Institution is storing the camera trap photos as digital museum “specimens” that will be curated as a publicly accessible Smithsonian collection. The repository also will be accessible to other institutions to store, search, and analyze their own camera trap data.

The survey results do indicate the relative abundance of animals in an area, but the initiative is not an accurate way to determine the density of an animal population, i.e., how many of a certain species live in a given area.

Following is some of the 2014-2015 data that appears in eMammal’s report on the project.

Here is the list of sites that hosted eMammal camera traps, with the number of days a camera was in the field between July and November of 2014 in parentheses. Some sites had more than one camera trap:

Little Difficult Run Stream Valley (27), Holmes Run Stream Valley (22), McLean Hamlet (24), Lake Mercer (21), Marie Butler Leven Preserve (21), Willow Pond (3), Accotink Stream Valley (22), Lake Accotink (21, 23), Pimmit Run Stream Valley (22), Twin Lakes Golf Course (23), Bush Hill Park (25), Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (22, 24), Patriot Park (22), Cub Run Stream Valley (21, 26, 22), Lake Fairfax (23, 23), Franconia Park (72), Mark Twain Park (28), Dogue Creek (29), Groveton Heights (29), Manchester Lakes (29), Huntley Meadows (22, 21, 23), Springfield Forest (21), Fitzhugh Park (29), Wakefield Park (29), Lee High Park (22), Poplar Ford Park (22), Rocky Run (22), and Fred Crabtree Park (24).

eMammal cameras captured:

  • 83 photos of the camera trap volunteers
  • One blue jay – at Lake Accotink
  • 16 coyotes – nine of those at Franconia Park on five different days. Coyotes were also photographed at Mark Twain, Lake Accotink, Patriot Park, Holmes Run SV, and Little Difficult Run SV among other parks
  • 9 domestic cats, with Franconia Park and Groveton Heights leading the way
  • 165 domestic dogs
  • 17 Eastern cottontails, with Groveton Heights producing the largest number of them
  • 2 Eastern fox squirrels at Bush Hill Park and Groveton Heights (these would be unusual here)
  • 809 Eastern gray squirrels
  • 1 Northern flying squirrel at Dogue Creek
  • 1 gray fox at Ellanor C. Lawrence. Most of our locals are red foxes.
  • 237 red foxes
  • 672 humans
  • 182 Northern raccoon, and again Groveton Heights led the way
  • 1 striped skunk at Cub Run Stream Valley
  • 1 unknown owl at Dogue Creek along with other birds, canines, foxes, and unidentifiable squirrels
  • 1 bicycle at Lake Accotink
  • 16 Virginia Opossum, most at Fitzhugh Park and Lake Accotink
  • 1 wild turkey at Huntley Meadows
  • 1,365 white-tailed deer





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



Seeking American Alliance of Museums Accreditation

Assuring residents that their Park Authority is serving them. 

aamWe’re going to have visitors as we move into the holiday season. They’re going to want to know if we’re doing a good job.

The American Alliance of Museums (AAM) establishes the standards through which museums are recognized for their commitment to excellence, accountability, and professionalism. In 1979, the Fairfax County Park Authority became the first county agency in the nation accredited by the AAM.

This year, we’re making sure we keep that accreditation.

In recent months, we’ve been working toward re-accreditation. We’ve completed a part of the process called a Self-Study, and that was submitted to the AAM in July 2016. Next is a visit from AAM personnel who will take a look at our sites. They’ll file a report, an AAM commission will review their report on February 8, 2017 and, if all goes well, accreditation will be granted in spring 2017.

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Here’s what we hope to accomplish:

Colvin Run, Sully, and the Historic Artifact Collection were accredited in 1979, and all were reaccredited in 1990 and 2002. Green Spring was included for the first time in 2002.

The AAM representatives will look to see if the Fairfax County Park Authority meets certain requirements that fall under specific headings — Public Trust and Accountability, Mission and Planning, Leadership and Organizational Structure, Stewardship of the Collections, Education and Interpretation, Facilities and Risk Management, and Financial Stability.

The Park Authority Board, senior leadership, and site staff are preparing now to answer questions they’ll face on collection policies and procedures when the AAM members visit. We’re preparing a “year-in-the-life-of-a-site” presentation for the AAM visitors, who will be in Fairfax County on December 13, 14, and 15 of this year. They will probably be most interested in our plans for a bond-funded facility to store our collections, the impact that the recession had on our operations, and our staffing.

The AAM visitors will see FCPA Collections at Walney Visitor Center in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and at the Frey House, then visit Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. They’ll also visit Sully Historic Site and Frying Pan Farm Park as well as spend time with the Park Board and attend a reception at the county government’s Herrity Building, where the Park Authority’s main offices reside. Their final day will be spent at Colvin Run Mill Historic Site and amid the archaeological collections at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church.

Since the last time the agency was accredited, we’ve made some critical changes to our collections policies, implemented new recordkeeping databases for objects and plants, adopted the Professional Code of Ethics for Museum Operations, improved storage conditions with better housekeeping and environmental monitoring, and updated our emergency plans and Friend Groups agreements.

We hope that AAM confirms that we manage our collections properly, are working to get better at our responsibilities, and are following current museum best practices and professional standards.

That accreditation will tell you that we’re doing things the right way.



Author David Ochs is the Stewardship Communications Manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division, and co-author Carol Ochs is a management analyst in the agency’s Public Information Office.