Energy Management in Parks: We’re saving resources, your money, and Earth

Energy-Great Falls Nike ParkReduce our carbon footprint. Reduce our energy use. Reduce pollution. Become more energy efficient.

Those words describe today’s environmental movement, and they mean, “We’re taking care of the earth.”

We’re using those words frequently inside the Fairfax County Park Authority because we’re doing our part to take care of our portion of the earth. Behind those words is a simple thought. If you use less energy, then you create less pollution. And to that list you can add “provide better service.”

In 2013, the Park Authority Board adopted the county’s energy policy, confirming a commitment to promote energy efficiency and conservation. Next came a plan to develop and implement an energy management program for park facilities. We’re executing that plan now by monitoring our energy consumption, improving our facilities, and reviewing those improvements to track their effectiveness. We named an energy manager to oversee the changes.

Making Parks Energy Efficient

We invite you to look inside the Park Authority to see what we are doing to reduce our energy consumption, which protects your county resources and reflects responsible use of finances.

Let’s start with lights. Many parks require lighting for large indoor and outdoor spaces – ball fields, tennis courts, RECenters, and so on. These spaces present opportunities to drastically cut energy use and promote energy efficiency. We’ve upgraded lighting and control systems that, in some places, have cut energy use more than 70%.Energy-Audrey Moore REC

Here are some of the places we’ve upgraded lighting systems:

  • Audrey Moore RECenter gymnasium
  • Cub Run RECenter swimming pools
  • Green Spring Gardens, indoor and outdoor
  • Lee District tennis and volleyball courts
  • Laurel Hill Golf Club, indoor and outdoor
  • Area 2 Maintenance and turf crew buildings and maintenance shop
  • Frying Pan Farm parking lot (solar lighting)
  • Mason District soccer field
  • Great Falls Nike soccer field

Improved illumination offered by indoor and outdoor LED lighting and new control systems have provided benefits such as:

  • Significant energy savings/cost avoidance
  • Significant maintenance cost avoidance
  • Better light and color uniformity and consistency
  • Longer equipment life cycle
  • More control because of instant-on lights and astronomical timers
  • Dark sky compliance

New equipment and updated amenities are the most visible changes county residents will notice, and we’ve heard from some regular visitors that they love the improved lighting. We love the energy savings and cost avoidance that ranges from 45% at athletic fields up to 75% at some indoor pools and gymnasiums.

energy-Cub Run RECOther examples of energy improvement projects include Variable Frequency Drive systems installed for pool pumps and web-based, smart irrigation systems installed at parks.

Both the county and park boards and management teams support these projects, and the County Environmental Program has funded some energy management projects to enhance environmental benefits.

What’s Next?

Upgrading facilities will advance the Park Authority’s energy efficiency. The FCPA also is moving toward automated control for HVAC systems to monitor and optimize energy usage. Incorporating more solar systems where feasible is a part of plans for future energy projects.

The FCPA is a leading steward of the county’s resources. We know we have an impact on our community, and we take that seriously. Energy-efficient programs maintain the beauty of the parks and protect natural resources. For example, the outdoor lighting upgrades are all Dark Sky compliant, which means minimal light pollution to surrounding areas. We hope we set an example that our fellow residents will follow when they take on home projects such as changing outdoor light fixtures on their homes. Imagine the incredible impact on light pollution across Fairfax County if every individual homeowner and individual business would follow our lead and install Dark Sky compliant lighting on their own small parcel of District Park

New energy-efficient projects will roll out in the future. In the planning stages are improved athletic field, court and parking lot lighting and controls, water usage monitoring systems for RECenters, automation control for RECenter HVAC systems, the purchase of energy-efficient lawnmowers, and other building and facility updates. These myriad projects will reduce our carbon footprint, our energy use, our pollution, and improve service to facility, park and RECenter guests.

Those of us who work at the Park Authority are dedicated to developing an energy management program for park facilities. Energy efficiency, better lighting, and more efficient air and pool temperature controls. Less energy use. Less pollution.

We’re taking care of your resources and our planet.

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

Gardening in Small Spaces

#4I always expected to have a large yard in which to grow flowers, vegetables and herbs. I envisioned a small lawn and designing designated spaces for planting. There would be a kitchen garden near the door with herbs for cooking, a cutting garden in a sunny area so the house would have fresh flowers, a rose garden with fragrant David Austin old roses, and perennials throughout serving as the garden anchors and offering winter interest.

It was a nice daydream.

#8Living for more than 35 years in a Fairfax County townhouse, I’ve had very limited planting space. Yet I still have a garden filled with herbs, some vegetables, and lots of perennials and flowers. It’s become a lush garden, and it remains a work in progress. The garden is filled with hanging planters, plant towers, containers and trellises.

In creating a garden in small spaces, you must have good design and be creative. Each spring, I plant annuals for seasonal color. I use containers and choose plants wisely. #5I might put an evergreen in a flower pot and then add annuals to it in the summer. I plant herbs with flowers both in the garden and in containers. I use walls, fences and trellises for perennial vines that soften the town house, add interest, and give bursts of color in spring and summer.

I’m always on the lookout for unusual ways to plant. I recently saw an adorable dog house with its roof planted in creeping fig (Ficus pumila). I immediately planted one to cover a bench where no one sits. The fig spread quickly. A favorite vine is a native #2passion vine (Passiflora caerulea) that rewards me with yummy yellow fruit every fall, and the late summer flowers are spectacular. A wall shared with a neighbor is covered with Boston Ivy (Parthenocissus tricuspidata). #6This is not a true ivy. It has shiny green leaves in the spring that turn magnificent shades of red and pink in the fall.

I’m a big fan of gardener, author and photographer Derek Fell, who has an award-winning garden of flowers, fruits, and vegetables. One of his many books, Vertical Gardening: Grow Up, Not Out, for More Vegetables and Flowers in Much Less Space, offers recommendations for the best climbers for space-saving, and I have successfully followed his suggestions.

#1You can garden anywhere. Be creative. Try things. My grandfather gardened on a fire escape in New York City in the 1930s. There are many space-saving solutions – in shutters between slats, between pavers, in a frame, on a chair, in the middle of a table as a living centerpiece. Use imagination, and plan your spring garden.

Author Gioia Caiola Forman is a Green Spring Gardens Master Gardener and a board member of the Friends of Green Spring.

Green Spring Master Gardeners host their annual Eco-Savvy Symposium promoting sustainable and ecologically sound gardening on Saturday, February 17, 2018, at Green Spring Gardens. Author Derek Fell and Thomas Schneider, Executive Director of Rooftop Roots, will be among the speakers. For more information or registration call 703-642-5173.


Students Rise to Protect Parks From Encroachment

The parks, forests and clean drinking water of Fairfax County are under siege from something called encroachment.

inverchapel half acre with captionIn response, the Fairfax County Park Authority created the Park Encroachment Education Project. This project, seeking to instill a sense of stewardship in a new generation, calls on Fairfax County students to raise awareness about the damage caused by encroachment. The project goal is to encourage young people to monitor and prevent encroachment in their communities. Volunteer organizations such as the Lake Braddock Going Green Club already are involved with the effort.

“Encroachment happens when someone uses someone else’s land as if it was their own,” said Kim Schauer, a naturalist with the Park Encroachment Education Project. “In our case, encroachment is the unauthorized and illegal use of publicly owned parkland. There are very few, if any, parks that are not affected by some kind of encroachment.”

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s website notes that people encroach by building structures, mowing to extend yards past property lines, dumping yard waste and garbage, or blazing new trails outside of the trails system established by the Park Authority.

statue encroachment with captionEncroachment destroys natural forest, and that “threatens the source of our drinking water supply,” Schauer said. “It causes erosion, reduces the land’s ability to slow down runoff and absorb non-point source pollution, fragments wildlife habitat and affects the floodplain, which can change flood patterns.”

Besides the harmful effects that encroachment imposes on the environment, Schauer said there are fairness issues because “encroachers are stealing land for their own use without owning or paying taxes on it, keeping other people from enjoying it, and taking away the ecosystem services provided by undisturbed land.”

Schauer says the Park Authority does not have the resources to tackle the problem alone. Park officials have been aware of parkland encroachments for years, but Schauer said stopping it involves a “significant amount of staff time…to investigate reports of encroachment, enforce encroachment law and mitigate encroachment-related damages.”

This is why the county has turned to students for assistance.

“Students have the power to make a huge difference just by spreading the word in their communities,” Schauer said.  “Most homeowners don’t even know they are doing anything harmful when they mow into the park or dump yard waste in the woods.  Once they know, they stop, and everyone benefits.”

“We hope to reach neighborhoods and local communities on a personal level, and we recognized that students with out-of-the-box ideas would exponentially spread the word to our neighborhood families,” she said.

Schauer’ s team created an online tool, the Find Your Borders Mapping App. This free app allows anyone to enter their Fairfax County address and see a satellite picture of their home. Overlaid on this image are approximate park boundaries and property lines for the entire county. Schauer also encourages kids to share this app with their friends, parents and neighbors and tell them about the impacts of park encroachment.

Eco-friendly organizations are another way to contribute. For example, the LB Going Green Club at Lake Braddock Secondary School is “looking to help by planting strips of green around the school’s paved areas such as the parking lot and blacktop,” sponsor Jane Gordon said. “This will decrease the future impact of erosion at our school.”

The county’s best hope of resolving environmental issues like encroachment is “to ignite the passion of students to support the cause and strengthen our ability to change public opinion,” Schauer said.

Try the Find Your Borders Mapping Application. Learn more about parkland encroachment by visiting the Fairfax County Park Authority’s website. For more information call the agency’s Park Operations Division at 703-324-8594.

Author Lauren Delwiche is a seventh-grader at Lake Braddock Secondary School. A version of this article was originally published in the November 2017 issue of the Lake Braddock Middle School student newspaper, The Bruin Times.


A Garden, a Park, a School, and a Healthy Partnership

6You’re looking for a healthier you in 2018. A better diet is part of your resolution, and maybe some Fairfax County youth can show you the way.

This tale’s roots are in October 18, 2017, which was a great day for some Fairfax County kids. It was a pretty good day for Fairfax County agriculture, too.

October was National Farm to School Month, and that meant opportunity! Floris Elementary School, Frying Pan Farm Park, and Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) teamed up to bring local food to local kids.

Here’s how it worked. October 18 was a crisp Wednesday morning, and the weather allowed for easy harvesting conditions at Frying Pan. A five-gallon bucket full of beautiful lettuce, a half-bucket of shiny green peppers, an armload of bright yellow summer squash, and more carrots than one person could carry were gathered. That was enough food for a bundle of students in grades one to six at Floris Elementary to sample all they wanted.1

Christie St. Pierre of the FCPS Office of Food and Nutrition Services helped Frying Pan Historic Farm Educator April Schmidt wash and chop the fresh produce in the school’s kitchen. Floris Guidance Counselor and Green Team Leader Sarah Dekramer prepared a cafeteria table with signs and serving supplies. Ms. Dekramer created the Floris Elementary Green Team as a student club that, among other green tasks, tends to and harvests from a garden at Frying Pan, which is not far from the Herndon school.

4During each grade’s lunchtime, Green Team members stationed themselves at the serving table and gave a sample of fresh veggies to any students who lined up for a taste. Kids kept coming back over and over for more veggies, and the Green Team members clearly enjoyed passing out tasty food they helped grow.

So, youth showed the way. When folks say “kids will not eat veggies” just show them these photos. Then take the next step. Now it’s your turn to get healthier.

Author April Schmidt is the Historic Farm Educator and Kidwell Garden Coordinator at Frying Pan Farm Park.

CYA’s Ralph Wills Remembered Fondly

By William Bouie, Chairman, Park Authority Board

ralph-willisIt is with great sadness that we share the news that Ralph Wills died on Monday, December 18, 2017. Chantilly Youth Association reports that he died peacefully with his family by his side, and for that I am grateful. Ralph was one of those guys who just did what needed to be done and did it with a smile and a handshake. All of us will miss him, but the people he touched; the countless kids will really feel the loss.

To the Fairfax County Park Authority Ralph was much more than President of the Chantilly Youth Association, a post he held since 1998. He was an effective member of the Green Team advocacy group that supported our park bonds and an active participant on the Athletic Council. For me, and other members of the Park Authority Board, it was much more personal. He was the type of person that left you wondering how you could be a better person; just like him. He was gregarious yet humble. He was direct but always kind. And he was a community leader in the old sense of the word, when individuals made a world of difference in very ordinary ways. Not that there was anything ordinary about Ralph.

ralph-willis-signOn November 7, 2015 the Park Authority named a field after him at Sully Highlands Park. It was the least we could do and it was a well-deserved honor. Rectangular Field #1 at Sully Highlands Park honored his many accomplishments as a community leader and youth sports advocate. He was active with the Chantilly Youth Association (CYA) since 1984. He served as president of CYA for decades, representing the interests of 13,000 players. Over the years, he coached youth and adult soccer and softball teams, as well as playing soccer, softball, baseball and volleyball. He worked with 56 teams during his service as Boys under 16 Commissioner for the Suburban Friendship League, also served as Senior Soccer Coordinator for CYA and as Soccer Coordinator.

Ralph had lots of titles, and lots of years on the field. He attended countless meetings of all types in order to get better facilities for kids, and athletes of all types. He was hands on and personally put out “Parks Yes” bond signs or pushed a single button, sending emails to thousands of families in support of Park Bonds. He advocated in front of elected officials for more money for parks. He believed in partnerships and friendships.

I understand that the Ralph Wills Memorial Fund will provide a means by which we can further ensure that his memory – particularly his love for kids and his commitment to making sports a part of their lives –is remembered. For details about the fund and for information about services, visit the CYA website at

I know that the world is much better place because of Ralph Wills. He was effective and tenacious. In the words of the legendary Babe Ruth, “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.” Rest well Ralph.

On the National Register: Dranesville Tavern

Old_Tavern_(Dranesville)__11919_Leesburg_Pike_(moved_from_orig _location)_Herndon_vicinity_(Fairfax_Virginia)In the past, there were three types of taverns.

There were the truck stops, called wagon stands, which catered to teamsters.

Then there were the I-25 rest stops of the day – the stage coach taverns about a dozen or so miles apart — where a fresh relay of six-team horses would be available, maybe two or four teams at each tavern. Imagine riding from Fairfax to Kings Dominion and stopping every 12 miles to change engines and have a brew.

Finally, there were the stage coach centers that stabled 40 to 80 horses. The when-are-we-going-to-get-there, Mom-I-have-to-go-to-the-bathroom places. Fredericksburg on the Washington-to-Kings Dominion run.

Dranesville Tavern was the first type, a wagon stand. The truck drivers of the day who weaved supply wagons through the Piedmont region of Northern Virginia would frequent it. In the early 1800s, western Virginia was evolving from frontier woods into farmland. Turnpikes, heavily promoted by the federal government during the War of 1812, connected eastern cities to those farms and brought supplies to the settlers. Georgetown and Alexandria were centers of commerce shipping supplies west and providing ports for the products returning from the Shenandoah Valley. Dranesville Tavern was superbly located along the route from those cities to Leesburg and points west.

DVT kitchenThe building itself is a good example of three distinct 19th century building periods. It was originally a two-story log house joined to a one-story log kitchen. There were more alterations around 1850 when the building was enlarged and modernized, notably with the addition of a second floor above the kitchen and porches. Sometime around 1893 the rear porch was enclosed, and the front porch was enlivened with turned posts and scroll-work brackets.

Dranesville’s start as a notable Fairfax County commercial and social center began sometime in the early 19th century. Archaeological investigation indicates the tavern was probably built around 1823-1830 and, most likely, by Sanford Cockerille, who had previously purchased the land. In 1852, the tavern and 12 acres of land around it were transferred to George W. Jackson, and the place was called The Jackson Hotel. Indications are it did quite well as a business until the railroads arrived. That same federal support of transportation on turnpikes during the War of 1812 evolved into support for transportation on rail, and by 1836 trains were beginning to carry people and goods on a line to Harper’s Ferry. It was a preview of what happened again in the mid-20th century. The Jackson Hotel found itself isolated on a two-lane highway watching cars zip past nearby on a new interstate highway. Still, there was enough business for the Jenkins family, which owned the tavern from 1881 to 1968. A railroad through Herndon led to the economic decline of Dranesville.

dranesville-national registerDranesville Tavern’s nomination for the National Register of Historic Places says, “During George Jackson’s ownership at the time of the War Between the States, the tavern witnessed the flow of military activity which travelled the turnpike in support of the nearby battles. First and Second Manassas, the Battle of Ox Hill and the Battle of Dranesville all took place not far from the tavern.”

Jackson died shortly after the war, in 1868, and the tavern passed through a couple of other owners before being acquired by the Park Authority to prevent its destruction during a widening of the Leesburg Pike, Route 7. The tavern today does not sit on its original location. To preserve it, the building was moved about 100 feet south. Following its placement in the National Register of Historic Places in 1972, Dranesville Tavern was restored. It opened to the public as a historic site in 1978.

The Fairfax County Park Authority acquired Dranesville Tavern in 1968 and restored it. It is located at 11919 Leesburg Turnpike in Herndon. More information is on the Dranesville Tavern website.

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

Green Spring Master Gardener Program Celebrates 15 Years

IMG_4034Teenage years are a time of energy, excitement and new experiences, years of change that contribute to forming a sense of identity and purpose. The Green Spring Master Gardener (GSMG) program is 15 in 2017, and in its teen years it continues to have an enthusiasm of purpose.

The seed for the program was planted in 2002, and its identity was shaped by a partnership with the Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE). The VCE is a link between land grant universities and community residents. Before the Civil War, very few college curriculums addressed the problems of citizens who made their livelihood from agriculture. In 1862, Congress passed the Morrill Act which provided for a university in every state that would educate citizens in agricultural and mechanical fields. Today, these colleges are known as land grant universities. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (Virginia Tech) and Virginia State University are Virginia’s land grant schools.

VCE created the Master Gardener (MG) program to meet increasing requests from dscf6551-e1511978680564.jpghomeowners for research-based horticultural information. MG volunteers are trained by experts in their respective fields to provide consumers with up-to-date, reliable knowledge so residents can enjoy the natural resources around their homes. Master Gardeners keep up with the latest in horticultural research and trends by putting in eight hours of training each year in order to remain certified. Green Spring boasts about 150 active Master Gardeners and 30 trainees. They contributed over 9,700 service hours in 2016. Their activities included a Speaker’s Bureau that addressed 171 attendees at six Fairfax County libraries as well as members of the National Capital Area Gardening Study School, the Azalea Society of America and various gardening clubs and groups in Fairfax County.

In collaboration with Fairfax County Master Gardeners, GSMGs brought a basic botany class to 72 fourth-grade classrooms in 21 Fairfax County public schools, homeschool groups and Girl Scout troops, teaching a total of 1,743 students. Other children’s programs include Learn, Explore and Play, an interpretive team for the Master Gardener Demonstration Gardens and Ready, Set, Grow for fourth graders.

DSCF6700The GSMGs man the Green Spring Gardens help desk every Saturday from 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and the VCE office in Fairfax. They display educational material and answer questions at Fairfax County Farmers Markets and local green fairs, give tours of Green Spring Gardens, hold a yearly EcoSavvy Symposium, and erect instructive horticulture displays in Fairfax County libraries. The GSMGs also have developed partnerships with local organizations. Master Gardeners work with Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, organizing volunteers to work in the native plant gardens and lead tours and educational programming. The latest endeavor is a partnership with the Woodburn Crisis Care Center to improve and enhance a healing garden space and provide education.

The 15-year-old program is committed to providing gardening advice and educational programming for the community. Many of the MGs are professionals either retired or working as teachers, nurses, doctors, university professors and IT specialists. They freely offer their expertise, time and passion to the Green Spring Master Gardener Program because they believe in its value to affect the citizens of Fairfax County and the environment. Educator Lucy Wheelock always said, “The one thing that makes life worth living is to serve a cause.” The GSMGs do just that.

Author Pam Smith is the Community Horticulture Supervisor at Green Spring Gardens.