Monthly Archives: May 2017

Scott’s Run: Terrific, Torrential, Treasured and Terrifying

Scott's Run waterfall 2One of the most scenic parks in Fairfax County is also among the most jeopardized and potentially dangerous.

The park is Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, and it needs a little love. The preserve’s troubles are an age-old issue – folks who don’t understand the consequences of their actions and a lack of understanding about how nature works. (Video)

The park draws people because it is remote and beautiful, but some visitors take advantage of that to drink alcohol illegally and to leave the site trashed. Trash is a blight Scott's Run, trash 5-19-17that ruins the next visitor’s park experience and that eventually floats downstream in the Potomac River into the Chesapeake Bay, causing pollution and impacting wildlife. The wrapper you drop in the woods can choke a turtle or a fish downstream.

Scott’s Run is blessed and cursed by beautiful sections of stream that invite people to wade or swim, but wading and swimming in the stream is illegal, unsafe and irresponsible.

Scott’s Run starts in one of the highest spots in Fairfax County, under the towering buildings of Tysons, and it flows into the Potomac River in an area called The Potomac Gorge. The Gorge is special, probably more special than most folks in the Washington area realize. The park’s terrain and the Potomac River’s floodwaters that transport seed from the Shenandoah Mountains are a combination that has created one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic. There are floodplains, rocky cliffs, and narrow valleys that were carved over eons by the erosive forces of the Potomac River. It is a union of rocks and river that is home to many unusual plants and animals.

Scott's Run waterfall 2-editBecause Scott’s Run is a nature preserve, the park’s entire area and all its resources are protected, including the creeks and streams. Wading and swimming are not allowed for a couple of reasons. First, the water can be polluted by runoff from upstream. Second, wading and swimming damage the fragile composition of the stream bed and possibly harm the area’s unusual combinations of plants and animals.

In addition, the beauty of the gorge’s carved valley is deceptively dangerous.

Water’s thunderous power is obvious at one of the gorge’s feature attractions, the cascades and falls at Great Falls National Park. But that’s not the only place along the Potomac River that the gorge creates quick, threatening currents speckled with underwater hazards.

The large creek flowing through the western end of Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is surrounded by steep hills. When there is rain, water falling on the roads and rooftops of Tysons flows not into the ground but rushes over those impermeable surfaces into Scott’s Run. By the time the creek reaches the park, it has swollen into a massive amount of water. At the preserve, the steep hills act like a funnel. Combine the swelling waters from upstream with the water rushing down the steep slopes of the park into the narrow canyons of the creek, and water levels can leap upwards in just moments. Those quiet waters become a raging maelstrom that can knock over a human and drag him underwater into twisting, treacherous currents. People can die in these waters.

That’s why swimming and wading are prohibited. Swimmers at Scott’s Run are in danger if waters rise. Waders are exposed to water that could be polluted, and waders kick up stones that provide shelter and housing for tiny animals. Yet the perception of Scott’s Run as a safe swimming hole persists, fueled by social media posts of people on rocks around the creek and near its low waterfall.

Fairfax County Park Authority regulation 1.21 states that swimming, bathing, and wading are prohibited in parkland bodies of water. Scott's Run - Lt. Jason Allegra, FCPA and John Callow, Riverbend Park Site ManagerThe Fairfax County Police Department is going to enforce those rules this summer. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department website says nearly three out of four times that the department responds to a river emergency something has happened along the shoreline, not in or near a boat. There have been rescues of people trapped by high water in Scott’s Run.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is one of the most beautiful, alluring, remarkable parks of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit the park, take care of it, and enjoy this special place responsibly.

And arrive safe and sound at home after you visit.

Author John Callow is the Manager of Riverbend Park, which sits a short distance upstream from Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. Co-author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Park Authority.

Discovery Trail 2017: Fairfax County’s 275th Birthday

#WhereIsLordFairfax?Disc Trail

Got summer plans? We hope they include a tour of your local parks. In addition to tons of fun, you could bring home a prize package or a free bike after a park tour along the Discovery Trail.

Our popular Discovery Trail Map returns for a fourth straight summer of fun, and in celebration of Fairfax County’s 275th anniversary, this year’s map chronicles milestone moments in each featured park’s history. Best of all this year, the program is expanding so that both children and adults are eligible to win.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick up a map at any staffed Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) location, any Fairfax County Public Library, any of the five Northern Virginia Spokes, Etc. locations, your Board of Supervisor’s office, or download one from www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/discovery-trail-map.
  • Visit eight of the 12 featured parks between May 27 and September 4, 2017.
  • Collect a sticker at each site, and place it in the corresponding box on your map.
  • Once you’ve collected eight stickers, you qualify for a prize pack valued at $93 that includes passes to more summer fun. You’ll also be entered in a drawing to win one of four bikes donated through the Fairfax County Park Foundation by Spokes Etc. and Trek.
  • Turn in your completed map at the main office at Burke Lake Park, Lake Accotink Park, or Lake Fairfax Park to get the prize package that includes admission tickets for a round of mini-golf, a carousel ride, a train ride, a tour boat ride, a pedal boat outing, camping, a wagon ride, a RECenter pass, AND a boat rental!
  • While you’re there, fill out a form to enter the drawing for a bike. Disc Trail - Spokes and Bike 1

Four people will take home bicycles. One winner will come from each of four groups – preschoolers through second grade, grades three through seven, grades eight through 12, and adults age 18 and older.

Participating sites are Burke Lake Park, Colvin Run Mill, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Frying Pan Farm Park, Green Spring Gardens, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Huntley Meadows Park, Lake Accotink Park, Lake Fairfax Park,  Riverbend Park, and Sully Historic Site. Directions to each of the parks can be found on the Park Authority website and in Parktakes magazine.

While at the parks, keep an eye out for Thomas, Baron Cameron, sixth Lord Fairfax. He was an influential friend of George Washington and was the only English titled nobleman ever to reside permanently in the colonies. Lord Fairfax was born in England in 1693, inherited the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers ranging from the Chesapeake Bay to the Shenandoah Mountains, and moved to Virginia permanently in 1742. In 1748, Washington was one of the men he hired to survey his land. The two remained close until Fairfax’s death in 1781.

(You’re already learning stuff!)

Disc Trail - Lord Fairfax_051117_0003If you happen to encounter a cardboard cutout of Thomas, snap a selfie with him and upload it to our Instagram page with the hashtag #WhereIsLordFairfax. The best photo of each week wins a prize. Check the FCPA Facebook page weekly for clues about Lord Fairfax’s whereabouts.

Each featured site on the map has a connection to Fairfax County history. One of the parks exists because of Fort Belvoir, another was a private recreation facility, and a third was home to illegal moonshining. Learn which one was almost an airport. One housed a 19th century biracial church, and one almost became a lake.

The Discovery Trail Map is a great way for students to keep the knowledge flowing during summer months, for families to explore nature and history close to home, and for you to learn about your fabulous local parks.

So, pick up or download your Discovery Trail Map, explore your parks and win!

Co-Author Karen Thayer is the editor of the Park Authority’s Parktakes Magazine, and co-author David Ochs is the editor of the agency’s ResOURces newsletter.

 

History by the Shovelful at Colvin Run Mill

 

Update: May 15, 2017

 

nails2Nailed it.

Renovations are underway at the Colvin Run Mill Historic Site’s miller’s house, and pleasant, historic surprises are being discovered. Consider this one an unintentional time capsule.

The house is getting new shingles, and it may not be surprising that nails were found during the renovation – but these nails from the building’s roof appear to be originals from the time of the house’s construction. The Park Authority’s Heritage Conservation Branch Manager, David Buchta, confirmed that when he examined them.

“They are all hand headed and appear to have been made from nail stock,” said Colvin Run Mill Site Manager Mike Henry.

Site Historian Kathryn Blackwell said the nail stock production likely came “at a time between hand-forged and machine made, so they’re a really interesting find!”

The conservation work at the Colvin Miller’s House by the Heritage Conservation Branch is nearing completion. “Exterior work includes a new cedar shingle roof, extensive masonry work, which removed inappropriate mortar applications, and new shutters,” Buchta said. “The interior work is highlighted by reinforcement of second floor joists, historically accurate painting, and re-created custom millwork for doors and moldings.”

May 2, 2016

CRM-Arch-WorkBiggest mole holes you’ve ever seen? Nope, just test pits being dug by Fairfax County Park Authority archaeologists in a new search to uncover the past at the Colvin Run Mill Historic Site.

Colvin Run’s main feature is a restored and working mill – a water-powered technological marvel built around 1811. But among the other structures on the site is the Miller’s House, home to the families that operated the mill. In 2011, a formal Historic Structures Report for the house identified problems with the structure and recommended steps needed to preserve and maintain the facility for generations to come.

Funded by bond money, that treatment plan is now set to be implemented. One of the proposed improvements is the installation of a ramp that will allow mobility-impaired patrons to experience the building. Because installation will disturb the ground at the historic site, archaeology began on the property before work commences. Swinging into action, archaeologists Alisa Pettitt and Jonathan Mayes from the Park Authority’s Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch mapped a grid around the house and began to dig.

Carefully.

Documenting every shovelful of earth they turned, the team conducted a systematic search around the house, uncovering artifacts and clues as they went. More than two dozen shovel test pits were opened and explored. Combining the information they uncover with historic documents, the archaeologists will be able to piece together some of the activities that occurred at the Miller’s House. Their work will reveal any past features that might be present and, hopefully, provide data that will both assist in the restoration and interpretation of the building.

So what did they find?

During excavations at the house, archaeologists discovered intact features and an intact soil layer that had not been impacted by modern activities. Although most of the artifacts recovered from tests were architectural, such as bricks, nails, and window glass, there were several unique finds. A ceramic doll arm, discovered on the east side of the house, evoked images of a young child playing in the yard on a spring morning. A piece of lead shot from the west side of the house called to mind hunting activities. A small fragment of Jackfield ceramic, which dates to the late 18th or early 19th century, was usually made in the form of coffee or tea services, suggesting an important activity of the time.  The excavation, analysis and preservation of these and other artifacts offer a window into the lives of the folks who lived and worked at this historic mill.

While the final analysis and report has yet to be written, the process of uncovering fragments of the past has added an additional sense of excitement to the restoration project. The story of the Miller’s House and its generations of inhabitants will continue to unfold one shovelful of clues at a time.

Colvin Run Mill Historic Site is located at 10017 Colvin Run Road in Great Falls, VA.

 

Author Mike Henry is the Site Manager at Colvin Run Mill. Co-author Dr. Elizabeth Crowell is the Cultural Resource Management and Protection Branch Manager for the Park Authority.

Hidden Pond’s Almanac

Following nature step-by-step

Blog-Cardinal

How would you like a personal guide to lead you step-by-step through the changes occurring in nature as spring passes into summer? We’d like to offer you Jim Pomeroy, the retired site manager of Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield, Va.

Jim used his experience at the park to create an almanac that presents a pretty good picture of what’s going on at any given time in nature at the park. You can use the almanac, with a little adjustment, to learn about things that are happening in your own yard or in a nearby park.

Hidden Pond’s monthly almanac is kept up to date on Hidden Pond’s website. We’ll get you started here with Jim’s notes for May 2017.

HIDDEN PONDHPNC

NATURE CENTER

Almanac for May, 2017

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Natural events and fearless predictions based upon 30 years of observations at Hidden Pond. Your observations may vary. Hidden Pond is not responsible for errors, erratic behavior or other whims of nature.

First Week

The bright object in the east after sunset is the giant planet Jupiter. Red admiral butterflies now pass through on their way north. Leaves are usually all the way out by now. Maple leaves as big as your fist signal it’s safe to plant corn. Our local marsupial, the possum, has as many as 13 young that emerge now from mother’s pouch. Pink lady’s slippers are in bloom. These plants may live 100 years, though they are nearly impossible to transplant. Black locust trees bloom with white pea-like fragrant flowers. The call of the gray tree frog, a ragged, drawn-out chirp, can be heard coming from tree tops.

Second Week

There’s a full moon on May 10. Spectacular luna moths Luna Moth, Westmorelandemerge from the cocoons in which they spent the winter, mate, lay eggs on walnut, persimmon and hickory trees, and then die. Young cardinals and robins have fledged (left the nest). Not yet able to fly, they are vulnerable to cat attack. White-eyed vireos have arrived from South America. Heard more often than seen, they seem to say “Quick, under the window Chip,” or something like that. Spring ephemerals (wildflowers that appear briefly) have withered and been absorbed into the forest floor.

Third Week

Blog edit-Snapping turtle

Snapping turtles lay eggs in sunny places, sometimes hundreds of feet from water. The sex of baby turtles is in part determined by the temperature of the site; warm sites favor females, cooler sites favor males. Ox-eye daisies are in bloom. White pine trees release clouds of pollen, which is carried from tree to tree by the wind. Tiny American toads about one centimeter long, the result of this year’s spawning, leave the water. Many, no doubt, will be eaten by birds.

Fourth Week

Honeysuckle and multiflora rose, two invasive but fragrant plants, fill the air with perfume. Mountain laurel is in bloom. Shad bush berries ripen; robins and catbirds seem reckless in their determination to eat every last berry. The first lightning bugs (beetles, actually) appear at nightfall. They include movement with their flash, which for some species gives the impression that the beetles are constantly ascending.Blog edit-Bull frog

Bull frogs lay eggs. Their tadpoles will take a year to develop into adult frogs.