Every Week is Pollinator Week for Parks

Huntley RestorationJune 19-June 25, 2017, is National Pollinator Week — a chance to learn about the importance of pollinators.

The Park Authority’s work with and for pollinators includes the preservation, management and restoration of natural habitat as well as the monitoring of wildlife that use the habitat. We’ve established demonstration sites and waystations that support pollinators, and we provide interpretation, education and outreach activities through our nature centers and parks. One example of that outreach is this blog.

Parks have diverse habitats that benefit pollinators, including about 18,000 acres of forest habitat. Those forests are in various stages of growth, which means they host varied groups of wildlife that depend on these changing, growing woods. Parks also have approximately 1,572 acres of non-forested, undeveloped habitats that include meadows and shrub land. That’s more variety for more species that rely on those types of habitats.

Burn 1Parks that include areas with actively managed habitats include Huntley Meadows, Ellanor C. Lawrence, Riverbend, Poplar Ford, and Laurel Hill along with Elklick Natural Area Preserve and Marie Butler Levin Preserve. There are also dozens of sites that fall under the watchful eye of our Invasive Management Area program.

Habitat restoration projects have taken place recently at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP), Old Colchester Park and Preserve, Huntley Meadows, Great Falls Nike Park, Kings Park West, Wakefield Run Stream Valley, Flatlick, Schneider Branch and Laurel Hill. Most notable among that list is the massive wetlands restoration at Huntley Meadows.

beekeeping ECLPollinator demonstration sites have been established at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Huntley Meadows Park, Riverbend Park, Green Spring Gardens, and at the John C. and Margaret K. White Horticultural Park. Many sites host waystations, including Hidden Oaks Nature Center, the Packard Center, Mason District Park and ECLP.

Hidden Oaks Nature Center has led the way in a monarch butterfly tagging and population monitoring program. Monarch populations have been declining because of a loss of habitat, and these efforts will help Fairfax County do its part in reversing that loss. MonarchTagging has been taking place since 1996, and three to nine tagging sessions are held annually. Public involvement in those is welcome. Green Spring Gardens and some libraries and schools have joined that effort. We’ve been raising and releasing monarchs since 2005 in partnership with Monarch Watch and volunteers. Parks also have helped Fairfax County Public Schools develop a curriculum for raising monarch butterflies.

Dozens of pollinator interpretation classes are hosted by Park Authority parks for people from preschool to adult. Your local nature center will have information about them. Other education efforts revolve around school field trips. Pollination and pollinators are part of the Virginia standards of learning for second through fourth grades, and those units are presented at nature centers. Among the topics covered are insects, ecosystems, and plants.

Dozens of stewardship brochures that help county residents understand aspects of nature are available at parks and other county offices. They’re also online. Brochures specific to pollination include those titled Pollen, Native Backyard Plants, and Bees.

If you want more information about Park Authority efforts to protect pollinators and all they do for us, you’ll find it on our natural resources web pages.

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

Images of Sanctuary

An artist’s journey through Huntley Meadows Park

Mosaic-EndOfAutumnA place of calm and respite from noise and concrete. Sanctuary for people and wildlife.

This is what Huntley Meadows Park represents to visitors, both human and animal. This is what many of the artists who visit Huntley try to capture in the works that are featured in the park’s Norma Hoffman Visitor Center.

“From the first time I stepped foot on the trail, I thought this is a holy space,” said photographer Nina Tisara. “One foot in front of the other, step by slow step, each visit is a walking meditation. I used to carry my camera with me all the time. Now, most of the time, I just let the images fall on the silver lining of my gut. Digital photographers may not understand that analogy, but us old-timers will understand the magic that can come from light falling on film.”

Tisara is well known to Alexandrians as a photographer for her portrayals of the area’s residents and historic places. She staged an art show, her first at the park, at Huntley Meadows in 2003.

Sanctuary is the name I called my photographic exhibition because Huntley Meadows was, and is, a personal sanctuary for me,” she said. The exhibit featured black and white photos of vine-covered trees at the park.MosaicCenturyPlant-13x14c

Shortly after that first show at Huntley Meadows, Tisara took her first class in mosaics. At that time, in the early 2000s, photography was becoming increasingly digital, and Tisara no longer kept a darkroom in her home. Photography lost a little of its magic for her, and mosaics captured her interest. She returns to Huntley Meadows Park this summer with a new show titled “Inspired by Nature” that is built around mosaics tied to feelings sparked by the park. Some of her mosaics initially were inspired by photographs taken at Huntley Meadows.

Many visitors to Huntley can’t tell you exactly when they first started going to the park, but they can tell you they’ve been returning to check in with nature for long periods of time. The park’s front desk hosts a log book where visitors write down anything they see and, if closely examined, the same handwritings appear over and over again. New and repeat visitors tell staff that Huntley allows them to enjoy new experiences and find deeper connections to nature. Cherry BlossomThey leave the park feeling calmer and relaxed. Stepping away from their work lives and their commutes gives them a chance to de-stress and enjoy a blooming flower, a hunting heron, or a turtle sunning. Tisara is no exception to this. She keeps a digital journal and has written about walks at Huntley Meadows as far back as April 2000. Her journal entries from December 2001 speak to her captivation with nature and the images that landed in her mind from walking in the park:

December 4, 2001: I am grateful for this sunny morning. I am looking forward to trying to capture the vines “dancing” at Huntley Meadows Park. They seem to me like dancers.

December 5, 2001: Yesterday I walked again at Huntley Meadows, this time with my camera. I shot a couple of rolls of 120 black and white, mostly of “the dancers.”

December 9, 2001: I went to church in the morning. Then I re-shot the trees and vines at Huntley Meadows. I’m happy to have the chance to shoot the same scene again and again to adjust the exposure and I’d like to try it at different times of day and in different kinds of light. Fog would be nice. The fog shots turned out harder than I thought. I drove to the park one foggy morning but by the time I got there, there was no fog in the park. I went again with better luck.

In many ways, Tisara has come full circle. In May 2003, she wrote, “The best part of yesterday was a short walk through Huntley Meadows. I went to meet the woman who coordinates exhibits. Sanctuary will be there in July and August. I haven’t been to Huntley Meadows in a month at least. It was good to get back.”

Back she is, with the first mosaic show to be featured in the Norma Hoffman Visitor Center.

Quarterly art shows at Huntley Meadows Park are expressions of inspiration that foster connections with nature. The Norma Hoffman Visitor Center has hosted photographers, potters, painters, and other creative talents. Nina Tisara’s “Inspired by Nature,” the park’s first mosaic exhibit, will be at the center until August 31, 2017.

 Author Halley Johnson is the Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator at Huntley Meadows Park.


Volunteer Extraordinaire Norma Hoffman Dies

Norma Hoffman_0012Fairfax County Park Authority volunteer Norma Hoffman passed away Sunday morning, June 11, 2017, after a long illness. She was one of the most extraordinary volunteers in the agency’s history.

Hoffman’s impact began in 1978, when a planned four-lane road would have cut through Huntley Meadows Park. Ms. Hoffman had the foresight to understand the damage the road would cause, and so she established the Citizen’s Alliance to Save Huntley and enlisted scientific and legal help. Thirty-nine years later there is no road.

The Alliance eventually grew to 600 members and succeeded in having the road plan removed from the Fairfax County Comprehensive Plan. Ms. Hoffman then co-founded the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park in 1985, instituting a model that has been used by subsequent Friends groups at other county parks. Ms. Hoffman served as the Friends president, and in that role used wetland protection laws to prevent any further potential degradation to the park. The two groups worked collaboratively to secure state grants for the stabilization of 1,000 feet of severely eroded stream banks above the park using bioengineering techniques. Her efforts eventually added more than 100 acres of wetlands to Huntley Meadows Park, repaired several failing stormwater ponds on an adjacent golf course, and established a continuous pollution monitoring system, thus protecting a vital water passageway to the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay. She also maintained an unrelenting pursuit on behalf of the acquisition of the mansion at Historic Huntley, which is now park property.

Norman Hoffman 2Ms. Hoffman continued as a volunteer at Huntley Meadows Park for nearly four decades. She was honored with the Park Authority’s highest volunteer service award, received the annual Distinguished Volunteer Service Award from the Virginia Recreation and Park Society, and in the week prior to her passing was named a national Outstanding Volunteer by the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials. In 1992, the Sierra Club named her one of its 100 Environmental Heroes.

Ms. Hoffman taught thousands of children about nature and our responsibility to be environmental stewards. A Park Authority Board resolution noted that she tirelessly served community children in a 30-year crusade to imprint an appreciation for the environment through countless classes, hikes, and engaging stories. The Visitor Center at Huntley Meadows Park was named in her honor in 2013. She will be remembered, and she will be missed.

Walt Whitman Loves MWEE

Children get hands-on with nature.

Erosion in a stream valley

Normally our blogs are written by someone who works for or with the Fairfax County Park Authority. Not this one.

This one was written by students of Walt Whitman Middle School after their Meaningful Watershed Educational Experience (MWEE) along South Run Stream Valley this spring. MWEE is a regular part of the fourth and seventh-grade curriculum in Fairfax County Public Schools.

We bet by the time you reach the end, you’ll learn things you didn’t know. Here are excerpts from thank you notes written by students of science teacher Chris Andersen and their chaperones after their adventure:

“I learned new things about trees and invasive species. I found it interesting how cold water to us is considered hot water to the fishes.”

“One thing I’d like to do in the future is study the watershed further. I am very interested in watershed science now. Thanks to this field trip, I have growing interests in the world’s watershed and other science.”

“Because of the trip I was taught to appreciate the watersheds since they contain our water supply.”

“Because of the trip I’m interested in becoming a naturalist because naturalists go outside, work with animals, and study watersheds.”

“I definitely understand how much we affect how clean or dirty the water is. It changes my perspective drastically; I want my earth to be clean.”

Fish“I also learned that cold water is too hot for fish, which really surprised me. If the water is hot, then fish could easily die due to the lack of dissolved oxygen…Science is really interesting.”

“The thing I found interesting is that we have one of the cleanest water [supplies].”

“I love science now. Thank you.”

“I would like to water monitor in the future as a volunteer. The water really interested me.”

“I liked how we got to go around the whole park and see different things and we could touch things. I learned that the water from the river/creek was the water we drink.”

“During the trip I learned about macroorganisms. I never knew there were so many different types. I want to learn about the importance of the macroorganisms in their ecosystem.”

“I’m glad that I now know what poison ivy looks like so I can avoid it. I never knew that honeysuckle was an invasive species.”

“I really enjoyed going into the water and searching for living things. One thing I will now do in the future is take time out of my week and or day to clean up my neighborhood. I loved going on this field trip!”

“We got to search for little bugs in the tributary. I also learned a lot like a water penny is sensitive to the water…that the water was really good…and that a watershed is an area of land that water flows down.”

“I really enjoyed when we got to play games and learned about how to improve our school’s habits to keep the watershed clean.”

“I really liked the hands on experience…especially when we learned about all the critters in the stream and how they tell us the quality of the water. In the future I would like to spend more time at the biology station.”

“This field trip really helped me with the concept of watersheds. I would definitely come here with my family in the future. I appreciate that you guys are spreading the word about our world. Science rocks.”

“I learned that a mayfly can’t survive if there is pollution in the water.”

“After going in the woods, I understand that we need to keep our plant safe, or else it could die, and so could we.”

“I LOVE science. I want to become a scientist.”

“I learned that fish like to swim and live in the dark part of the water because it is colder.”

“That baby snakes could be as small as a worm-that was really interesting.”

“I learned that poison ivy has a type of coating around it that’s like oil, so it gets into your pores which is what causes the rash.”

“I appreciate that I have clean water.”

“I learned that trash gets into the water by waterflow pushing it into the streams, rivers and oceans…Now I appreciate that I should keep my water clean, and those who do that for me.”

“I think it was interesting to learn that certain bugs/animals in the river can show us if the water is polluted…I think that it’s also interesting to learn about all the invasive species of plants like the honeysuckle. I know now that I shouldn’t bring invasive species of plants out of the park and to take care of the forest and wildlife.”

“I understand how pH works better.”

“I know more about the watershed. Something that I want to do in the future is to find the animals in the water.”

“I liked how we went looking for organisms and we saw them. It was pretty cool.”

“I learned that most of all of the states were farmland and then it got turned all to houses.”

“I learned that clams are like the “vacuums” of the water.”

“I thought the fact that poison ivy looks like plastic was cool.”

“Something I understand better now is how a smaller watershed goes into a bigger watershed.”

“I learned that you can play outside for a living.”

MultifloraRose2“What I found interesting on the trip was that there are native and invasive species. Something I understand better is pH [and} that the water quality is good. Something that I now appreciate more is wildlife and plant life. They are what us humans need to survive. Something I’d like to do in the future is…go back to South Run Park. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”

“Because of the trip, I’m interested in becoming a naturalist, because naturalists can go outside, work with animals and study watersheds. I really liked this trip.”

“I had a blast! My favorite thing about the forest…were the hipster trees. I would like to go again in the future and go deeper into the woods. There was so much life and I want to observe it more to better understand nature. I hope we could do it again!”

“It would be cool to be a naturalist someday.”

“Something new that I learned is that shade makes the water colder.”

“What I found interesting was that there were lots of organisms in the water. What I’d like to do in the future is to reduce the amount of waste in waters to save wildlife…I had a blast that day.”

“I learned that biodiversity means different kinds of life.”

“I would like to say thank you. I loved the place…I also wanted to thank the dude that presented erosion, because he saved my life by grabbing me so that I couldn’t fall into the water. Overall, I had the best time ever over at South Run Park.”

“Thank you for showing us around the forest…teaching me about different organisms and different plants and how erosion works. Thanks for also showing us about the watersheds…and for letting us do experiments.”

“Thank you for helping me get closer to nature.”

Showing Up Early to Nature’s Party

Here cicadas, there cicadas, everywhere……

Cicada 3

Nature glories in being mysterious, but recently she has been downright confusing. Why cicadas now? These clumsy, noisy creatures are bumbling through the air looking for a mate but not having much success. Turns out that the raucous critters are four years too early.

Back in 2004, millions of periodic cicadas in Fairfax County created a din rivaling that of a lawn mower. These cicadas were to spend their 17 formative years underground as a larva quietly sipping sap from tree roots. Then, in a mysterious synchrony, they would emerge to shed their exoskeleton above ground. They would then leave a crispy, tan exuvae behind as they fly off in their adult form.

So why, suddenly, a 13-year cycle instead of 17? First, a little about these insects.

Weird looking, but not harmful

Cicadas cannot bite or chew, nor can they sting, so they pose no risk to curious kids. Cicada 2aThey can use their beak-like proboscis to pierce twigs to consume tree fluids. They are a scrumptious treat for most wildlife from birds to mammals to fish to fungus, and with only a short life as an adult, under two weeks, the periodic cicadas typically survive by overwhelming their predators with sheer numbers. As large and noisy as these insects are, they are easily found and munched. Those who do not get eaten get to mate.

As adults, that’s the main goal for cicadas — find a mate. Females quietly cruise while the males beat a come-hither call with their bodies. As a result, a lot of noise.

Cicada 1The lucky surviving females lay their eggs in thin twigs on trees and then die. The twigs eventually snap, resulting in dead leaves called flagging that hangs off tree tops. The tiny larvae sup on the fluids in the twig, grow, and soon fall to the ground. There they burrow underground to start their count to 17 (or 13 if that is their cycle). This elegant dance takes but a few weeks, and then the tree tops are quiet again.

Periodic cicadas baffle humans, even when they are expected. How can they count to 17? How do they all emerge at the same time? Why are they flying into my face? Why are they all over the road? Cicadas were pre-Ice Age residents, and our dominance of the landscape is a relatively recent phenomenon. As the ground cicadas dig into is paved over, the patient larvae emerge only to bump their heads and lose the chance to mate or be a meal to a grateful predator.

Do cicadas count?

The early emergence of the periodic cicadas is not a new phenomenon. Chris Simon, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Connecticut, surmised that the cicadas have four-year development cycles, which could explain why “stragglers,” cicadas that are four years too early or too late to the party, regularly occur. Others proffer that global warming could speed up the larvae development. Scientists estimate that this spring’s emerging population represented ten or less percent of the total population. If that’s accurate, just wait ’til 2021!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERACicadas may creep out humans with their size, noise and numbers, but they shout the primacy of nature. For a few short weeks, nature cannot and will not be ignored. That alone makes the mystery of the cicada inspiring. Perhaps that is why genus name is Magicicada.

For now, Fairfax County residents can marvel at the noisy, bumbling mystery. We may never know all the answers but can take joy in the wonder.

Author Suzanne Holland is the Assistant Manager at Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale, Va. Photos provided by Park Authority staff and photographer Tuan Pham.

Scott’s Run: Terrific, Torrential, Treasured and Terrifying

Scott's Run waterfall 2One of the most scenic parks in Fairfax County is also among the most jeopardized and potentially dangerous.

The park is Scott’s Run Nature Preserve, and it needs a little love. The preserve’s troubles are an age-old issue – folks who don’t understand the consequences of their actions and a lack of understanding about how nature works. (Video)

The park draws people because it is remote and beautiful, but some visitors take advantage of that to drink alcohol illegally and to leave the site trashed. Trash is a blight Scott's Run, trash 5-19-17that ruins the next visitor’s park experience and that eventually floats downstream in the Potomac River into the Chesapeake Bay, causing pollution and impacting wildlife. The wrapper you drop in the woods can choke a turtle or a fish downstream.

Scott’s Run is blessed and cursed by beautiful sections of stream that invite people to wade or swim, but wading and swimming in the stream is illegal, unsafe and irresponsible.

Scott’s Run starts in one of the highest spots in Fairfax County, under the towering buildings of Tysons, and it flows into the Potomac River in an area called The Potomac Gorge. The Gorge is special, probably more special than most folks in the Washington area realize. The park’s terrain and the Potomac River’s floodwaters that transport seed from the Shenandoah Mountains are a combination that has created one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic. There are floodplains, rocky cliffs, and narrow valleys that were carved over eons by the erosive forces of the Potomac River. It is a union of rocks and river that is home to many unusual plants and animals.

Scott's Run waterfall 2-editBecause Scott’s Run is a nature preserve, the park’s entire area and all its resources are protected, including the creeks and streams. Wading and swimming are not allowed for a couple of reasons. First, the water can be polluted by runoff from upstream. Second, wading and swimming damage the fragile composition of the stream bed and possibly harm the area’s unusual combinations of plants and animals.

In addition, the beauty of the gorge’s carved valley is deceptively dangerous.

Water’s thunderous power is obvious at one of the gorge’s feature attractions, the cascades and falls at Great Falls National Park. But that’s not the only place along the Potomac River that the gorge creates quick, threatening currents speckled with underwater hazards.

The large creek flowing through the western end of Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is surrounded by steep hills. When there is rain, water falling on the roads and rooftops of Tysons flows not into the ground but rushes over those impermeable surfaces into Scott’s Run. By the time the creek reaches the park, it has swollen into a massive amount of water. At the preserve, the steep hills act like a funnel. Combine the swelling waters from upstream with the water rushing down the steep slopes of the park into the narrow canyons of the creek, and water levels can leap upwards in just moments. Those quiet waters become a raging maelstrom that can knock over a human and drag him underwater into twisting, treacherous currents. People can die in these waters.

That’s why swimming and wading are prohibited. Swimmers at Scott’s Run are in danger if waters rise. Waders are exposed to water that could be polluted, and waders kick up stones that provide shelter and housing for tiny animals. Yet the perception of Scott’s Run as a safe swimming hole persists, fueled by social media posts of people on rocks around the creek and near its low waterfall.

Fairfax County Park Authority regulation 1.21 states that swimming, bathing, and wading are prohibited in parkland bodies of water. Scott's Run - Lt. Jason Allegra, FCPA and John Callow, Riverbend Park Site ManagerThe Fairfax County Police Department is going to enforce those rules this summer. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department website says nearly three out of four times that the department responds to a river emergency something has happened along the shoreline, not in or near a boat. There have been rescues of people trapped by high water in Scott’s Run.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is one of the most beautiful, alluring, remarkable parks of the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit the park, take care of it, and enjoy this special place responsibly.

And arrive safe and sound at home after you visit.

Author John Callow is the Manager of Riverbend Park, which sits a short distance upstream from Scott’s Run Nature Preserve. Co-author David Ochs is the Manager of Stewardship Communications for the Park Authority.

Discovery Trail 2017: Fairfax County’s 275th Birthday

#WhereIsLordFairfax?Disc Trail

Got summer plans? We hope they include a tour of your local parks. In addition to tons of fun, you could bring home a prize package or a free bike after a park tour along the Discovery Trail.

Our popular Discovery Trail Map returns for a fourth straight summer of fun, and in celebration of Fairfax County’s 275th anniversary, this year’s map chronicles milestone moments in each featured park’s history. Best of all this year, the program is expanding so that both children and adults are eligible to win.

Here’s how it works:

  • Pick up a map at any staffed Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) location, any Fairfax County Public Library, any of the five Northern Virginia Spokes, Etc. locations, your Board of Supervisor’s office, or download one from www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/discovery-trail-map.
  • Visit eight of the 12 featured parks between May 27 and September 4, 2017.
  • Collect a sticker at each site, and place it in the corresponding box on your map.
  • Once you’ve collected eight stickers, you qualify for a prize pack valued at $93 that includes passes to more summer fun. You’ll also be entered in a drawing to win one of four bikes donated through the Fairfax County Park Foundation by Spokes Etc. and Trek.
  • Turn in your completed map at the main office at Burke Lake Park, Lake Accotink Park, or Lake Fairfax Park to get the prize package that includes admission tickets for a round of mini-golf, a carousel ride, a train ride, a tour boat ride, a pedal boat outing, camping, a wagon ride, a RECenter pass, AND a boat rental!
  • While you’re there, fill out a form to enter the drawing for a bike. Disc Trail - Spokes and Bike 1

Four people will take home bicycles. One winner will come from each of four groups – preschoolers through second grade, grades three through seven, grades eight through 12, and adults age 18 and older.

Participating sites are Burke Lake Park, Colvin Run Mill, Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Frying Pan Farm Park, Green Spring Gardens, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, Hidden Pond Nature Center, Huntley Meadows Park, Lake Accotink Park, Lake Fairfax Park,  Riverbend Park, and Sully Historic Site. Directions to each of the parks can be found on the Park Authority website and in Parktakes magazine.

While at the parks, keep an eye out for Thomas, Baron Cameron, sixth Lord Fairfax. He was an influential friend of George Washington and was the only English titled nobleman ever to reside permanently in the colonies. Lord Fairfax was born in England in 1693, inherited the land between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers ranging from the Chesapeake Bay to the Shenandoah Mountains, and moved to Virginia permanently in 1742. In 1748, Washington was one of the men he hired to survey his land. The two remained close until Fairfax’s death in 1781.

(You’re already learning stuff!)

Disc Trail - Lord Fairfax_051117_0003If you happen to encounter a cardboard cutout of Thomas, snap a selfie with him and upload it to our Instagram page with the hashtag #WhereIsLordFairfax. The best photo of each week wins a prize. Check the FCPA Facebook page weekly for clues about Lord Fairfax’s whereabouts.

Each featured site on the map has a connection to Fairfax County history. One of the parks exists because of Fort Belvoir, another was a private recreation facility, and a third was home to illegal moonshining. Learn which one was almost an airport. One housed a 19th century biracial church, and one almost became a lake.

The Discovery Trail Map is a great way for students to keep the knowledge flowing during summer months, for families to explore nature and history close to home, and for you to learn about your fabulous local parks.

So, pick up or download your Discovery Trail Map, explore your parks and win!

Co-Author Karen Thayer is the editor of the Park Authority’s Parktakes Magazine, and co-author David Ochs is the editor of the agency’s ResOURces newsletter.