Tree Love Comes to Frying Pan Farm Park

Stiltgrass2 Fort Foote MD

Japanese stiltgrass.

There’s massive change coming to Frying Pan Farm Park – but not to the farm. The change is coming in the forest beyond the fields.

An extensive, multi-year project to protect the forest at Frying Pan is planned. It’s part of a broad, county-wide ecological restoration program called Helping Our Land Heal. When protecting the animals at the park, staff make sure there are barns, sheds, and fenced fields that provide shelter, keep the farm animals contained and keep predators out. Smaller animals are moved every night into secure areas, protected from night predators like weasels and foxes. Forest plants need protection, too — protection from other plants, from forest animals and from human influence.

Honeysuckle wraps around a tree

Honeysuckle wraps around a tree.

Non-native invasive plants are one of the biggest threats to the forests of Fairfax County and Frying Pan Farm Park. Wineberry, Japanese stiltgrass, bush honeysuckle and autumn olive are a few of the non-native plants running amuck in the park’s woods. They compete with native plants for space, sunshine, water and nutrients, and they often win the competition. Wildlife don’t like the taste of non-natives, and the plants don’t supply the animals the nutrients they need to survive. Nothing will eat Japanese stiltgrass, and it make tons of seed that it spreads like crazy. Wineberry looks a lot like blackberry except it has a very red, fuzzy stem. The fruit is similar to blackberries, but it’s too high in sugar and doesn’t have enough of the fat the animals need to keep them going through winter. Over time, as non-natives displace natives, there are fewer and fewer native plants so that those remaining are overeaten by the animals. That makes it even easier for the invasive plants to take over. A downward spiral is created.

If you walk through the Frying Pan woods, you’ll see lots of green plants. Unfortunately, many of them are the wrong plants. Just because a forest is green doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Some folks refer to that as being green blind — people see green, so it must be good. Park Authority natural resource managers have been taking a long, hard look at the Frying Pan forest plants, and there are many that should not be there. Those plants must be removed before native plants can start growing back. The non-native plants will try to return from roots or seeds. They will have to be removed again and, maybe, again. It may be several years before invasive plants are removed to the point that native plants start thriving on their own or through seeding and transplant.

Removing autumn olive.

Like renovations at your home, it looks worse before it starts looking better. Be patient with the process. The project may take five to ten years, but in the long run any disturbances will be temporary. Large sections of Frying Pan’s woods will have loads of invasive plant material removed. This may take a few weeks or a few months and likely will be repeated several times during the restoration. The plan is to remove the non-native plants to make room for the native plants to reach the goal of a healthy forest.

The native plants may return on their own, or they may require seeding or transplant. Either way, they will start as very small plants and trees. Little plants and trees are sweet, tender and tasty to certain animals. To prevent them from being nibbled down to nothing before they have a change to thrive, they’ll need protection from certain wildlife. Deer fencing will be installed to give restoration areas the best possible path to rejuvenation. This will not impact any of the walking trails through the Frying Pan woods.

It’s exciting to see so much care going into the wilder side of Frying Pan.

Author Yvonne Johnson is the site manager at Frying Pan Farm Park.

More about Helping Our Land Heal can be found on the Park Authority website.

 

In Memory of George Lovelace

1Former Fairfax County Park Authority Board member George Lovelace is being remembered by colleagues as a great, funny, fantastic guy who will always be remembered for his commitment to public service. Mr. Lovelace died of lung cancer on March 22, 2020, at his home in Locust Grove, Virginia. He was 83.

Mr. Lovelace made a career of serving the public, and when appointed to the Park Board in 2004, he took his volunteer role seriously. He regularly attended meetings at night, could be found in parks and along trails with a camera in hand, and turned out for weekend events and workshops. When decisions needed to be made, he was thorough in his research and was interested in all sides of the story. He well understood how the Board’s decisions could impact the community for years to come.

Park Board Chairman William Bouie remembers Mr. Lovelace as a friend and mentor. They served together on the Board from 2004-2010 during turbulent times as the economy was crashing and the Board was trying to change to a business model. Mr. Bouie remembers, “George had a huge baritone voice and a commanding  presence when he spoke. Whatever George said was meaningful and you had to respect what he was saying regardless of the position that you were taking.”  Bouie notes, “ George was so creative as a photographer who saw many different pictures through many lenses. This is what made George special. He had an infectious laugh that lit up a room.”

Chairman Bouie describes his mentor as a mediator who used that skillset on the Board and in life. “He helped steer us in the right direction when you were not quite sure what the right direction was. He taught me so many of those skills as I watched the Master for so many years practice his craft.”

To put it simply, Mr. Bouie says, “Everyone loved George. It is only appropriate that he is being buried at Arlington National Cemetery. It is a place of rest for heroes, and George Lovelace was a true hero.”

Mr. Lovelace joined the Board as an at-large member in February 2004 and served as Secretary from 2009 until his departure in 2010. He also served as Chairman of the Park Operations Committee and as a member of the Diversity and Succession Committee, the Park Services Committee and the Strategic Planning and Initiatives Committee. As the Park Authority Board’s liaison to the Athletic Council, he handled differences between the two organizations with grace and aplomb, finding ways to compromise and keep things moving with goodwill and a friendly smile.

Hal Strickland, who was serving as Board Chairman at the time, asked Lovelace to take on the liaison role to the Athletic Council. “We had several very difficult and complex issues to work out with the sports groups in the county,” Mr. Strickland explains. “I suggested to George to take the battle to them in a hardline approach. George suggested letting him lob a few ‘love grenades’ into the conflict first to see what might be gained. His approach worked and George resolved the conflict in a pleasant manner.” Mr. Strickland says Mr. Lovelace could be counted on for valuable feedback on Board matters, and when asked to take on responsibilities, “he was always very professional and supportive.”

Former Board member Ed Batten says Mr. Lovelace will always be remembered “for his commitment to service, stewardship and excellence.” In addition, he remembers Mr. Lovelace as a “master photographer.” Mr. Batten says he really enjoyed working with Mr. Lovelace on the Board and always envied his buddy’s passion for photography.

Board Vice Chair Ken Quincy says he and Mr. Lovelace were not only fellow FCPA Board members, they also became friends. “We often ‘pulled each other’s chain’ in fun and talked Park Authority and Vienna issues outside the Park Authority.” He, too, remembers Mr. Lovelace as an avid photographer who produced photographs that were “truly professional.” Mr. Quincy says, “He will be missed.”

Beyond the Park Authority, Mr. Lovelace was a well-known local elected official, community activist and long-time member of the Vienna Town Council. He was elected to a term in the Virginia House of Delegates in 1996 and served with distinction. In 1976, he co-founded the Malcolm-Windover Heights Civic Association and served as president until 1980. He subsequently served in appointed positions as chairman of the Vienna Planning Commission and as a member of the Fairfax County Planning Commission, the Fairfax County Small Business Commission and the Virginia Regional Planning Commission.

The Lincoln University physics graduate served a tour of duty in Vietnam with the Army, as well as postings in Europe and Turkey over the span of his 20-year military career. He attended the Command and General Staff College and obtained a master’s degree in telecommunications management from George Washington University. Before his retirement, he held IT management and consultant positions with CSC, Boeing, EDS and the General Services Administration. He served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Neglected and Abused Children, volunteered as a mediator in Washington, DC’s Superior Court, and worked as a mediator for Spotsylvania’s Juvenile and Domestic Relations Court.

Through his thousands of hours of community service, Mr. Lovelace was an inspiration to others and a true credit to his community. His family planned a private gathering in his honor. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Green Spring’s History and Beginnings

HandoverOn October 27, 1970, The Washington Post reported:

Green Spring Farm, a “miniature colonial” estate near Annandale, was given to Fairfax County yesterday for use as a museum and arboretum. The property was the gift of Michael W. Straight, deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, and his former wife, Dr. Belinda Crompton Straight, a Washington psychiatrist.

The Straights’ gift to the county marked the end of almost 200 years of private ownership of the estate and the beginning of its transformation into Green Spring Gardens.

In 1942, the young newlywed power couple purchased the 1784 house, its outbuildings, and 32 acres for $32,500. He was a scion of the prominent Whitney family, she the daughter of an English businessman.

Belinda1950s

Belinda in the 1950s.

In a 2002 interview with a former Green Spring historian, Belinda spoke of their decision to make Green Spring home: “We looked at it and that same night we decided absolutely. It had an old log cabin, and the springhouse….and the wonderful old house. It was so lovely….something to fall in love with, so we did.”

The Straights lived at Green Spring until 1966. They had five children. Belinda became a psychiatrist and a civil rights activist. Michael was an editor, author and deputy chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1963, he revealed a dark and intriguing secret from his past — his involvement, as a Cambridge undergraduate in the 1930s, with the notorious Cambridge Spy Ring, which the BBC described as “British members of a KGB spy ring that penetrated the intelligence system of the UK and passed vital information to the Soviets during World War Two and the early stages of the Cold War.”

c.1962

c.1962

This exceptional couple bestowed a legacy of historical significance on Green Spring. They brought in distinguished restoration architect Walter Macomber to enlarge and renovate the house. At the same time, trailblazing landscape designer Beatrix Farrand created their garden. Much later, their combined work earned Green Spring its Virginia Landmark status and a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.

Michael, a lifelong supporter of nature and wildlife conservation, took an active interest in the Green Spring landscape beyond the house. With property caretaker John Quast, he dug out the ponds into their present-day configuration and planted the area extensively. He also took pride in his flock of Canada geese, ignoring regular requests from the Department of the Interior to stop raising wild fowl on his property.

The well-connected couple rubbed shoulders with personalities and presidents and hosted many prominent guests at their “Green Spring Farm” estate. Politicians, writers, journalists and scientists visited from around the world. Michael and Belinda also opened their home to community events – skating parties, picnics and Fourth of July fireworks.

XmascardIn his 2004 memoir “On Green Spring Farm,” Michael lamented: “Sooner or later all good things come to an end.” He reflected on the disappearance of the home’s bucolic setting. “Twenty-four years had passed since Bin and I settled on Green Spring Farm. We had raised our five children there. We had been happy. By 1964, we were no longer living in the countryside…. Bulldozers were clawing at the open fields that had surrounded us. We began to look around for a new home.”

They bought a house in Washington D.C. from a family friend, Jacqueline Kennedy, who had been living in Georgetown since her husband’s assassination.

By 1970, mindful of that encroaching suburban sprawl, they’d resolved to give their Green Spring home and 18 acres to Fairfax County to be preserved as a natural and historical resource for the community. “There aren’t many places in Northern Virginia left intact,” Belinda told The Washington Post at the time. “Michael and I wanted to see it kept that way.” Michael added, “We’d much rather see this land go for a park, rather than cutting down trees for houses.”

And “go for a park” it did. But not as the couple had imagined. In 2002, Belinda said, “I never thought it would become….a horticultural center. I thought people would just stroll there and feed the geese.” No doubt, descendants of Michael’s geese are still around.

In 2020, Green Spring celebrates a half-century that’s seen the land become, in Michael’s words, “a thriving center for all who love gardening and revere our past.”

Thanks to the Straights’ generous gift, Green Spring continues to enrich lives, and in its new incarnation it has remained “something to fall in love with.”

Author Debbie Waugh is the Green Spring Historian at the Gardens.

Fairfax County 2020 Earth Day Festival: 50 Years of Environmental Awareness

BL Scenic050319_0007Fifty years ago, you could fill your car’s fuel tank with gas for 36 cents a gallon. Most people didn’t worry about how many miles they could travel on each gallon of gas.

Folks in industrial areas had grown used to skies filled with hazy, polluted air and waters that were unfit for swimming. There were no recycling bins at the curb, and English ivy was considered decorative — not invasive.

The first Earth Day, in 1970, was about to change that way of thinking. Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson came up with the idea for a national day to focus on the environment. The senator was inspired by the student anti-war movement of the time and wanted to find a way to channel that energy into an event that put environmental protection on the national political agenda.

In 1970, an estimated 20 million Americans – 10 percent of the population – took part in Earth Day activities. This year, a billion people in more than 190 countries are expected to participate.

Earth Day LogoOn Saturday, April 25, 2020, Fairfax County will mark the Golden Anniversary of Earth Day at Sully Historic Site with the Fairfax County 2020 Earth Day Festival, sponsored by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The event, formerly known as Springfest, will gather families from across the county for a day of fun and educational activities centered around the theme “Healthy People – Healthy Plant.”

For the Park Authority, every day is Earth Day. The agency owns and manages 427 parks on more than 23,500 acres of land. Throughout the year, Park Authority staff organize watershed clean-up days and invasive management events.Cub Run Stream Clean_040718_0330
IMA

Naturalists run programming for residents of all ages to introduce them to local plants and animals. The programs highlight the environmental importance of creatures ranging from the tiny macroinvertebrates in local streams to the raptors and coyotes at the top of the woodland food chain. HM Children's prog_052715_0205Some classes allow participants to play an active part in environmental stewardship. For instance, you can learn about important pollinators, such as bees and bats, and build homes for them to hang in your own yard.

Time spent in nature has curative powers for people, and in Fairfax County, 90 percent of people live within a half-mile of parkland.

 

More than 7,000 of those people volunteer in parks each year, providing close to 200,000 hours of service. There are plenty of ways to get involved in environmental stewardship in this special anniversary year of Earth Day.

Find volunteer opportunities online, join a Friends Group to support a specific park, register your kids for camps and classes to inspire the next generation of environmental stewards, and be a good park visitor – stay on trails, dispose of trash properly, keep your dog on a leash, and don’t forget that poop bag.

It’s the small things which make a tremendous difference. Environmentalist Rachel Carson wrote, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction.”

Author Carol Ochs works in the Park Authority’s Public Information Office.

Help Keep Local Streams Clean

Scotts Run 2_dsc1659_0269Clean streams benefit people as well as wildlife. Fairfax County streams flow into the Potomac River, a major source of drinking water in Fairfax County. Water runoff from rainfall carries pollutants from the land downhill into streams. Forested stream buffers help filter pollutants out of the water before it reaches the streams. Help protect water quality by reducing land pollution and planting trees.

SymbolKeep waste out of storm drains

Storm drains lead directly to streams. Anything that enters a storm drain goes into a stream and to the Potomac River. Only water should enter storm drains. Dispose of household chemicals according to label directions, and recycle motor oil at a gas station. Even dumped leaves can clog drains and streams. Bag yard waste for curbside collection.

DogPick up pet waste

Cleaning up pet waste is neighborly and protects water quality. Water runoff washes pet waste, litter, and other contaminants into storm drains and streams. Scotts Run trash_043017_0194Bag the waste on your walks, and complete the job by throwing the bag into a trash can. Leaving bagged waste on the ground is littering. Pick up pet waste, even from your own yard, to keep both your yard and your local stream clean.

SackReduce pesticide, fertilizer and road salt usage

Follow directions on package labels, and do not overapply fertilizer, road salt or pesticides. More product is not better—excess product washes away in rainstorms, contaminating streams and wasting money.

TreePlant trees

Trees stabilize streambanks by slowing water runoff and reducing soil erosion. Trees protect water quality by filtering fertilizer and other pollutants from water runoff before it reaches streams. Because of their value to water quality, forested stream buffers are legally safeguarded Resource Protection Areas under the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance. Trees and other plants may not be removed from an RPA without a permit. Help protect streams by planting trees near an RPA to expand the stream buffer.IMA 1112_0105Author Tami Sheiffer is the Watch the Green Grow Coordinator for the Fairfax County Park Authority.Watch green

 

What’s the story on those new trees at Lakeside Park?

27Last November, 12 new trees came to Lakeside Park, all native species, river birch, black gum, and Eastern redbud. I hope you’ve had the opportunity to enjoy them, but perhaps you’ve wondered how they came to be there. Well, here’s the story…

During 2019, Friends of Royal Lake (FORL) leadership visited several communities that border Royal Lake to garner more FORL members and increase interest in the work we are doing to protect and preserve the lake and surrounding parkland. At the New Lakepointe HOA meeting in March, resident Michael Schindler came to us with a proposal to volunteer as part of his company’s Balfour Beatty US Spirit program. Under the general contracting company’s program, Balfour Betty employees give back to the local community and volunteer their time.

Michael is a 2018 George Mason University (GMU) graduate with a bachelor’s degree in Civil and Infrastructure Engineering. At GMU, he was active with the student organization Engineers for International Development (EFID) and traveled to Puerto Cabezas, Nicaragua to build a water supply for a local orphanage. While at GMU, he worked at the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) and established a connection with the Urban Forest Management Division (UFMD). Michael offered to act as middleman and reach out to UFMD.

UFMD deals primarily with land development, rezoning and working with site inspectors after projects begin construction, but it also provides education and outreach services to raise awareness of and encourage conservation of the county’s urban forests. Tree canopy loss to development is one of the main stressors impacting the urban forest, and planting new trees is necessary to maintain the county’s percentage of land area in tree cover, about 55%. For the last three years, UFMD has administered the county’s Tree Preservation and Planting Fund to cover material costs and coordinated tree planting at public schools, parks, and other county properties. Volunteers and organizations like Balfour Beatty, EFID, and FORL have been valuable contributors to successfully implement these tree planting projects. The trees that now grace Lakeside Park were paid for by the Fairfax County Tree Preservation and Planting Fund.

After consultation with local experts and review and approval by the Fairfax County Park Authority to ensure the trees selected were appropriate for the venue, we were ready to go. On November 23, with some help from the KPW community, FORL, students from GMU’s Engineers for International Development, and Balfour Beatty volunteers, the trees became permanent residents of Lakeside Park. They will surely provide welcome shade in the hot sunny months as park visitors use the trails!

More improvements are under development for Lakeside and Royal Lake Parks, including porta-johns to be installed year-round and two dog waste stations (co-located with existing trash receptacles) at both parks. These stem from a FORL survey a couple years ago. If you have ideas, please feel free to reach out to Paul Gross at friendsofroyallake@gmail.com and Sarah Lennon at sarahgjlennon@gmail.com or parks@kpwca.org. See you at the parks!

Author Sarah G.J. Lennon is Vice President of Friends of Royal Lake. FORL member Lynn Cline provided the photos. Workdays are done under the umbrella of the Royal Lake Park Volunteer Team in coordination with the Park Authority. 

Animal Quackers: Frog Noises in the Woods

What has four legs and sounds like a duck?

wood frogIf your answer is a wood frog, you are correct, and you may be familiar with the duck-like quacking sounds they make. Each spring, wood frogs (Lithobates sylvaticus) flock to local vernal pools with one goal in mind — to find the perfect mate and produce offspring. Male frogs are the ones who chorus. They emit their quacking croaks to attract females.

You’ll find wood frogs in Virginia’s mountains and throughout the Piedmont and the state’s northern coastal plain. Seeing them in the wild can be tricky, but if you know when and where to look, you will have a chance.

Frogsicles

Contrary to logic, a good time to spot wood frogs in Fairfax County is late February and early March when winter has not quite released its icy-cold grip. This is the time the frogs gather in vernal pools and shallow ponds to breed.

IMG_4560Wood frogs have a special adaptation that gives them a jump on the other frog species seeking to breed in vernal pools. Wood frogs can survive freezing temperatures by producing glucose that acts like antifreeze in their blood. In winter, many wood frogs hide below leaves or under logs in forest areas near vernal pools. If they freeze, they can thaw as temperatures warm even if the pools still have an icy covering. Wood frogs are one of the first amphibians to come out of hibernation to breed, and you may find them just as snow is melting.

Vernal Pools

Vernal pools can be found in many places throughout Fairfax County. They appear in small and isolated areas that will be dry for part of the year. When full of water, vernal pools provide frogs and toads a safe place to breed and lay eggs away from predatory fish who may want to eat them.

Frogs are not the only ones taking advantage of vernal pools. In spring, vernal pools teem with life. Salamanders, insects and even small crustaceans can be found with close observation. These pools are habitats that many creatures rely on to survive.

You can help wood frogs

Many conservationists consider frogs to be the most imperiled animal group in the world. Recent reduction in their numbers is attributed largely to habitat loss and disease. Supporting areas with vernal pools and wetlands is a good way to help preserve frog populations.

Many Fairfax County parks feature wetlands and vernal pools. Parks help to conserve habitats that are vital to amphibians. At home, you can help by reducing pesticide and herbicide use. Look for natural alternatives because many wetland areas are sensitive to chemical pollution.

You can hear wood frogs on YouTube on the Park Authority’s video titled Frog Calls. The Fairfax County Park Authority offers many programs for the public on amphibians and vernal pools. Ellanor C. Lawrence Park will host Amphibians After Dark on Saturday, March 28, 2020, from 7:30 to 9 p.m.

Author Lara Dolata is a Park and Recreation Specialist at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly, Va.