Build Your Own Park at Home

Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale.

Hear that wood frog calling? See the robin hopping down the trail ahead of you? You can almost leave the sound of the Beltway behind as you meander down the path outside Hidden Oaks Nature Center, a gem nestled inside Annandale Community Park. Hidden Oaks is home to countless species of animals from foxes to barred owls to red-backed salamanders and worm snakes. Pileated woodpeckers drum on tree stumps, and flying squirrels glide from treetops at night. It is an oasis of biodiversity in the middle of suburbia, and it is well-loved. Park neighbors enjoy indoor and outdoor displays, a one-of-a-kind chain-saw-carved woodland wildlife tree, a pond, and a nature-inspired outdoor play area. 

Are there many oaks at Hidden Oaks? Yes, indeed. At least 12 species of native oaks grace the property as do many other native trees, shrubs, and perennial plants.

An oak at Hidden Oaks. Photo credit; Don Sweeney

Can you bring a little piece of this serenity home with you? Well, not literally. No collecting is permitted in the park. But you might be able to recreate it.

Did you know that in the Mid-Atlantic region, oaks are by far the best plants at supporting food webs? Oaks support more caterpillar species (bird food!) than any other plant. Renowned entomologist and conservation writer Doug Tallamy, the TA Baker Professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Delaware, tells us that preserving biodiversity on our planet will take more than parks.  Tallamy has coined the term “homegrown national park,” a call to action to replace half of the green lawns of privately owned properties in the U.S.A. with 20 million acres of native plantings.  Why? Tallamy writes on the web site Home Grown National Park,  “We are at a critical point of losing so many species from local ecosystems that their ability to produce the oxygen, clean water, flood control, pollination, pest control, carbon storage, etc., that is, the ecosystem services that sustain us, will become seriously compromised.”

Involve the family. Those same children and grandchildren who love visiting Hidden Oaks will welcome the fun of growing their own park and will enjoy the sights, sounds, textures and creatures of your new habitat.

Want to learn more about local nature and biodiversity? We welcome your visit to Hidden Oaks. Though the building itself is closed during the pandemic, Hidden Oaks’ staff provides myriad outdoor programs for families, small groups, scouts and schools through Parktakes Online or by phone at 703-941-1065.

When you get home, take a look at your own prospective park. Could you help reverse the decline of biodiversity in Fairfax County by planting native plants in your own space? Tallamy’s new book, The Nature of Oaks: The Rich Ecology of Our Most Essential Native Trees, tells us that, “Oaks sustain a complex web of wildlife that encompasses insects, birds and mammals.”  We love our oaks at Hidden Oaks Nature Center. Plant your own for the start of something big — a Homegrown National Park.

Author Kim Young is a naturalist at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, VA.

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About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/news2/social-hub/ for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

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