Monthly Archives: August 2017

Monarch Butterflies Developing at Hidden Oaks

Butterfly 2A natural wonder that typically enjoys great favor with humans is the monarch butterfly. An “ambassador” insect, or one that represents a genre such as pollinators, these striking beauties make headlines across North America. Ask any second grader, and she will tell you about the struggles of this tenacious insect that depends on one plant, milkweed, for survival.

As wild milkweed decreases, national organizations and neighborhood nature centers encourage people to plant milkweed varieties to support monarchs and other pollinators. With their widespread popularity, there’s no surprise in seeing the delight in children observing monarch caterpillars being raised at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, Va.

Hidden Oaks has championed monarch butterfly awareness and stewardship since 1996. Currently, the center hosts more than 45 caterpillars munching their way through native common and swamp milkweeds. The first adult butterflies were tagged the week of August 22, 2017. Campers assisted releasing a boy and a girl monarch and cheered the two on their way southwest with a loud, “Adios Amigos!”

Unlike past years, these are not the first monarchs reared at Hidden Oaks in 2017. Naturalists were surprised to have three monarch caterpillars donated to the center in late April. Monarchs usually do not arrive in the Washington area before July. Journey North, an online science education project, records the first spotting of monarch eggs throughout the country. Normally, the D.C. area spots monarch eggs on milkweed after June 20. Recently the date has been creeping earlier on the calendar, with this year’s mid-April sighting the earliest on record.

That poses the question of why monarchs are turning away from their historic path of repopulating the Gulf States and the Midwest in favor of heading our way. Whereas bountiful fields of welcoming milkweed and nectar plants would be an ideal reason, we cannot boast of such bounty. The area experienced a warm spring, which could have confused the wandering monarchs. Possibly a few monarchs zigged when they should have zagged, and they ended up in the mid-Atlantic region. Likely the stress of not finding enough milkweed in their normal climes made the pregnant monarchs push further on until they found milkweed just a couple of inches high anywhere.

Monarch caterpillars need approximately 18 inches of plant to develop from egg to chrysalis. Monarchs only eat milkweed, and their eggs can only be laid on milkweed. The mom butterfly tastes plants with the tarsi, or hairs, on her feet, to assure her eggs are on the correct plant. Laying eggs on recently emerged milkweed, rather than mature milkweed, is a sign of stress.

Usually the monarchs winging their way through the D.C. area are the last of four generations produced over a calendar year. The last generation is physiologically different from the previous three. This last generation does not typically have the benefit of fresh milkweed and is generally in a nonproductive mode until after their “diapause,” or overwintering, in Mexico. The previous three generations, which can mate within a week of emerging from their chrysalides, have a life span of about six weeks. The fourth generation, which can live six to eight months, mates after spending months resting – with millions of other monarchs – in the Transvolcanic Mountain range about 60 miles northwest of Mexico City.

Butterfly 1The monarchs raised at Hidden Oaks in April reached adulthood but failed to mate in captivity, so they were set free. Tagging is only done with the final generation of the year, so those monarchs flew off with no identifying features. Hidden Oaks’ current batch of monarchs will be tagged and released over the next few weeks during monarch tagging programs.

This year, the monarch caterpillars at Hidden Oaks are sharing the spotlight with spicebush and black swallowtail butterfly caterpillars, who are busily crunching their own favorite leaves, spicebush and parsley, respectively. Monarchs and other butterfly species amaze us with their seemingly magical transformations and their grace of flight.

Visit Hidden Oaks to pick up a free packet of native swamp milkweed seeds to attract these and other pollinators to your backyard or school. Share the joy of wonder with your family and friends by getting first-hand experience with the variety of native butterflies, and marvel at the mysteries of monarchs that scientists have yet to completely unravel.

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

Parks are Good for your Health

Logo_060517_blueDid you know?

People exercise more when they have access to parks and trails. Physical activity helps people maintain good health, and parks provide a place for all community members to be active. Regular physical activity has been shown to reduce the risk of diseases such as heart disease, hypertension, colon cancer, and diabetes. Exercise, active li21 - trail features wild and or invasive_0072festyles, and spending time in nature also provide psychological benefits, improve mental health, and alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Recreation and Parks Association)

This is among the many reasons that great parks lead to great communities. It is also among the trends and research the Fairfax County Park Authority is considering as we create our first ever Parks and Recreation System Master Plan. 

This comprehensive park system master planning effort builds on the findings from the Parks Count! Needs Assessment that was completed in spring 2016. With a 10-year time horizon, the Great Parks, Great Communities Parks and Recreation System Master Plan will guide the agency to meet growing and changing community needs.

Looking to the future, the Fairfax County Park Authority wants to do more to improve access and 3 - Gum Springs Fitness_061816_0086opportunities for healthy and active lifestyles. Check out the Great Parks, Great Communities Parks and Recreation System Master Plan website and draft master plan and supporting appendix to learn more and tell us what you think!

The draft master plan is available now through September 22, 2017 for public review and comment. Submit your comments via Parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov , on the project website, or at the public input meeting on Tuesday, September 12, 2017 from 7 to 9 p.m. at Green Spring Gardens in the 3-healthy-strides_042217_0228-e1504116407365.jpgMulti-Purpose Room. Green Spring Gardens is located at 4603 Green Spring Road in Alexandria, Virginia.  

We welcome your thoughts and questions on the draft plan. For more information about this initiative contact Samantha Hudson, senior planner at samantha.hudson@fairfaxcounty.gov or 703-324-8726.

 

Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Adopts and Beautifies Providence RECenter

Sorority blog

Pictured left to right are: LaVerne Buchanan, Project Chair; Beth Gallagher, Providence RECenter Volunteer Manager; Deidre Bland, First Vice-President; and Sabrina Mays-Diagne, Chair-Social Actions Committee.

Providence RECenter was thrilled and honored to welcome a service project from the Lambda Kappa Omega Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha, Inc. sorority, whose mission is to be the premier sisterhood of college-educated women working together to improve the quality of life for citizens of Fairfax County, Va., while fulfilling Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Incorporated’s® mantra to be supreme in service to all mankind through exemplary service initiatives and progressive, award-winning programs.

The sorority members, in conjunction with their Educational and Charitable Foundation’s National Impact Day Project, brought almost 40 volunteers during April and May and selflessly gave their time and service to restore, refresh and renew the grounds of Providence RECenter. Their herculean efforts were in honor of the sorority’s National Impact Day on May 20th, although this dedicated group prepared and worked hard leading up to this day as well.

In addition to providing all of the labor, sorority members visited the site multiple times to best assess the needs and inspect the current condition of the landscaping. They took it upon themselves to go beyond the initial tasks at hand and began brainstorming about how to best make their impact within a modest budget. After looking at the existing planters lining the entrance, they researched refurbishing them and sourced out the appropriate sorority volunteers to add that to their growing task list. After their chapter meeting, the group generously offered to not only supply materials needed for the refurbishments but to donate all of the necessary mulch and flowers for the beautification project.

Highlights of the project included refurbishing the entrance around the RECenter, trimming the hedges, mulching, staining and repairing the existing planters, creating a bed area and planting flowers around the entrance sign, cleaning the sitting areas and planting flowers in the planter beds. Upon completion, the RECenter’s exterior was glowing.

As a result, Providence staff is currently in talks with this wonderful group to potentially “adopt” the RECenter for future projects and cannot begin to show their appreciation enough for all of the love and attention received.

Author Debbie Lodato is the Volunteer Program Manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Co-author Beth Gallagher is the Providence RECenter Volunteer Manager and managed the beautification project from start to finish.

Park Authority Long Range Plan Highlights Importance of Parks to Environment

BlueHeron500Did you know?

Parks and open space networks conserve natural resources and wildlife habitat, protect air and water quality, and preserve open space for current and future generations. Protected green spaces are essential to preserve scenic vistas, maintain healthy ecosystems, and provide carbon‐reducing sustainable landscapes. Through stewardship programs, parks can engage the public in conservation efforts and increase awareness of environmental sustainability needs.

This is among the many reasons that great parks lead to great communities. It is also among the trends and research the Fairfax County Park Authority is considering as we create our inaugural Parks and Recreation System Master Plan.

BoardwalkFamily500This comprehensive park system master planning effort builds on the findings from the Parks Count! Needs Assessment that was completed in spring 2016. With a decade-long horizon, the Great Parks, Great Communities Parks and Recreation System Master Plan will guide the agency to meet growing and changing community needs.

Looking to the future, the Fairfax County Park Authority wants to do more to improve and promote natural resource protection and management. Check out the Great Parks, Great Communities Parks and Recreation System Master Plan website and draft master plan and supporting appendix to learn more and tell us what you think!

The draft master plan is available now through September 15, 2017 for public review and comment. Submit your comments via Parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov , on the project website, or at one of the open house sessions slated for September. More details on dates, times and locations to come.

For more information about this initiative contact Samantha Hudson, senior planner at samantha.hudson@fairfaxcounty.gov or 703-324-8726.

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