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20 Years of Acoustic Jams

Back in 1998, after a tree fell onto her Kidwell farmhouse office, Frying Pan Farm Park Historian Yvonne Johnson (now the park’s manager) was working in a temporary office in a construction trailer. A knock on that trailer door introduced her to a woman with a Louisiana accent and a little dog named Missy. Debbie Billodeaux had an idea to encourage musicians to gather and play on the front porch of Frying Pan’s new Country Store. Johnson loved the Acoustic Jam idea and thought the sessions might draw a handful of people. In less than a year, 20 to 40 people were showing up to play at each jam. “That kind of gathering was traditional in the time period the park preserves,” Johnson said.

Since then, visitors have enjoyed regular Acoustic Jams as musicians come together in a warm, friendly setting to play harmonies on guitars, banjos, mandolins, dobros, fiddles and bass. According to Johnson, a couple hundred park patrons might see the musicians play on a nice day. “It was so gratifying to see the response from the visitors,” Johnson said.

Billodeaux’s dream of having a place for musicians to play and introduce their music to new audiences is still going strong. They still gather, pick and strum at different locations around the park depending on what space is available.

The park will mark the 20th anniversary of the Acoustic Jam on Sunday, October 21, 2018. Looking back, Johnson said, “Debbie came up with a great idea that improves visitors’ experiences and doesn’t cost the park anything. Over the years, the jams have touched the lives of thousands of people.”

Estimating an average of 20 musicians per session over about 50 Jams a year for 20 years, a conservative estimate of attendance at the gatherings is just over 20,000 musician visits. That doesn’t count the visitors who sit a spell and listen.

Here is the history of the Acoustic Jam, in Debbie Billodeaux’s own words.

“The Acoustic Jam started out as a once-a-month jam on the third Sunday of each month. I was inspired to start the jam when I saw the Country Store being opened up at the park in the spring/summer of that year. I thought this would be a perfect place to jam and, I must say, very convenient for me as I live close by.  I liked jams because I could play with others, learn new songs, and the flexibility of a jam worked well with my busy schedule. At the time, I was going to the CABOMA jam (Capitol Area Bluegrass and Old-Time Music Association) in Arlington. Yvonne and I talked about how a jam would work and be reflective of how people historically enjoyed music in a rural farming community. We intentionally set the Frying Pan jam up on the third Sunday so it would not interfere with the CABOMA jam in Arlington (second and fourth Sundays).

“The first jam was attended by less than 10 people, but it grew steadily.  It was usually bigger in the summer when people can be outside.  The early jams were at the Country Store, which is near the playground, and it has always been interesting to see how kids react to live music and seeing a variety of instruments close-up. In the early years, my guitar teacher at Chantilly Music, Bill Suter, would often suggest that his students get out and play with other people. He would tell them about the jam, and a dozen or more people came from his referral. I often send out an email reminder to those at the jam reminding them of the jam date and telling them about other events and jams in the area.  Jim Norman is a local resident and dobro and bass player who attends the jam, and he pushed for us to increase it to twice a month. In March 2002, we began holding jams twice a month.

“The park staff typically will ask if there are a couple of people that can play music at the Farm Harvest Day or an event for the Friends group, and so we typically do that once or twice a year. Several years the jam has been the closing act on the performance stage at the 4-H Fair. Sometimes a picture of those performances showed up in a newspaper. The Frying Pan Jam was featured once as the cover story on the Herndon Connection. Through the years, we have had a couple of people that show up to listen on a regular basis.

“There was a lady who came regularly often requesting certain songs.  She grew up in West Virginia and had heard many early country legends sing as a child.  She was a music fan, and she would have her husband drive her over. When he was too old to drive, they would have friends bring them. I do not know her name, but I took a picture of her and a friend and gave her a copy.

“We have had a couple of professional musicians stop by. It is a real treat for us.  We have quite a few people that are in now or have been in regional bands. We have had a number of people that have met others at the jam and then formed small bands. We also have a lot of beginners, so there is usually a big mix of experience at the jam.”

The Acoustic Jam musicians have been the closing act for the annual 4-H Fair at Frying Pan for the last five years, Johnson said. “Debbie Billodeaux’s wonderful idea, hard work and decades of dedication have been an amazing gift to the thousands of musicians and audience members that have enjoyed the Frying Pan Jam.”


Frank de la Fe Leaves Legacy of Accomplishment at Park Authority

The Park Authority has attracted many great leaders throughout its history. Another well-known and respected alumni and friend of our park system has passed. The Park Authority was recently notified that Frank de la Fe, a longtime resident of Reston, a County Planning Commissioner and a former at-large Member and Chairman of the Park Authority Board died.  

Park Authority Executive Direde la fector Kirk Kincannon responded to his death writing, “Frank served with distinction on the Park Authority Board for nearly six years, from 1996 through December 2001.  He had a unique brand and style of leadership which allowed the Park Authority to thrive under his care.  It was during this time that a renewed and healthy relationship with the Board of Supervisors was firmly established. The Park Authority acquired its 20,000th acre of parkland during his tenure and created invaluable partnerships with the community, businesses and other government agencies.  Under Chairman de la Fe, the Park Foundation was created, a Strategic Plan was adopted, a new vision statement embraced and bond referenda approved by the voters.  He often shared his commitment to development of a park system that served a diverse community and left no one behind.”

Kincannon added, “That’s the short story.  Frank brought personal tenacity, a sense of fair play and a demand for excellence that set the stage for what the Park Authority has become today – a nationally recognized Park system providing quality facilities and services to our community.”

Paul Baldino, another Park Authority colleague recalled,” I had the good fortune to be appointed Director of the Fairfax County Park Authority and serve under Chairman Frank de la Fe. His leadership, wisdom, skill in working with staff, no-nonsense attitude, and wry humor changed the strategic direction of the organization and racked up a series of accomplishments that continue to benefit the outstanding park system enjoyed by Fairfax County residents.”

He was named Citizen of the Year by the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations in 2001. He was described as an agent of change and the driving force behind a land acquisition program that resulted in the preservation of more than 4,000 acres of open space during his tenure. In partnership with the Board of Supervisors, he was able to turn $20 million in bonds into $37 million worth of land resources.

His attributes were many and were captured in a program from the Citizen of the Year celebration which described de la Fe as, “A native of Cuba who understood and promoted a multifaceted approach to diversity in our neighborhoods.” Frank understood the need to provide services to people from many backgrounds and circumstances, and he never lost sight of the special needs of all residents for open space, quiet areas and places to peacefully enjoy nature.

Frank championed equitable access to athletic fields, supported skate parks to address the needs of teens, he envisioned off leash dog parks and espoused the need for transparency in all decisions of the Park Board and a means by which residents’ opinions could be heard. During his tenure the Water Mine opened at Lake Fairfax Park; plans to build Cub Run RECenter were made, the Park Foundation was formed, the Cross County Trail was proposed, and Clemyjontri Park property was donated. Those were merely the highlights of six years of success with Frank at the helm.

Park Authority Board Chairman Bill Bouie recalled his friendship and collaboration with Frank noting, “I worked with Frank on many projects through the years and he was always a great sounding board. Thank you Frank for your service, your friendship and dedication. You will be missed my friend.”

The family has asked that donations be made to the Park Foundation in his memory. For information visit online at



I Have a Question about Wildlife

Huntley Meadows egret2Who Do I Contact?

There are a lot of resources for Fairfax County residents who want information about wildlife. So, which resource do you use? Often, it comes down to who has the authority to resolve your concern. This blog and its links may help.

First, here’s a web page with contact information for all sorts of people who deal with local, statewide and national wildlife issues:

You’ll also find online A Field Guide to Fairfax County’s Plants and Animals, and the county website has information about wildlife species in the county.

Who Does What?

Next, a little about who does what and who may be the best person to contact for your situation.

Fairfax County has a Wildlife Management Specialist located in the Police Department. She oversees wildlife management, mitigates human-wildlife conflicts, and oversees the Deer Management Program and Canada Geese Management Program.

mothers-day-deer-4.jpgAlso in the Police Department are the Fairfax County Animal Protection Police. They enforce laws related to domestic and wild animals, investigate animal cruelty complaints and dog bites/attacks, remove stray dogs, and respond to calls about wild animals that appear sick or injured. The Fairfax County Animal Protection Police can be reached through the Police non-emergency number at 703-691-2131.

The Fairfax County Animal Shelter is the county’s only open-access municipal shelter. The shelter takes in stray companion animals that are in need, companion animals whose owners must surrender them when no longer willing or able to care for them, and animals that have been seized or taken into custody by Animal Protection Police. The shelter does not accept healthy, adult wildlife for any reason. For questions about orphaned wildlife, contact licensed wildlife rehabilitators. For questions about shelter programs, adoption, and intake procedures, contact the shelter at or by phone at 703-830-1100.

The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) protects the county’s natural resources. The agency partners with state officials and the county wildlife management specialist to manage animals. The Park Authority doesn’t “own” the animals, but it does teach about them. There are local wildlife experts at park nature centers, and those are the places to go to see and learn about wild critters.

Not all parks in the county belong to the Fairfax County Park Authority. Bull Run, Pohick Bay, Fountainhead and others are overseen by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. NOVA Parks is a system of regional parks shared by Arlington County, Fairfax County, Loudoun County, the City of Alexandria, the City of Falls Church and the City of Fairfax. There’s also a national park, Great Falls, and Mason Neck State Park. Contact staff at those parks for issues in those parks.

Living With Wildlife

Please remember that it is illegal to keep or care for orphaned, sick or injured wildlife unless you are a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. It takes specialized knowledge and training to care for a wild animal. One of those rehabilitators in the Fairfax County area is the Wildlife Rescue League. An organization called The Wildlife Center of Virginia provides needed health care to native wildlife.

Remember, don’t feed the wildlife. That causes problems. There are state regulations pertaining to unauthorized feeding of wildlife, including deer and bear.

raccoon.jpgInformation on resolving conflicts with wildlife is provided by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries (VDGIF). There are laws and guidelines governing the trapping of nuisance wildlife, and a list of licensed wildlife trappers is available on the VDGIF website. The Virginia Wildlife Conflict Helpline phone number is 855-571-9003. This helpline is staffed by wildlife specialists who can help identify wildlife damage and recommend solutions.

Diseases spread by animals fall under the domain of the Fairfax County Health Department. The Health Department has information about rabies, ticks and Lyme disease, and diseases carried by insects.

County staff often receive inquiries or requests for removal of dead animals on private property or roadways. County staff can provide guidelines on animal carcass disposal/burial on private property, but staff do not remove dead animals. For animal carcasses on a state road, contact the Virginia Department of Transportation.

State Offices

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation is Virginia’s lead conservation agency. These are the folks who protect land, open space, clean water, and natural habitat, provide access points to the outdoors, such as launch ramps, and manage state parks. 

birds006The Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries manages inland fisheries, wildlife, and recreational boating. The Fairfax County Park Authority works closely with VDGIF. Most bodies of water in county parks are managed by VDGIF, not the Park Authority. For example, FCPA owns the land around Burke Lake, but the lake waters are managed by VDGIF as a fishing lake, and all VDGIF rules and regulations apply. VDGIF is the ultimate authority on wildlife management in Virginia. Fairfax County falls under VDGIF’s Fredericksburg Regional Office (540-899-4169).

Other Sources for Wildlife Information
The Audubon Society of Northern Virginia is an excellent source for information about protecting birds and their habitats.

The Raptor Conservancy of Virginia is dedicated to teaching people about birds of prey.

The Save Lucy Campaign provides conservation education about North American bats and raises awareness of White-Nose Syndrome, a fungal disease, which has decimated North American bats.

The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District promotes soil and water conservation, prevents pollution and reduces runoff. NVSWCD is a political subdivision of the Commonwealth of Virginia that partners with government agencies to conserve soil resources, control and prevent soil erosion, prevent floods, and manage water. They heavily promote hands-on conservation, provide technical expertise, and have programs that develop young environmental leaders.

National Agencies
Here are a few other related organizations on the federal level:

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are all about human health care.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has wide-ranging oversight of fisheries, wildlife, wetlands and more under the goal of conserving nature in America.

The U.S. Forest Service manages and protects national forests and grasslands.

And the U.S. National Park Service oversees national parks.

Historic Collections Tell Fairfax County’s Stories

_DSC0023A tournament lance? Part of Fairfax County’s history? Well, yes, it’s one of more than 6,000 items in the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Historic Object Collection, which preserves material culture that is representative of Fairfax County’s heritage.

The lance, it turns out, is not from King Arthur’s time but from the early 20th century, when jousting was again a popular sport. In a combination of equestrian skill and athleticism, riders galloped their horses and attempted to thrust their lances through a small ring. These club-like tournaments were the inspiration for “catching the ring” on the later evolutions of carousels.

The Historic Object Collection encompasses many items from the 18th through 20th centuries associated with the early history of sites that are now parks and with the families who lived and worked at these sites. It also contains objects representing the general history, growth and development of Fairfax County and its individual communities. These items are exhibited at parks and at special community exhibits.

The Park Authority maintains a collection of archival materials that are important to researching the history of the sites. More than 4,000 archival items document site histories and ownership and record through photographs, maps, letters and other documents the agency’s restoration of historic structures.

The two collections support interpretive programs at historic sites and in exhibits. They help visitors enjoy, understand and appreciate Fairfax County’s heritage and historic resources. The Park Authority follows the highest professional museum standards of stewardship in protecting and maintaining this important legacy.dsc_0057.jpg

Some Historic Object Collections are exhibited on site, such as 18th-century objects owned by Richard Bland Lee, Northern Virginia’s first congressman and the original owner of Sully.

The Haight family lived at Sully during the mid-19th century, and a top hat, said to be purchased by Jacob Haight for Abraham Lincoln’s first inauguration, is part of the collection and occasionally on display at Sully.

Flour sack pansy_0007At Colvin Run Mill, photographs of the Millard family, the miller’s desk, mill receipts and grain sacks, a family bible, and an apron belonging to Emma Millard represent objects associated with the mill. The collection contains early photographs of Green Spring and documents relating to prior owners. Original photographs, documents, family letters and accounts pertain to other historic structures and sites.

Some collection objects relate less to a specific site and more to the history of the county. A sampling of objects from the early 20th century Colvin Run community includes a log cabin quilt, a biscuit block, blacksmith and milling tools, and a broom machine used by a blind man.

The collection also contains objects from community organizations, such as memorabilia from local Grange meetings and hymnals from Frying Pan Spring Meeting House. Civil War era maps, engravings and artifacts are reminders of wartime events that occurred across Fairfax County.

The Park Authority shares objects from its Historic and Archaeological Collections monthly in our artiFACTS blog. For inquiries about the Historic Object Collection, contact the Museum Collections Manager at 703-631-1429.


Apples, Virginia, and Fall: A Colorful, Tasty Combination

Apples 3Virginia has terrific apples. Fairfax County sells apples at its 11 Farmers Markets. You shop at Farmers Markets. That’s a combination that begs for homemade applesauce.

The making of applesauce has been part of Farmers Market demonstrations that have been presented by interpreters from Frying Pan Farm Park. The making of applesauce was a common task in Fairfax County kitchens of the 1930s, and the demonstrations showed how to maximize your use of fruits and vegetables that are in season. It also showed how food’s life can be extended by canning. Canning meant a variety of food was available during cold winters when there were no crops in those days before cross-country shipping.

Apples 1You don’t need canning for fresh applesauce. Put those apples to use this year for something special at Thanksgiving.

This is the recipe the interpreters used at the Frying Pan demonstrations:

Homemade Applesauce

6 apples, any variety, peeled, cored, and chopped into chunks

1 cup apple juice, apple cider, or water

1 Tbl lemon juice

Sprinkle of cinnamon

Sugar to taste (optional and not really needed!)

Put all ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil over medium heat.

Reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 30 minutes.

For chunky applesauce, when the apples have become very soft, mash them with a fork.

For smooth applesauce, let the applesauce cool and puree in a food processor or food mill.

Eat. Enjoy it hot or cold!

This blog was based on notes compiled by Frying Pan Farm Park Marketing and Development Assistant Bonnie Butler.

Remembering a Sully Legend


With sadness and tremendous respect, we note the passing of Margaret C. Peck on August 13, 2018. Peck was a local historian and had a major impact on Sully Historic Site.

This blog is based on another that was written by current Sully Historic Site Manager Carol McDonnell when Peck retired from the Sully Foundation Board in 2012. It continues to reflect our feelings and respect for her:

Margaret Peck gave 40 years of service to the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA), the Sully Foundation, Ltd. and the Northern Virginia community.  She served 18 years with FCPA, including time as the manager at Sully from 1971–1988. She spent another 22 years as a board member of the Sully Foundation, Ltd., serving as the Treasurer for 10 of those years.

She also was an active local historian, educator, author and contributor to several books, including Washington Dulles International Airport, and Around Herndon in the Images of America Series. She was a contributing author and editor for Voices of Chantilly, Recollections and Stories from 22 long-time residents, Stories of Floris, Sully: 1794– Stories and Letters, and the cookbook Samplings from Sully’s Hearth.

I interviewed Margaret in 2012 at her lovely home in Herndon, preparing for the Park Authority to present her a special achievement resolution. She was most proud of the preservation of Sully when Dulles International Airport was built. She worked personally with Sully’s first curator, Eddie Wagstaff, and was partially responsible for the fight to save Sully from becoming part of the buffer area for the airport. As manager at Sully, she helped develop a successful school-aged museum education program, including the four learning centers at the site today.  She especially enjoyed developing the kitchen program, and she liked to “take words and put them into action” through demonstrations of real cooking representing the late 18th century.

Peck researched historic letters and documents for years, documenting stories for the families who lived at Sully, especially the Richard Bland Lee family. Margaret helped develop the historic site’s docent manual and trained many people to lead tours and interpret the site, giving them confidence to present in-depth tours and share the human aspects of Sully’s history.

Through the years, Margaret appreciated working with exceptional staff to produce programs such as Christmas tours and seasonal festivals in both fall and spring.  She remembered working with a Mr. Bush, an older gentleman from Herndon who gave horse and wagon rides on the Sully grounds for 25 cents a ride.  She actively worked with the Society of the Lees of Virginia in their support of Sully projects and their lending of collection pieces.  She also was a successful advocate, along with her dedicated husband Ben, for the preservation of Frying Pan Farm Park’s school house and meeting house.

Among her memories were the thrill of watching the first Concord jet arrive at Dulles, viewing it from Sully along with park visitors and staff.  Her favorite memory was a Thanksgiving Day when snow began to fall, and across the field came Bland Lee V, the great, great grandson of Richard Bland Lee, along with his wife and daughter.  They had come to see her and take a tour amidst the beautiful snowfall on that special holiday.

We will treasure Margaret Peck’s memory as she treasured hers of that snowy day.



FCPA Sites Receive American Alliance of Museums Accreditation

Assurance that your Park Authority is serving you.         

CRM 1Colvin Run Mill

Schools are accredited to show they meet a certain level of educational excellence. The same is true of museums, and in 1979 the Fairfax County Park Authority became the first county agency in the nation accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM). Today, the news is even better.

AAM has announced that the Park Authority’s Resource Management Division (RMD) and four of its sites have received AAM accreditation. For nearly three years, we’ve been working toward re-accreditation. We completed a self-study and submitted it to the AAM in July 2016. Next was a visit from museum professionals who reviewed documents, interviewed staff and toured sites. The AAM representatives saw FCPA Collections at Walney Visitor Center in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and at the Frey House, then visited Green Spring Gardens in Alexandria. They toured Sully Historic Site and Frying Pan Farm Park, spent time with the Park Board, and attended a reception attended by park advocates, volunteers and staff members at the county government’s Herrity Building, where the Park Authority’s main offices reside. Their final day was spent at Colvin Run Mill Historic Site and amid the archaeological collections at the James Lee Community Center in Falls Church.

The AAM team filed a report, an AAM commission reviewed it, and accreditation officially was granted August 6, 2018.

Here’s what was accomplished:

  • Accreditation for RMD, which oversees Historic Artifact Collections and Archaeological Collections
  • Reaccreditation for Sully Historic Site, Colvin Run Mill, and Green Spring Gardens
  • First-time accreditation for Frying Pan Farm Park (pictured below)Frying Pan 2

“It is an honor and a privilege to have been reaccredited by the American Alliance of Museums,” said current Park Services Division Director Cindy Walsh, who headed the Resource Management Division during the reaccreditation process. “This validates our commitment to excellence and dedication to meeting the highest standards for our museums and collections. More importantly, it demonstrates our assurance to county residents that we will continue to preserve and protect Fairfax County’s important heritage.”

Colvin Run, Sully, and the Historic Artifact Collections were first accredited in 1979, and all were reaccredited in 1990 and 2002. Green Spring was included for the first time in 2002.

AAM establishes the standards through which museums are recognized for their commitment to excellence, accountability, and professionalism. The organization says that “as the ultimate mark of distinction in the museum field, accreditation signifies excellence and credibility.” AAM says that the designated Park Authority sites “have demonstrated they meet standards and professional practices, and have shown themselves to be core educational entities that are good stewards of the collections and resources they hold in the public trust.”

Sully 1Sully Historic Site

The AAM says there are about 33,000 museums in the United States. Of those, 1,070 are currently accredited.

AAM review assures residents that museums meet certain requirements under specific headings — Public Trust and Accountability, Mission and Planning, Leadership and Organizational Structure, Stewardship of the Collections, Education and Interpretation, Facilities and Risk Management, and Financial Stability.

Since the last time the agency was accredited, the Park Authority has implemented new recordkeeping databases for objects and plants, adopted the Professional Code of Ethics for Museum Operations, improved storage conditions with better housekeeping and environmental monitoring, and updated emergency plans and Friend Groups agreements.

Green Spring Manor house 1The Friends of Green Spring go by the acronym FROGS

AAM’s accreditation confirms that we manage our collections properly, are working to get better at our responsibilities, and are following current museum best practices and professional standards.

That accreditation tells you that we’re doing things the right way.

Author David Ochs is the Stewardship Communications Manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Resource Management Division, and Co-Author Carol Ochs works in the agency’s Public Information Office.