Barbara Naef: Historian and History Maker

a headshot of Barbara Naef

We don’t have to look any further than our own Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) to find women who have made history. Barbara Naef, retired FCPA Resource Stewardship Section Manager, is a stellar example of a woman whose contributions helped shape the Park Authority. Her work was acknowledged in 2021 at FCPA’s Elly Doyle Awards when she was presented the Mayo Stuntz Cultural Stewardship Award.

After completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in history, Barbara began working as a seasonal employee in 1979. She started her career at Dranesville Tavern and with the museum collections that were housed there.

As hard as it is to fathom today, Barbara’s starting salary was a mere $2.81 an hour. 

Barbara began her rise in the Park Authority when Dranesville Tavern was selected as the site for the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts traveling exhibit, using artifacts from the agency’s collections. Shortly thereafter, she assumed the role of curator of the exhibit and Manager of Collections. In 1983, Barbara became the Division of Historic Preservation’s Assistant Manager, the first woman in the Park Authority to reach that level of management. 

Barbara participated in a wide array of projects in the Division of Historic Preservation, where she partnered with former FCPA Resource Stewardship Branch Manager Michael Rierson. Their projects included both the conception and construction of interpretive exhibits at Colvin Run Mill; the adaptive restoration of Walney’s interior, which became a new home for Collections; and directing the research used in the successful effort to save the Frying Pan Meeting House in situ. Barbara’s contributions included the development of the first computerized cataloging system for Museum Collections. She guided the process for Division of Historic Preservation’s second successful American Alliance of Museums (AAM) accreditation and partnered on the third. She helped plan and establish the Historic Property Rental Service and participated in the adaptive reuse restoration of The Clark House. As the first Resource Stewardship Manager, she provided oversight to both Natural and Cultural Resource Branches. Under her watch, the Park Authority used archaeological evidence to construct the representative quarters for the enslaved at Sully Historic Site and to expand programming there to include Sully‘s enslaved community. 

Barbara Naef sitting in a chair

Barbara retired from the Park Authority in 2002, but this has not slowed her. Since her retirement, she has stayed active in the history community. For many years, she volunteered with Museum Collections working on the fourth ultimately successful AAM reaccreditation effort as well as deaccessioning projects. Barbara is a founding member of the Friends of Fairfax County Archaeology and Cultural Resources (FOFA). Always an advocate for archaeology, Barbara has served on the Fairfax County History Commission since 2004, both as a representative for the Hunter Mill District and for Archaeology.

While on the History Commission, she chaired the Confederate Names Inventory Committee and is currently active in the Commission’s African-American History Inventory. Barbara’s contributions in retirement continue to inspire new generations of women in the Park Authority and in the fields of history and historic preservations.

Author Dr. Elizabeth Crowell is Fairfax County Park Authority’s Archaeology and Collections Branch Manager.

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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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