FCPA’s New Executive Director Hits Park 400 on her 420 Parks Tour

I grew up in Reston with Lake Fairfax as my backyard. That’s where I fell in love with nature and had the adventures that lead me to become an ecologist. Fairfax County had such a significant influence on who I am that I was thrilled when I was chosen last year as the new Executive Director of Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA). Not many people in my profession have the opportunity to lead, preserve, and enhance their childhood park system and I feel very honored to have been given this opportunity.

When I started in this job last September – wow, I can’t believe it’s been a year already – one of the first things I did was commit to visiting all 420 parks within my first year – that’s 420 parks on nearly 24,000 acres of parkland – quite a challenge, but I do love a challenge!

Our maintenance staff is fantastic! It was such a wonderful day out in the field with the Area 4 maintenance team.

Why did I do this? I needed to see our parks to be their champion, but I also needed to see the surrounding neighborhoods. Parks in Franconia shouldn’t look exactly like parks in Vienna. Parks should reflect the community they serve and different neighborhoods may value different ways to recreate. To get to know this park system and really start to understand the needs of our residents, I needed to see them – all of them, the good, the bad, and …… quite honestly, the Frying Pan Park baby pigs, as much as possible.

Touring the new tennis and pickleball courts at MLK Jr. Park with the team was so special. I plan to be back for a game of tennis soon!

I’ve seen what I thought was impossible: A phenomenal park system with some of the best amenities any system in the Country has to offer, but also with parks that are bursting with potential waiting to be imagined. The trip was fantastic.  I saw the many parks that we own and manage. I met people who work at the parks and who visit the parks.  I saw its strengths and its weaknesses, I noted places that needed attention and care and investment, and I was wowed by both our facilities and our wonderful staff on many occasions.

I spent a beautiful day at touring the Colvin Run Mill and meeting the staff!

I’ve reached the 400-park mark and am counting down the last 20 visits, and I think I’ve saved the best for last! I wanted to ask each member of the Board of Supervisors to pick of their favorite parks to show me what they love about it and what are some needs they have identified. We’ll be highlighting those visits on our facebook page in the coming weeks.

Our parks make the best backdrops for photos! I loved meeting the staff and couldn’t help myself from taking a million selfies at Riverbend park.

I will be finishing my tour where my career started, at Lake Fairfax Park on September 24, 2022 which is also National Public Lands Day. I couldn’t think of a more fitting place or day to end such a thoroughly fulfilling adventure.  We will celebrate both my tour and National Public Lands Day by gathering with volunteers and local officials to plant trees, break bread and celebrating our remarkable park system. If you would like join us, you can register below.

Individual Volunteer Signup
Group Volunteer Signup

The past year has been a learning experience but it’s just the start of a much bigger effort to ensure that every resident can experience all the FCPA has to offer, regardless of where they live, or their ability to pay. My definition of racial equity in park is “Where race and income does not predict the quantity and quality of parks in a specific area and Rec Centers and programs are affordable for all residents.” Parks and recreation centers are such a vital part of the lives of so many of our residents and I hope you can take some time for yourself and your family to get to one of our 420 parks soon. Which is your favorite?

The new Riverbend Park Maintenance Shop was so impressive! Members of the project team, Riverbend Park staff, agency leadership and members of the Friends of Riverbend Park (FORB) gathered on Tuesday, June 28, 2022, to officially cut the ribbon at the new Riverbend Park maintenance shop in Great Falls.

View Director’s Tour of FCPA Parks on Flickr

Visit online and learn about your park system and what it has to offer. Share your thoughts with us via parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov or speak to your Park Authority Board member about your vision for the future.  You can reach them via Parkmail as well or speak at an upcoming Park Board meeting.  It’s all online or you can reach us via phone during regular business hours at 703-324-8700. Thank you for sharing your time with me today. 

Executive Director Jai Cole

Jai Cole is the Executive Director of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Cole grew up in Fairfax County, residing in Reston for 25 years. She attended South Lakes High School where she played youth softball, basketball and field hockey. She then went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in biology at the University of North Carolina Greensboro where she played Division I basketball. She brings more than two decades of experience initiating and delivering sustained results and effective change for CAPRA-accredited and NRPA Gold Medal award-winning parks and recreation agencies.

This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

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.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s