Monthly Archives: November 2018

Young Men’s Service League Refreshes Fort Willard Park

Despite its role in protecting the capital from Confederate attack during the Civil War, lately Fort Willard has been unable to protect itself from a different sort of invasion: invasive overgrowth.

1After the unexpected Confederate victory at the Battle of Manassas in July 1861, concern for the safety of the District of Columbia and Alexandria prompted plans for a complete fortification system for Washington. Construction began immediately, and there were 60 forts and 93 batteries protecting the city by the end of 1863. Greater emphasis was placed on the southern forts because they were believed to be in more danger of attack.

Fort Willard, the southernmost fortification in the Defenses of Washington, is located on a high point of a ridge overlooking low ground along the Potomac River. It commands a clear view to present day Fort Hunt Road and beyond. Constructed at the end of 1862 as Redoubt “D” to Fort Lyon by detachments of the 34th Massachusetts Infantry, it was later named in honor of Colonel George L. Willard, who was killed at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.

After the Civil War, the site most likely lay fallow for many years. In the 1930s, development of the Belle Haven subdivision began, and the fort site was preserved in an area that eventually became Fort Willard Circle. Today you can still see the earthen fortifications, cannon embrasures or platforms, and the remains of a bombproof (bomb shelter) and magazine (arms and gunpowder storage) area. The relative isolation of this site within a quiet residential neighborhood has allowed for the archaeological and cultural features at Fort Willard Historic Site to remain relatively undisturbed and subject only to the natural processes of erosion and tree growth.

2This overgrowth did not intimidate the members of the Young Men’s Service League (YMSL) of Vienna-Oakton, a volunteer organization comprised of mothers and their high school-aged sons with a mission to serve the community and develop leadership skills. One hundred and fourteen members, divided into morning and afternoon shifts, volunteered a Saturday to refresh Fort Willard Park.

The group completed three assigned projects — regrading and extending the park’s perimeter path, removing overgrowth from the perimeter fence, and cleaning the community’s brick gathering areas.

The perimeter path, only present on the southeast half of the circle, lost much of its gravel and stone dust over the years and was in need of a fresh layer. The goal also was to extend the path through an area typically plagued with mud and standing water. Following a full day of work regrading and extending the perimeter path, neighbors and visitors now can navigate the entire border of the Civil War fort without encountering mud and flooded areas.

Perimeter path before and after.

The perimeter fence was overrun by wisteria, English ivy, Virginia creeper, pokeweed and thorny brambles. Moss dominated the brick gathering spaces. Clearing the overgrowth along the fence line allowed for a better view of the earthworks, and the clean brick plaza areas will make wonderful backdrops for community gatherings.

Brick area and perimeter path before and after.

Project leaders included nine Park Authority staff and three members of the Belle Haven Citizen’s Association. During the lunch break, David Buchta and Elizabeth Crowell of the Park Authority spoke to the volunteers about the historical and archaeological significance of Fort Willard.


The Vienna-Oakton Chapter of the Young Men’s Service League.

The Young Men’s Service League provides young men with important skills and experiences to guide their futures and creates an environment for mothers and their sons to bond. The Park Authority was fortunate to encounter this organization, and Fort Willard’s efforts offer an example of enhancing stewardship of the county’s cultural resources on parkland.

Author Margaret Publisi Canilang is a Heritage Resource Technician for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division.

Scouts Tackle Invasive Plants

Scouts are invaluable to parks.

Scouts often volunteer in parks to upgrade trails, plant native trees, remove invasive plants, and take on an endless stream of other important tasks. Some even see a need and develop their own ideas to fulfill Gold Award and Eagle Scout requirements in cooperative ventures.

This story begins in May 2008, when an Eagle Scout undertook a project to create a natural screen between a ballfield at South Run and 50 new houses being built near the park. The goal was to turn a manicured lawn back into a more environmentally appropriate natural state by planting 250 native trees in it.


As time passed, the native tree area was overrun by invasive plants, in particular, Japanese honeysuckle that killed big trees bordering the ballfield and was about to kill the newly planted trees. Porcelain berry, multiflora rose and autumn and Russian Olive were also targeted.

Ten years later, Boy Scout John Reistrup led a May 2018 assault on those invasive plants at South Run. Reistrup’s team filled three tightly packed dumpsters with the honeysuckle they removed. His project made a big dent in the invasives but didn’t come close to eliminating the problem.


Alan Brown of Springfield, Va., and Troop 1849 in the Old Dominion District recently became another of those industrious scouts partnering with parks. He proposed a Hornaday Eagle project at the same South Run area. Hornaday Eagle is similar to a regular Eagle project, but it requires the scout to have five or six ecological merit badges and to conduct a project related to stewardship of the land that includes six months of follow-up.

Brown started by creating a GPS-based grid in order to conduct a plant survey of the area. That required the difficult task of cutting paths into dense tangles of thorns and vines. Seventeen people joined him to conduct the botanical survey. He recorded GPS coordinates for each corner in the grid and marked the spots on the ground.


Lauer used the grid to assign other scouts to the cleanup area. Brown had the scouts use different protocols for clearing the invasives and tracked which system worked best. He led a crew of more than two dozen people who cleared four areas in mid-October. Brown’s colleague Jake Hecker oversaw removals in two other areas, and Mason Melear, another of Brown’s crew, led clearing of two more. In late October, Brad Harris led a corporate group from Appian targeting another area and concentrating on the critical removal of invasive root structures.


It is plain to see this fight to save trees is a tough one, and scouts are making progress saving the forests for future generations.

 Author Kurt Lauer is the volunteer manager at South Run RECenter.

A Cow Tale

Hokie get awaySo, when was the last time you saw a cow running down Route 28 near Herndon?

There are plenty of places in the United States where cows near roads are common, and in some you may even have to wait for a herd to cross the road.

Fairfax County is not one of those places. However, on Monday, October 29, 2018, a few folks driving on Route 28 saw, literally, a four-on-the-floor bovine running down the four-lane divided highway. The incident is an unusual, if not unique, example of the trials of managing a 1920’s-era farm park in a county with more than a million people.

The cow tale started a few days earlier when staff from Frying Pan Farm Park, including longtime volunteer and summer farmhand Kayla Blatman, attended a livestock auction at Virginia Tech on October 26. The Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park had raised funds for Blatman, who is a student at Tech, to attend the auction and make a purchase.

The park crew bought a heifer, named Hokie after the school’s mascot, and a sheep, named Lane after the school’s football stadium. The crew and animals completed their milk run back to Frying Pan on Saturday and, as is routine when new animals are brought to a farm, Hokie and Lane were placed in quarantine. The plan was to keep them quarantined for a couple of weeks to assure there were no health issues.

Hokie had other ideas.

This was the heifer’s first time isolated from other cows, and she had been agitated after all the changes she’d undergone. Open range must have sounded like a good idea. During her stall cleaning that fateful day, the black Angus was placed in a barn hallway that was blocked at the end by a tractor wagon that stood about three and a-half feet tall.

Guess how high an agitated cow can jump.

Site Manager Yvonne Johnson said that Farm Manager Paul Nicholson told her, “The moment that cow’s hooves hit West Ox Road I was on the phone to the police.” Nicholson knows there aren’t many ways to stop a thousand pounds of running muscle that doesn’t want to stop.

Police and firefighters were on the scene quickly and escorted the heifer which, for a while, was free to go wherever it wanted to lead the trailing officials. Hokie ran out the main entrance of Frying Pan Farm Park and turned right onto the rather appropriately-named West Ox Road. She took another right at Centreville Road and crossed Frying Pan Branch creek before taking a left on Frying Pan Road. Police and fire personnel tried to corner her there, but the road wasn’t conducive to rustling a running cow. Road crews hadn’t built the road and its shoulders with that sort of thing in mind.

Hokie rambled along Frying Pan Road to Sully Road/Route 28, where she took another right and headed north to continue her Farmville run up the Dulles tech corridor. Along that stretch, officials tried to funnel her into a trap, but Hokie kept slipping past roadblocks. Eventually she took a wrong turn and headed the wrong way up an entrance ramp, where a couple of nearby good Samaritans who had joined the pursing ‘cownga’ line managed to get their vehicles ahead of and behind her to trap her against a safety wall. Frying Pan staff placed their animal transport vehicle at the only opening in the makeshift enclosure, and Hokie had nowhere to go but into the truck. Her one-hour, two and a-half mile escape run was over.Hokie Captured!

The evasive cow was returned to quarantine and has been closely monitored to make sure she’s okay after her breakout. This time, there is another cow nearby to supply familiar smells and sounds. And security has been beefed up.

Although we wrote this blog with a light-hearted touch, be assured the Park Authority and local officials took the situation quite seriously as it played out. Police and fire officials were notified immediately, and steps were taken to protect both the public and the cow while the heifer was on the run.

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