Tag Archives: Fairfax County Park Authority

Stewardship of Vernal Pools

Anybody ever say to you, “Look, but don’t touch?”

A lot of Fairfax County Park Authority programs are look-and-touch programs, but there are times that the no-touch guideline is critical.

There’s a new wayside information sign at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) with information on it about salamanders and frogs. The sign, along the south side of the gas line that runs through the north end of the park, includes life-size photos of salamanders and frogs and QR codes that link to frog calls.

ECLP has been working closely with the Virginia Herpetological Society (VHS) to design and install the sign, which also has information about the best ways to interact with vernal pools and to protect those pools.

So, what’s a vernal pool, and what do they have to do with signs about frogs and salamanders and the no-touch guideline?

Vernal pools are temporary puddles and ponds of water that are large in the spring and dry later in the year. When the water is there, they teem with life. Spotted salamanders, wood frogs, American and fowler toads breed in them. There are also small insects – dragonfly larvae, water bugs, fairy shrimp and plants. Because there’s so much going on in these pools, protection of them is part of good natural resource stewardship.

ECLP Naturalist and Historian Tony Bulmer has monitored vernal pools for the past 14 years. “The best way for the public to interact with vernal pools is to stay out of them,” Bulmer said. “If they sit quietly and just watch, they will see frogs, tadpoles and salamander larvae.”

That’s the “look” part of “look but don’t touch.” Everything is working as it should.

“Many people think they are doing a good thing by catching tadpoles and relocating them,” Bulmer said. “They are afraid the pool is going to dry up. But relocating them can hurt the tadpoles, especially if they are relocated to an area that has fish.” This has been an issue in large parks like Burke Lake and unstaffed parks, where people have removed tadpoles and salamanders and taken them home. Remember, removing anything from a park violates park rules and can impact the park’s natural resources.

Bulmer says people sometimes move tadpoles to deeper water that may have pollution that the human eye cannot detect. That’s why he suggests sitting quietly and watching the magic of the vernal pools. If that desire to help is overwhelming, volunteer to be an egg mass counter or sign up for park programs about amphibians.

Habitats like vernal pools are avenues to learning about amphibians living in our forests. So are signs like the one at ECLP that grew out of the partnership between VHS and the Park Authority. It’s a terrific partnership, and VHS is an information source for FCPA employees on the front lines of stewardship in the parks. The VHS website can be a go-to place for information about reptiles and amphibians.

There’s more information online about Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and the Virginia Herpetological Society, and the Park Authority has a video on the Hidden Pond web page about frogs and their calls.

 

Shared Stewardship Versus Stolen History

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The citizens of Fairfax County celebrate their history and take pride in the county’s rich and diverse cultural heritage.  For this reason, when a co-worker sent me a photograph published in the January 4, 2014 edition of The Washington Post, I initially responded with distress only later tempered by introspection.  The image depicted the dark silhouette of an adolescent contrasted against a snow-brightened landscape.  The caption indicated that the young man and his father were metal detecting for, “whatever the ground will offer us,” somewhere in the vicinity of Lake Fairfax, a county-owned and operated park.  I was worried that this activity occurred on publicly-owned parkland.  For, although metal detecting is allowed on private property with the expressed consent of the landowner, it is a violation of park regulations and a Class 4 misdemeanor to use a metal detector on parkland.  According to the Virginia Antiquities Act, metal detecting on a state-designated archaeological site is a Class 1 misdemeanor.  The former is punishable by a $250.00 fine; the latter by a fine of $2500.00 and/or a year in jail.

Introspection came with the realization that otherwise concerned, well-intended, and respectful citizens sometimes engage in these activities because professional archaeologists and resource managers have been remiss in their responsibilities to engage and educate the public.  We have a poor record in returning to the community what we learn through careful, scientific study.  We often come across as boringly technical and aloof, at best.  At our worst, we are perceived as indifferent, snobbish, and elitist.  This is a huge disservice not only to our profession which relies on public support to continue in our roles; but, more importantly, rather than empower citizens as responsible stewards, oversights in public engagement can result in what is tantamount to the theft of our shared heritage.

Archaeology is a discipline of context.  We often gain our most valuable information about lives past through mundane items, casually discarded.  For an example, let me turn to the recent work of the Fairfax County Park Authority’s, Colchester Archaeological Research Team (CART) at the Old Colchester Park and Preserve.  With funds derived from a land swap and dedicated to understanding our natural and cultural resources, CART has been conducting scientific archaeological studies at the park.  Recently they discovered a pit, filled and forgotten centuries in the past.  Archaeologists recognize this type of pit as almost exclusively the work of enslaved Africans and African Americans.  Careful laboratory and special analyses were conducted on the artifacts and even the soil was carefully excavated from this pit so as to preserve the context of each and every find.

The dirt contained neither Civil War memorabilia nor articles of any inherent value.  Yet, the everyday refuse within the pit proved a fount of knowledge.  Simple hand-made nails demonstrated that a structure, perhaps a kitchen, had overlaid the pit when it was in use.  Broken pottery and tobacco pipe fragments indicated that it had been filled during the mid to late 1700s.  Meticulous methods allowed CART to find the smallest of artifacts, straight pins and tiny glass beads, likely evidence of a woman’s presence.  Thousands of miniscule fish bones and scales indicated specific species of fish that were being eaten.  Analysis of seeds revealed not only the composition of the native forest at the time, but also evidenced the introduction of cultivated species for both consumption and ornamentation.  In short, professionally-led archaeological study revived the landscape and life-ways of an enslaved Fairfax woman who lived over 250 years ago and who, until now, circumstances excluded from our understanding of our shared past.

These new understandings were only possible because of the application of detailed archaeological methods designed to preserve the context of even the smallest artifacts and seeds. We are able to understand the information from this feature because we can see all of the components together. Removing objects from this assemblage paints an incomplete picture, not unlike a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces. Recent, popular television shows and profit-driven events have romanticized metal detecting, even suggesting that its practitioners are part of the preservation process.  However, the reduction of artifacts to a monetary value or conversation pieces deteriorating on fireplace mantles wastes a non-renewable resource.  Unless done as part of a professional study and under the supervision of trained archaeologists, it deprives the many of their past for the benefit of the few. It steals our history, robbing our citizens of that which inherently belongs to all; our cultural heritage.

Our work is only possible through the support and understanding of the public we serve.  Towards this end we attempt to give back what we learn through talks to school groups and scouts, the conduct of youth summer camps, college internship programs, and participation at public and professional events and conferences.  Perhaps our best outreach comes from our active volunteer program which is essential to our success and which we invite all interested parties to join.  It is our goal that all residents will understand, enjoy, and respect our heritage and through common interested become stewardship partners.

Written by Christopher Sperling, senior archaeologist, Fairfax County Park Authority

Help Colvin Run Mill Win $100K!

Colvin Run Mill is competing to win $100,000 in restoration funding. Vote for the mill at www.partnersinpreservation.com.

Colvin Run Mill is competing to win $100,000 in restoration funding. Vote for the mill at http://www.partnersinpreservation.com.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is trying to win $100,000 for repairs at Colvin Run Mill. Receipt of this award would allow the Park Authority to reprogram voter-approved bond money set aside for that project.  It’s dollars we can save as good stewards of resources in Fairfax County.  

Of course, to make this happen, we need your help.  It won’t cost you anything, except a bit of time over the next two weeks.  

Colvin Run Mill is part of an online contest sponsored by the National Trust for Historic Preservation and American Express. It’s very simple. The site that gets the most votes gets the most money. It works like American Idol or Dancing With The Stars. Participants vote online for the site of their choice.

Here’s what to do. Go to www.partnersinpreservation.com. Use your email address and a password to create an account.  The Trust will send you a single email with a link asking you to confirm that you’re you.  Click on that link and you’re registered to vote.

 Colvin Run MillThen vote for Colvin Run Mill.  One time, every day through May.  That’s the important part – every day. It takes about three minutes to register.  After that, it takes about 30 seconds of your day to log in and vote. Colvin Run gets more points if you take another 30 seconds and tweet #ColvinRunMill.

We’re asking the employees and residents of Fairfax County to pitch in for a few minutes over the coming 10 days to do something for the place we call home.

Protect resources.  Use taxpayer money wisely.  Improve the quality of life.

Simple concepts. They’re in mission statements, news releases and official statements. They’re in the everyday actions of county employees. Now, through May 10, we’re asking our employees and our county residents to take one of those simple daily actions that take so little time and could have such a big impact.

Here’s a chance to do one small thing that will make one of the county’s parks a better place.

Vote for Colvin Run Mill at www.partnersinpreservation.com. Thanks for your support!

The miller pours corn into the hopper to be ground.

The miller pours corn into the hopper to be ground.

Written by Dave Ochs, editor, ResOURces Newsletter

No Such Thing As A Bad Day Fishing

I must take issue with my friend and Park Authority colleague, Matthew Kaiser. In a recent blog titled IMA Volunteers Share Memorable Wildlife Encounters, Matthew wrote that “catching a glimpse of a bald eagle soaring high above a lake can make a bad day of fishing slightly more palatable.”

Claiming the right to be petty and picky, I disagree. One, there’s no such thing as a bad day of fishing. Two, if there were, not that I would know, nothing could make it palatable.

I love bass fishing. It has provided me with innumerable moments of thrill, relaxation, frustration and renewal. I don’t particularly like the work of preparing to fish, but I do it knowing that the moment I’m on the water I’ll feel calm, anticipation, joy and all the multiple emotions that make us click as people.  I feel centered when I’m near or on water. I feel human.

As for those innumerable moments, fishing has been the source of both wonderful and terrible moments. Fishing had a small, tiny, miniscule role in a temporary breakup when my wife and I were dating. Something to do with my taking a fishing rod along on a romantic walk at night around a lake. We recently talked about that night, looking back at it through nearly 14 years of marriage. She remembers wanting to kill me. I remember I didn’t catch anything on the Jitterbug I was throwing. Obviously, we’ve gotten over it. 

Volunteering  for the Invasive Management Program has been the gateway to wildlife experiences for the volunteers in Matthew’s article. Fishing has been the gateway to nature for me.

Because of fishing, I have seen

  • an eagle parent teaching its youngster how to fish
  • osprey feeding their newborns
  • a deer swimming across the Potomac River
  • a snake eating a bluegill
  • turtles mating
  • turkeys in flight
  • water boiling across the surface as a rain storm approached
  • waves so high above my boat I couldn’t see over them
  • bass guarding the fry on their nest

Because of fishing I have

  • felt a sudden, 20-degree temperature drop as a cold front passed like a wall of wind
  • made dozens of friends
  • learned how to canoe
  • fallen into rivers
  • seen new parts of our country
  • stood in a boulder field surrounded by snakes
  • learned about myself
  • shared time with my parents, shared time with my children

Fishing has been my gateway to nature and wildlife encounters. Somewhere outdoors is something that can be your gateway to nature. Seek it by visiting the parks. Find it, hold it and protect it. It will make you feel centered. It will help you feel human.

Written by Dave Ochs, editor, ResOURces Newsletter