Monthly Archives: October 2017

Take a Week to Appreciate Bats

When the air turns crisp and pumpkins fill neighborhood porches, it’s time for Bat Week!  Bat Week is an annual, international celebration of the role of bats in nature. It’s the last week of October, appropriately leading up to Halloween.

Worldwide, there are more than 1,300 species of bats, and that’s almost 20 percent of all known mammal species.  In Virginia, 17 species of bats have been documented. Three of the most common bats in Fairfax County are:

Big Brown                                                            Big Brown Bat (Eptesicus fuscus)

Eastern Red                                                       Eastern Red Bat (Lasiurus borealis)

Evening Bat
Evening Bat (Nycticeius humeralis)

What do all of Virginia’s bats have in common?  

  • They are a specialized type of carnivore called an insectivore, and they have sharp pointed teeth. Our local bats’ favorite foods include insects such as moths, beetles, wasps, grasshoppers, termites, stinkbugs, dragonflies, mosquitos, ants, flies….the list goes on!  Bats annually provide billions of dollars’ worth of free pest-control services by eating tons of insects that harm crops and trees. There is no reason to fear vampire bats here!
  • Bats typically bear one young at a time called a pup.  Young are born in early summer when temperatures are warmer. Mother bats must continue flying for food when they are pregnant and after giving birth. Baby bats will nurse from their mothers and are not born with fully developed wings or eyesight. Some female bats group together in maternity roosts or colonies and raise their young together. Many dozens or hundreds of bats may use the same tree or structure to reproduce. Locating and protecting maternity colonies is critical to bat conservation.
  • Our bats are very small and light, weighing less than one ounce.  Tricolored bats (Perimyotis subflavus) are one of our smallest species, weighing just 5-to-8 grams.  That’s the weight of a few large paperclips.
  • Bats use echolocation to navigate and find prey, but they also have excellent eyesight.  Bat calls are ultrasonic, outside of the range of human hearing.
  • Bats can live for 20 to 30 years.
  • In Virginia, cold weather and a lack of insects forces bats to migrate south or hibernate for the winter.  Cave bats are species that hibernate in caves and mines, and tree bats are species that migrate south for the winter and overwinter in trees or leaf litter.

Threatened, Endangered, and Disappearing

Several Virginia native species have seen enormous drops in population. Fairfax County is initiating inventory and monitoring efforts in select parks as part of the Park Authority’s Natural Resource Management Plan. That work will determine the presence of rare or declining bat species. And there are particular species facing serious troubles.

In 2015, the northern long-eared bat was federally listed as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.  It also is listed as a threatened species under the Virginia Endangered Species Act.

The tri-colored bat is listed as endangered under the Virginia Endangered Species Act.
The little brown bat also is listed as endangered by Virginia. It will not be reviewed under the federal Endangered Species Act until 2023, and some scientists predict the species could be extinct by then.  This was an extremely common bat prior to something you may have heard about in news reports — white-nose syndrome.

And therein lies the major problem.

North American bat populations face unprecedented challenges from white-nose syndrome.  First discovered during the winter of 2007-2008 in New York, this fungal disease has spread quickly through 29 states and has killed innumerable bats. Bat populations have dropped an estimated 80% or more across the eastern United States, and many bat species that were formerly common are becoming rare. The disease invades the skin of hibernating bats and disrupts their hibernation cycles and their hydration, causing energy depletion and wing damage. It is transmitted from bat to bat inside hibernation areas, such as caves.  There’s more information about it at www.whitenosesyndrome.org/.

You can help protect bat populations.  Volunteering a few hours with the Invasive Management Area program helps protect bat feeding grounds. And parks occasionally hold educational programs and campfires with bats as the topic or theme.

There’s more information at www.batweek.org.

Author Kristen Sinclair is an Ecologist with the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Natural Resources Branch. 

A Success Story: An ECLP Partnership

The story of a single person’s trials is more powerful and moving than a statistic about a hundred people.

A student with an intellectual disability saw his world open wide a couple of years ago because of a partnership between his school and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECL). The experience gave the student confidence, skills and career goals. He was part of a group working with a teacher and Ken Garlem, ECL’s labor crew chief, and through the tasks that they tackled he gained confidence, work skills and social skills. A year later, the student worked with Garlem and his staff without a teacher on hand. In the third year, he went to another park and became an independent student intern. His journey continued until he became a lifetime volunteer for the Fairfax County Park Authority, feeling terrific about himself.

He is one of many.

This fall, Chantilly High School recognized Ellanor C. Lawrence Park for 25 years Dewing and Berkley McKenzie of Chantilly HSof partnership with the Fairfax County Public Schools Career and Transition Services program. For more than two decades, park staff has worked with students to teach stewardship of environmental and historical resources. Students receive hands-on experience maintaining the gardens or assisting with other projects at the park in Chantilly.

Park Naturalist Jim Dewing is shown here with student Berkley McKenzie at the September 28, 2017, recognition ceremony.

 

More than 200 students with disabilities have spent nearly 7,000 hours at the park enveloped in learning opportunities they would not have had without the partnership. Through their special education career classes, they get to be part of Work-based Learning, an education strategy that blends learning with doing. In Fairfax County Public Schools, there are opportunities through Work Awareness and Transition, a course for middle and high school students with disabilities that emphasizes personal awareness, career exploration and work expectations.

A student with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Emotional Disability worked in a small group with Garlem. He eventually landed a part-time, temporary summer job through the parks and then started his own lawn care business.

Through the park-school partnership over the past two decades, students have worked both individually and in small groups with multiple supervisors who ensure that the work opportunities not only vary for students based on their interests, needs and capabilities but also are built upon a variety of workplace skills. For several years, that supervisor at ECLP has been Ranger Jim.

Jim Dewing is a naturalist and interpreter at the park, and he has helped develop the curriculum for a Special Education Elective course entitled Landscape and Design. The course incorporates Work-based Learning as well as ECL’s park history, horticulture, landscape design and maintenance. Dewing, the course, and ECL have made positive impacts on student lives.

A student with autism who had a specific interest in lizards assisted in the ECL Visitor Center and helped with the park’s live reptile exhibit. Over time, he created a small business working with lizards and landed a part-time position with the Park Authority.

ECL staffers have supported people with disabilities such as mental illness, depression and anxiety. “The greatest thing in this is that the winners are truly the kids that Jim works with,” said Cindy Walsh, the Park Authority’s Acting Chief Operating Officer.

“Jim is working once again with students this fall and then transitioning them over to Allison (Hartley) for supervision this coming spring in support of our gardens at Walney,” said Park Manager John Shafer. Hartley is a Historian at ECLP.

Park opportunities often provide respite for students challenged by adversity. People who live close to green space have lower rates of depression and anxiety according to a study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health. Research from the National Wildlife Federation indicates that students engaged in outdoor educational opportunities are less likely to drop out of school and achieve higher grades. ECL is the consistent and, for some students, the only green space that they encounter. Students who take advantage of the opportunities at the park reflect the results indicated in those studies.

“ECL continues to be a leader is so many diverse ways,” said Park Operations Director Todd Brown. “I truly thank Jim and the entire staff for building and sustaining these relationships. It is not easy, but worth it when you put the time and effort in it.”

Students from the program have parlayed skills developed from their Work-based Learning into paying jobs at Lowe’s, Betty’s Azalea Ranch, Home Depot and Giant.

“This relationship will continue and is a bright spot in the partnerships we maintain within our community,” said ECL Park Manager John Shafer. “Jim’s efforts with the group from Chantilly High School have been valuable for both organizations.”

This blog is based on material from the Park Authority, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and the Career and Transition Services section of Chantilly High School, Chantilly, Virginia.

Volunteer Dick Hoffmann: Working on the Farm Is a Blast from His Past

This article is reprinted with permission from the October 2017 Golden Gazette.

Hoffman 2_edited-1Dick Hoffmann is originally from northwest Iowa—where corn grows tall. He came to Fairfax County in 1983 by way of farm-rich Missouri.

With a geological engineering degree in hand, he and his wife planted themselves in Reston with a job safely lined up at a large company.

Who knew that more than 30 years later, Dick would be driving a tractor pulling a wagon full of children for fun and informative rides at Kidwell Farm, a part of Frying Pan Farm Park in western Fairfax.

Located at 2709 West Ox Road in Herndon, this county-owned park preserves and interprets life on a 1920s-50s farm and includes a meeting house that was used for town meetings and religious services.

The volunteer tractor job was a natural fit for him. He holds a fondness for farms that stems from his childhood. Additionally, he says that retirement is just around the bend from his “real” job. (He works as a consultant on government proposals.)

Dick graciously took time out of his day to answer a few questions about his life and why he likes volunteering on the farm.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I went to kindergarten in a one room school. We had 21 students, seven grades and one teacher.

When I was in high school, we moved to Missouri. I graduated from the University of Missouri at Rolla. My wife and I moved to Northern Virginia in the early 80s and have lived in Herndon and Reston. We have twin boys and a dog.

How long have you been driving the wagon and is it hard to operate?

I’ve been driving for more than 10 years, and it’s not really hard to operate. Luckily, I already could use a standard transmission, and thankfully, we don’t have to back up. But, you need to carefully watch out for people — especially kids, stay away from fences and try not to hit many potholes.

It must build up your arm muscles . . .

Mine aren’t bad, but a lot of muscle isn’t necessary. The newer John Deere tractors have power steering and the old Farmalls have tricycle steering gears that make them easier to drive.

Did you always want to drive a tractor?

No, this job offer was quite unexpected. My dog frequently walks me at the park, and one day a park employee asked me if I would like to drive wagon rides.

How many rides are given in a day?

Wagon drivers usually work in the morning or afternoon. They do five or six rides with between five and 130 riders.

In the summer, we give rides to park visitors. But, now during the school year, we mostly carry student groups on field trips. The number usually depends on the weather.

We also provide rides during special park activities, like the Fall Carnival Fun, which is coming up Oct. 13-15.

Why do you like driving the tractor?

It gives me a chance to tell people interesting things about the park. I also learn from my riders, too, like the gentleman who herded bison.

It is also a bit nostalgic from living on a farm and helping my surrogate grandfather while I was in college.

How did you become a volunteer?

My dog frequently walks me at the park, and one day, I was asked if I would like to help with wagon rides.

What is your favorite season to drive?

Probably fall when the leaves are turning and temperature is cool.

Any memorable rides or people that stand out?

The day the shuttle arrived at Dulles was exciting. Some people on the ride had past connections with the farm and talked about how things used to be on the farm and in the area.

Frying Pan Farm Park is located at 2709 West Ox Rd, Herndon,  VA. Call 703-437-9101 for more information or go to www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/fryingpanpark.

Breaking New Ground in Therapeutic Gardening

041417CrisisCareVolunteers

With 30-plus Green Spring Master Gardeners (GSMG) in five working groups and over 1000 volunteer hours, we set out to transform the grounds of the Fairfax County Crisis Care Program (CCP) on Woodburn Road.

After months of planning and navigation through county rules, we completed the first phase of the transformation process in June. “This project is breaking ground in therapeutic gardening and is the first Master Gardener project of its type in Virginia,” noted Pamela Smith, Community Horticulture Supervisor at Green Spring Gardens.

Two dedicated therapists, who are also gardening enthusiasts, organized the site into three distinct gardens: sensory, vegetable, and woodland meditation. They sought modest assistance from GSMG, but after our initial meeting we all were inspired to propose something more – a total transformation of their gardens, which serve one of the most vulnerable populations in Fairfax County.

GSMG Holly Miller, our landscape designer, prepared a site map and inventory of the existing gardens. She also researched the county regulations and easements to ensure our work would meet the necessary requirements.

GSMG adopted guiding principles for our work: “We want to help everybody feel better. We listen. We engage. We connect. We collaborate. We consider. We create. We share. We create change.” Our CCP project sponsors – Doug Caffrey, Bryan Pashigian and Kelsey Gibby – articulated our goal the best “to create settings in which vegetation is so striking that you can’t help but give it most of your attention… that immediately brings about feelings of calmness, safety, serenity, and receptivity. CCP clients learn that the garden spaces were created through voluntary efforts. They are encouraged because they know we did this for you, because we care about you.” And, indeed, this goal was achieved.

GS Master Gardeners 1– Co-leads: Deborah Hassan and John Zemlan and team members Candace Rende, Cheryl Ghauri, Olga Waters, and Debra Porter

The CCP clients and staff today are enjoying the results of months of work and re-work with a bountiful yield of tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, blackberry bushes and more. Mid-stream in the planning, Fairfax County needed to install a sidewalk and fence through the site. The team adapted to the challenges and created raised beds, a trellis, and garden paths by hauling and installing topsoil, compost, wood planks, weed barrier tarp, and wood chips. Team members and others in the community supplemented the modest county funds by donating much of the materials.

The Woodland Meditation Garden

– Co-leads: Lynn Murray and Patty Swain and team members Sara Gillespie, Barbara Mugaas, Lisa Fortune, Paulette Royt

Today, the clients and staff are enjoying a woodland setting with defined alcoves to meditate and practice mindfulness. Logs were relocated to create seating. Different species of shrubs, perennials and ferns were planted that met the researched “eco-savvy” criteria of native, low maintenance and low water so that they may thrive in this partly shaded environment. A group meeting area was created and landscaped with donated hydrangeas, camellias, and azaleas. Ambitious plans to realign one garden perimeter and additional woodland plantings are ready to be implemented when resources are identified. All of this was accomplished through the removal of underbrush, debris, and aggressive greenbrier. The garden is now documented with all trees and plant material identified and cataloged to help staff create mindfulness and gardening education activities.GS Master Gardeners 2

The Sensory Garden

– Co-leads: Christine Bregar and Ruth Nussbaum and team members Holly Miller, Janet Greenhaugh, Karen Stutsman, John Zelman, Sherley Channing, and Anita Johnson

GS Master Gardeners 3The Sensory Garden transformation now gives clients, staff and visitors a respite from the institutional indoor setting and a warm curbside welcome. This garden space provides individual and group seating in outdoor alcoves surrounded by over two dozen varieties of carefully selected plant materials that burst with color and smell. The sensory garden has a diversity of plants which tickle each of our senses: sight – colors; smell – fragrance; sound – grasses; taste – mints and other herbs; touch – soft and prickly; kinetic – swing; tranquility – Zen rake garden. Donated and purchased plant materials were installed after many hours of ground preparation involving GSMG and Fairfax volunteers. The team created a plant identification educational activity that allows the clients to utilize all their senses.

Green Spring Tour Guide

– Co-leads: Nan Bradley and Dori Freudiger and team members David Haase, Jo Burgess-Gorham, Sherley Channing, and Ruth Nussbaum

CCP staff therapists escort small groups of CCP clients to Green Spring Gardens for a field outing. This working group created six self-guided tours of Green Spring to be used by the CCP on their visits. The guides are employing gardening education materials that rival any professionally authored materials. Each guide provides photographs and information of designated garden guideposts, gardening resources, and information and maps. Coloring pages were created for clients to use on their visits, which serve to calm and educate. GSMG volunteered to lead docent tours, but logistics and patient safety and privacy rules hindered the effort. The co-leads presented their work to the entire CCP staff to encourage its use and visits. We will evaluate how we may enhance the client experience in Green Spring Gardens with the CCP staff in the future. The CCP’s limited budget challenged our teams to find creative solutions and encouraged us to do outreach into the community to solicit in-kind contributions within the narrow confines of county rules. Individual community members and GSMGs donated materials and plants, along with Merrifield Gardens, Ports Professional Tree Service, Green Spring Gardens, and the Horticulture Department of the National Gallery of Art. Amy Miller, the CCP On-site Supervisor, noted “we have developed a true Horticultural Center and Glass House Tour partnership between the CCP, Park Authority and community and will reap benefits for years to come.” After all the installation work was completed, each team authored an educational module to be used by the CCP staff with their clients. Each module supported the therapeutic purpose as well as introduced gardening knowledge fulfilling our Master Gardener mission. Co-leads trained the entire CCP staff – almost two dozen – in both garden maintenance and the educational modules. To ensure the gardens will be sustainable, we set out a six-week test to determine if the CCP can maintain the garden spaces.

We learned a lot, most notably how to work together to overcome myriad county requirements and accomplish big goals. The individual leadership of the project co-leads created energy and enthusiasm to serve our community. This in turn created a momentum to inspire and encourage all of GSMG.

Pam Smith summed up this effort the best: “Green Spring Master Gardeners have put their heart, soul and hands into creating a garden space where clients can find comfort and serenity in their time of crisis.”

This article originally appeared in the Green Spring Master Gardeners Newsletter and was written by GSMG Project Co-leads Fred Abbey, Dan Marsick, and Holly Miller.

Sharing My Love of Nature with Preschoolers in Morocco

Fairfax County Park Authority naturalists share their love and knowledge of nature with thousands of local children each year. In the summer of 2017, one of them took that love overseas. Here’s her story:

Morocco 1Over this past summer, I contacted a non-profit organization based in Tangier, Morocco. The group helps at-risk youngsters and women with children to learn skills such as cooking, weaving, and pottery making. Their members provide short-term preschool for children of families with little income.

I wanted to share the love I have for nature with the children of the organization by developing nature-based programs I could present to them. Having conducted such programs as an assistant naturalist at Hidden Oaks Nature Center, I was more than ready to share this love of nature with children in Morocco. After exchanging emails with the organization’s leader and confirming the volunteer work I would be doing, I packed. Luggage, a couple of teaching materials, and my hopes set off to North Africa.

Shortly after arriving, the organization scheduled a time for me to meet my new students, and so came the day where I joined 21 beautiful children between the ages of four and six sitting at a table. Their teacher introduced me in Darija, or Moroccan Arabic. In turn, they greeted me with a “Sbah al khayr,” which translates to “Good morning!” What a joy to meet such resiliently radiant children! The language barrier only slightly befuddled things, and we quickly picked up speed with hand gestures, facial expressions and body language.

The teacher and I agreed I would either teach the lesson in Spanish, my native language, or English, and she would translate it into Darija. I planned my first lesson on basic plant studies. We would learn how seeds grow, create arts and crafts, and conduct small experiments.

The day of our first lesson, I was a bit nervous but excited at the same time. I arranged props at the front of the classroom, decorated with books on plants, toted in an apple and an orange, and hung a few posters showing how a seed grows. During the presentation, the children were intrigued and attentive, curious to learn how a plant transforms from seed to sapling to plant. At one point, I took out the orange and apple, slit them with a knife, and removed the seeds. The children were eager to see those seeds. Next was a craft, and the children were invited to take parts of a growing plant I had sliced from construction paper and glue them under the correct labels on a project titled, “How Plants Grow.”

From that day forward our bond grew strong. The very next day they hugged me and called me ‘Teacher Cesia’ in Darija as I entered the classroom, which was sweet to hear. We continued our nature lessons and projects. Most of these children had never been part of activities such as experimenting with food coloring to observe how plants take up water, or watching how a seed wrapped in wet paper towels can grow in a clear bag that’s kept under sunlight. I wanted them to be as hands-on as possible. For example, when the seeds began to germinate, I encouraged them to hold or touch the growing stem and leaf to reinforce how a plant grows.

Morocco 2For a month and a-half, we learned about animal habitats, mammals, made animal finger puppets, painted, worked on art projects, and played bingo. All in all, the experience was more than wonderful. Thinking back, the most memorable lesson I learned from volunteering is that when you share your heart and passion for things you care about with others, not only do they benefit from learning and discovering new things, but you learn and discover new things about yourself too.

I wish nothing but the best for these children and hope their love and curiosity lead them to a bright future!

Author Cesia Lobo is an Assistant Naturalist at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, Va.