Tag Archives: Potomac River

Riverbend’s Bluebell Watch Has Begun

FINAL UPDATE: April 9, 2014

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Our phone has been ringing constantly this week and the main question is “How far along are the bluebells?” One caller said that she has a friend who visits every year around this time and that her two favorite things to do are see the cherry blossoms and come to Riverbend to experience the bluebells. Some of the flowers are blooming now, and for the next two weeks the bluebells will put on a spectacular show.

As I walked the river trail this morning I saw all the tightly packed pink blossoms that look like they are about to burst. Insects were flying around and crawling on the leaves. For me, I like to take in the whole forest floor covered with wildflowers and then kneel down for a close inspection of all the life on and near each plant.

“What could be better than sitting near a patch of Bluebells on sunny afternoon, watching a bumblebee foraging for nectar among the flowers.” Marijke Gate, naturalist, Riverbend Park

Don’t forget to join us this Saturday (April 12) at Riverbend Park from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our second annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just  $5 person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

Written by John Callow, assistant manager, Riverbend Park

UPDATE: April 2, 2014

Bumblebees are big fans of bluebells, too.

Bumblebees are big fans of bluebells, too.

 

UPDATE: March 28, 2014

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Snow earlier this week and frigid nights can’t stop the progressing bluebells. Their leaves continue to push through snow, ice and whatever else the weather brings. These hardy plants are starting to take over the forest floor. The dark leaves have now taken on their familiar succulent green color and the deep purple flower buds are clustering.

Riverbend Park visitors Mona Enquist-Johnston and Gary Johnston describe the annual explosion of color this way: “Carpets of purple and blue ring in the spring.”

The coming weeks will offer visitors one of nature’s finest floral displays. Spring beauties, cut-leaved toothworts, trout lilies, and a host of other beautiful wildflowers will mix in and add texture to the bluebell palette. One of the earliest wildflowers, harbinger of spring, is already in bloom. This small member of the parsley family stands only two to three inches tall.

When the flowers are in bloom, take time to thank a pollinator. Pollination of spring wildflowers is completed by a host of insects. Bees and butterflies visit the colorful blooms spreading pollen. Some wild flowers like the sessile trillium do not rely on brightly colored blooms that attract visual pollinators. Their flowers produce a rotting smell which attracts beetles and flies to spread pollen. Stop at a cluster of wildflowers for five minutes and observe the wide variety of bees, butterflies, flies, and beetles hard at work.

Julie Gurnee, senior interpreter at Riverbend Park, said, “When the bluebells blanket the woods of Riverbend, it reminds me to take a closer look, for this is the time of year there are many more elusive treasures to be found.  This is the time to stop, look, and discover other spring ephemerals that may be tucked away in the woods.”

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park on April 12 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our second annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just $5 per person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family-fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

Written by John Callow, assistant manager, Riverbend Park

UPDATE: March 14, 2014

Virginia bluebells push through the floodplain at Riverbend Park.

Virginia bluebells push through the floodplain at Riverbend Park.

March has arrived with snow, sun, and temperatures that are bouncing around like a rubber ball.  Despite the dramatic weather, Virginia bluebells continue to push through the fallen leaves and soil as they progress toward their breathtaking explosion of color in April. Leaves are just starting to transition from deep purple to hints of delicate green.

The cherry blossoms are predicted to peak April 8 through12. At Riverbend Park, we expect the bluebells to peak between April 8 and April 15, just in time for the Bluebells at the Bend Festival slated for April 12, 2014. Unlike the cherry blossoms, which were a gift from Japan, the bluebells are a native gift to river floodplains and Riverbend Park provides the perfect garden.

Bluebells, along with many other spring wildflowers including spring beauties and cut-leaved toothwort, are called spring ephemerals. They bloom early and then by May all that is left are withering leaves and seeds. Come mid-May, bluebells pull a vanishing act, leaving no visible trace of their existence. All of these hardy wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight reaching the forest floor before the towering trees re-grow their leaves and close the forest canopy. In March more than 50 percent of the available sunlight reaches the forest floor. By mid-April this drops to 30 percent and then to 10 percent come May.

The bluebells and other spring wildflowers produce a different experience for everyone. The experience is personal and cannot be duplicated by pictures or stories. I enjoy talking to visitors and staff about the bluebells and hearing their stories. Each experience is unique and private, but I am glad they decide to share it with me.

“When you’re standing at a certain point on the trail and you can see just a covering of this cheery blue color all over, it gives you this sense of peace and tranquility that couldn’t possibly be found in any other setting,” said Michelle Brannon, an interpretive naturalist at Riverbend Park. “My favorite part about walking through the bluebells is finding the odd ones; the random little bursts of pink or the rarer blooms of white are like the flowers are sending you on their own little scavenger hunt.”

February 24, 2014

Virginia bluebells resemble dark purple spinach leaves.

Virginia bluebells resemble dark purple spinach leaves.

Winter’s grip gradually relaxes with each passing day. Patches of snow cling to every bit of shade as the late winter sun shines through the leafless trees. Something stirs just under the surface that reminds us of nature’s yearly cycle and the interaction between ecosystems.

Spring wildflowers are taking in nutrients and available water and pressuring the soil as they prepare to erupt with an array of blooms that magnificently display the season. One wildflower in particular shows its colors like no other, the Virginia bluebell (Mertensia Virginica).

“The most important part of bluebell season is when the purplish green leaves start breaking the soil in late winter early spring. It gives one hope that spring is riding the longer days to arrive,” Fairfax County Park Authority Naturalist Jim Dewing said.

The scientific name honors the German botanist Franz Karl Mertens, a German botanist (1764-1831.) The species name refers to Virginia, where the plant was first identified. Thomas Jefferson grew Virginia bluebells at Monticello. The bluebells at Riverbend Park in Great Falls, Va., were not planted by anyone; the river, wildlife, and climate have all pitched in to create this native garden.

Bluebells thrive in rich floodplain soils that are replenished each year by floods. This time of year they superficially resemble dark purple spinach leaves slicing through the sand and silt. By mid-April their purplish blue blooms will adorn acres and acres of forest floor at Riverbend Park.

Bluebells spread like a carpet of blue at Riverbend Park.

Bluebells spread like a carpet of blue at Riverbend Park.

I invite you to come to Riverbend Park on Saturday, April 12, 2014 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. as we celebrate spring at our Second Annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival with live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. Admission to the event is $5 per person. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

This page will be updated weekly with photos of the blooming bluebells, so check back often.

Author John Callow is the assistant manager at Riverbend Park.

Flood Watch 2013: Rising Waters At Riverbend Park

Everyone here at Riverbend Park has seen some form of the water rising at one point or another. Some of us have seen the raging overflow of whitewater pouring from the trails, others have seen the picnic areas flooded out and have chased picnic tables down the river. Others still have seen only small increases that close the boat ramp. This time, we’re not quite to raging whitewater, but this one is still pretty exciting.

We keep track of the rising waters through a couple of means. Our first one is just by looking. The longer you’re at the park, the more you recognize the different rocks and islands out there. What starts as this…

Riverbend Park

Riverbend Park in August 2012

…and turns into this…

Potomac River Flooding

Riverbend Park on May 10, 2013

…tends to be pretty easy to spot. Another way is to look at the caution levels painted on our boat ramp. When the boat ramp closes, you know it’s getting high.

 The boat ramp closes when water levels get too high to safely launch.


The boat ramp closes when water levels get too high to safely launch.

Finally, we also look online. We use information collected from our friends at NOAA to follow the changing water levels. You can do so as well here.

Nature doesn’t have the chance to look online or collect data. The animals at Riverbend Park deal with floods the best way they know how, which is to move! Snakes, geese, spiders, and dragonflies are just some of the animals heading for higher ground as the water rises and speeds up. Check out some of the neat ways these guys are keeping safe near home:

This Northern Water Snake hangs out on the bottom railing of the walkway as water levels rise.

This Northern Water Snake hangs out on the bottom railing of the walkway as water levels rise.

 This Northern Water Snake looks for a safe place away from curious school children and rising waters.


This Northern Water Snake looks for a safe place away from curious school children and rising waters.

Tracks of snakes in the mud show evidence of those that evacuated early.

Tracks of snakes in the mud show evidence of those that evacuated early.

Snake on a Fence

This Queen Snake has found an artistic way to avoid the rising waters.

This Queen Snake has found an artistic way to avoid the rising waters.

A Dark Fishing Spider spins a safety harness out of silk on a fence post.

A Dark Fishing Spider spins a safety harness out of silk on a fence post.

The Canada Geese hardly seem to mind the rising water in the picnic area near the kayak racks.

The Canada Geese hardly seem to mind the rising water in the picnic area near the kayak racks.

Dragonflies are emerging from the water and leaving behind their exoskeletons on fence posts.

Dragonflies are emerging from the water and leaving behind their exoskeletons on fence posts.

Be sure to check out the river this Mother’s Day weekend…though you might want to save the Potomac Heritage Trail for another weekend.

The water takes over the Potomac Heritage Trail.

The water takes over the Potomac Heritage Trail.

By Michelle Brannon, naturalist, Riverbend Park

Warming Up To Winter Wildlife

If you’re like me, by March the spring jitters have well and truly set in. Balmy teases of April weather spark bouts of cabin fever. The drip of snowmelt, the lengthening of days and, to a nuanced eye, the presence of egg masses in our region’s vernal pools all herald the arrival of warm weather, regardless of what the groundhog sees.As of this morning, however, there is still snow on the ground. My car thermometer read a frosty 36 degrees  at 8 a.m. Major League Baseball teams are playing spring training games, but Old Man Winter is still around for two more weeks.

Instead of holing up next to the fireplace with a thermos, pining for that day you can spring your clock forward one hour, my suggestion is to get outside! Winter presents fantastic opportunities to observe wildlife, you just have to know where and how to look for it.

At Riverbend Park, migratory ducks make this relatively calm section of the Potomac River their home during the winter months. Hundreds of ring-necked ducks, common mergansers, coots, buffleheads, redheads and many other species can be found dabbling and diving in the open water right in front of our visitor center. These ducks will be gone by April, so there’s only a narrow window to catch sight of our friends from up north. A pair of binoculars is an important tool for winter wildlife enthusiasts and not just for spotting waterfowl. The absence of foliage makes viewing from afar a rewarding pursuit. A long hard look at the sycamores and silver maples on river-dividing Watkins Island may yield a glimpse of the fox squirrel, a large tree squirrel more common in the Western reaches of the state than here in the Piedmont.

 

Deer leave hoof prints in the snow.

Deer leave hoof prints in the snow.

 

While some of Riverbend’s warm-weather birds take to the tropics for the winter, others stay year round. Winter can prove to be the best time to view some real dazzling plumage against an otherwise stark background. The reds, yellows, blues, and gold of resident woodpeckers, cardinals, jays, and bluebirds create a vibrant, dynamic palette in and around the bird feeders on the visitor center patio. Woodpeckers like the yellow-bellied sapsucker and finches like the Pine Siskin are some of the rarer species seen by Riverbend naturalists this time of year.

A walk through the woods after a snowfall can also provide clues as to which wintering mammals are active this time of year. Along the flood-plain, footprints in the snow-flecked ice reveal the presence of a pair of otters. Somewhere along the riverbank, their den, a maze of tunnels burrowed into the hillside, will soon house baby pups. For now, the path of the footprints suggest the otters have been popping in and out of air holes cut into the ice; perhaps evidence of playful courting before the female accepts the male as her mate.

Winter gets an unfair rap as a period of lifelessness, sandwiched in between the colorful transformation of autumn and the fresh energy of spring. Venture out to Riverbend, or any other FCPA park and you will become instantly aware of winter’s dynamism and beauty.  The faint quacking of ducks, the echo of pileated woodpeckers drilling for insects and faded hoof prints in fresh snow are subtle reminders that nature can brave the cold better than we can.

Written by Ethan Kuhnhenn, park/recreation specialist, Riverbend Park

Riverbend Park’s Bluebell Watch Has Begun

FINAL UPDATE: April 10, 2013

We've finally reached the peak time to view the Virginia bluebells at Riverbend Park.

We’ve finally reached the peak time to view the Virginia bluebells at Riverbend Park.

With the blast of warm weather this week the Virginia bluebells are really blooming. For the next 10 days or so the bluebells will put on a beautiful display. In places along the river trail you are virtually surrounded by them. Don’t wait. Now is the time to come out and witness this spectacular display, because by May they will virtually disappear until next spring.

The Virginia bluebells are in full bloom.

The Virginia bluebells are in full bloom.

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park this Saturday, April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just  $5 person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

Come enjoy the trails lined with Virginia bluebells.

Come enjoy the trails lined with Virginia bluebells.

UPDATE: April 2, 2013

Virginia bluebells are beginning to carpet the floodplain.

Virginia bluebells are beginning to carpet the floodplain.

The bluebells seen carpeting the floodplain on April Fools Day were no hoax. Despite late March cold and snow the hardy plants are continuing to grow and take over the forest floor. The dark leaves have now taken on their familiar succulent green color and the deep purple flower buds are clustering.

Deep purple buds are beginning to flower.

Deep purple buds are beginning to flower.

The coming weeks will offer visitors one of nature’s finest floral displays. Spring beauties, cut-leaved toothworts, sessile trilliums, and a host of other beautiful wildflowers will mix in and add texture to the lavender bluebell palette.

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park on April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just $5 per person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

UPDATE: March 18, 2013

Last year the bluebells peaked in March with early warm and dry conditions. This year the bluebells are on their more “typical” schedule and should peak between April 5 through 15. Usually a good rule to follow is get your taxes done a little early and then come out and enjoy the bluebells.

Virginia bluebells are beginning to spread across the floodplain.

Virginia bluebells are beginning to spread across the floodplain at Riverbend Park.

If you can’t make it out during that time, do not be discouraged. There will still be plenty of wildflowers in bloom from the end of March through April. Also, because of the park’s topography not all bloom at once, so you will always find patches of blooming plants in the spring.

Flower buds are beginning to appear.

Flower buds are beginning to appear.

Once blooming is over and the plants develop seeds, they rely on some busy insects to help plant more. Myrmecochory, from the Greek myrmeco “ants” and chory “dispersal,” is seed dispersal by ants. This ecologically significant ant-plant relationship is worldwide and beneficial to both.

The plants produce seeds that have a fatty rich substance attached to them called eliasomes. Worker ants collect the seeds and take them back to their colonies where the eliasome is removed and fed to growing larvae. Once the eliasome is removed the ants either discard the remaining seed underground or they eject them from the colony in nearby soil. This act accomplishes two things. Seeds are deposited in more favorable locations for growing and they are spread, ultimately adding more plants to the population of wildflowers.  So when you visit Riverbend Park to see the bluebells, stop and give thanks to the marching ants at your feet.

UPDATE: March 8, 2013

March has arrived with a mix of warm, cold, wind, rain, and, yes, a little snow. Despite the ever changing weather, the Virginia bluebells continue to push through the soil. Leaves are beginning to change from deep purple to hints of delicate green as chlorophyll is formed from longer days.

The purplish leaves of Virginia bluebells are turning green.

The purplish leaves of Virginia bluebells are turning green.

Bluebells, along with many other spring wildflowers including spring beauties and cut-leaved toothwort, are called spring ephemerals. They bloom early, and then by May all that is left are withering leaves and seeds. Come mid-May, bluebells pull a vanishing act leaving no visible trace of their existence. All of these hardy wildflowers take advantage of the sunlight reaching the forest floor before the towering trees grow their leaves. In March, more than 50% of the available sunlight reaches the forest floor. By mid-April this drops to 30%, and then by May only 10% is reaching the ground.  

Check out next week’s update for a prediction of when the bluebells will peak! Also, learn about some amazing insects that help plant more wildflowers.

Don’t forget to join us at Riverbend Park on April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just  $5 person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities.

March 4, 2013
It is the beginning of March with snow in the forecast but there are signs of spring everywhere. Tree buds are swelling, birds are in motion, singing as they go, and the Virginia bluebells (Mertensia Virginica) are poking their leaves through the sandy floodplain soil. Virginia bluebells, also called Virginia Cowslip, Tree Lungwort, Roanoke-bells, Mertens, and Oysterleaf put on a dazzling display at Riverbend Park from late March to mid-April. These flowering plants burst with intense purplish blue flowers that literally carpet the forest floor next to the river.

Virginia bluebells poke through the sandy soil.

Virginia bluebells poke through the sandy soil.

Bluebells line the trail at Riverbend Park.

Bluebells line the trail at Riverbend Park.

The scientific name honors German botanist Franz Karl Mertens (1764-1831). The species name refers to Virginia, where the plant was first identified. Thomas Jefferson grew Virginia bluebells at Monticello which inspired the garden writers of the 18th century to call them “Jefferson’s blue funnel flowers.”  

Virginia bluebells are native wildflowers that are beneficial to early pollinating insects including bumblebees, honeybees, and butterflies.  Check back regularly to see the progress of the bluebells as they prepare for their annual spring show.

Virginia Bluebells

Join us at Riverbend Park on April 13 from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. as we celebrate the bluebells at our first annual Bluebells at the Bend Festival. The event costs just  $5 person and features live music, wildflower walks, live animals, face painting, wagon rides, and other family fun activities. For more information, call Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.

Written by John Callow, assistant manager, Riverbend Park

A Walk On A Winter Day At Riverbend Park

Winter leaves

Recently the high temperature at Riverbend Park was 20 degrees. The frigid air and breeze as I walk along the banks of the Potomac remind me that we are still in the grip of winter, and a look around at the dead leaves and barren trees seems to confirm this. All looks withered and frozen and life appears to be on hold. But a closer inspection reveals that much is still going on in the natural world. A winter wren tosses dead leaves under the roots of an old sycamore tree leaning out over the water. A flock of tiny golden-crowned kinglets flits through the branches over my head, seemingly oblivious to my presence as they search for food to sustain their active metabolisms. A brown creeper scours the bark of the sycamore, his feathers ruffled against the cold.

Canada geese on the Potomac RiverOn the river the ever present Canada geese, apparently impervious to the cold water, duck their heads under the surface to scoop up underwater plants, their white rumps providing some relief from the monochromatic winter landscape. The honks and cackles of the geese constantly remind me that I am not the only one braving the cold today. The ring-necked ducks, and coots are grouped together on the far side of the river, and the brilliant white and black male buffleheads whizz by on the current before taking wing and flying back to the flock. A lone black duck paddles towards a small island and two mallards are swept along on the fast moving water. The river is alive with waterfowl and three common mergansers skid to a halt on the water to take their places in the flock, the female’s red head contrasting with the brilliant green of the males.

And what of the plants? A casual glance reveals only dead or frozen vegetation, but look closer and there are the chickweed seedlings, the garlic mustard leaves, and the tiny yellow flower buds of the spicebush, primed to burst forth as soon as spring arrives. The tiny furnaces that are the spikes of the skunk cabbage make their own heat and will even break through the snow to be one of our earliest flowering plants. Underground the spring ephemerals are primed to emerge as soon as the weather turns warmer; the corms of the spring beauty and the trout lily are packed with food to feed the growing leaves and flowers.

Potomac RiverOver this wintry scene the white skeletal shapes of the sycamores form a stunning backdrop to the fast flowing river, most beautiful when viewed at sunset. The branches hanging low over the water are adorned with little bundles of ice, like transparent stalactites. Under the seemingly lifeless branches the gray squirrel hops and digs, constantly searching for those nuts it buried in the fall, and the sentry call of the carolina wren breaks the silence as I make my way towards the visitor center in search of warmth. Finally, an eastern bluebird flits by in search of food. Hopefully he will choose one of our nest boxes in the spring.

Written by Marijke Gate, naturalist, Riverbend Park

Riverbend Park: Truly A Winter Wonderland

The view from the deck at Riverbend Park is always beautiful, especially in winter.

The view from the deck at Riverbend Park is always beautiful, particularly in winter.

As much as I detest the snow, I must admit it’s truly beautiful. In the two winters I have worked at Riverbend, I haven’t yet had the privilege of seeing it snow-covered. Today changed that.

Riverbend is a natural beauty all its own that shines like a diamond in the rough. However, when the added element of snow is mixed into the equation, it’s truly breathtaking. The sun shimmers off the rippling surface of the gently-flowing river and makes the ground sparkle. I can see the snow reflecting light from the far bank and I feel as though it’s added a depth to a wall of trees. 

The birds are enjoying the weather as well. They’re frolicking in the snow below the bird feeders while munching away on the provided seed. Backyard birds love bird feeders and will come to one all seasons of the year if it’s kept filled. Try setting up one of your own to see what you can spot. Here are a few pictures of this morning’s visitors.

A Northern Cardinal perches near the bird feeders at Riverbend Park.

A Northern Cardinal perches near the bird feeders.

A Tufted Titmouse is joined by two Carolina Chickadees at the feeders.

A Tufted Titmouse is joined by two Carolina Chickadees at the feeders.

A Black-Eyed Junco takes a break on the snow-covered bench outside the visitor’s center.

A Black-Eyed Junco takes a break on the snow-covered bench outside the visitor’s center.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker clings to the smallest feeder, scaring the smaller birds away.

A Red-Bellied Woodpecker clings to the smallest feeder, scaring the smaller birds away.

Riverbend truly has a view to remember. Brave the snow and come visit your own backyard winter wonderland.

Written by Michelle Brannon, naturalist, Riverbend Park

Unwrapping The Milky Way at Riverbend Park

The Milky Way Galaxy can be seen on dark,clear nights. Photo by Derek Rowley.

The Milky Way Galaxy can be seen on dark, clear nights. Photo by Derek Rowley.

A few months ago, in anticipation of our upcoming Winter Astronomy festivals, Assistant Park Manager John Callow and I shook a year’s worth of cobwebs off of Riverbend Park’s Schmidt-Cassegrain telescope, lugged it down to the Potomac riverbank and proceeded to explore the night sky at 100x magnification. It was a cold, clear December night, perfect for stargazing. As the sun set and our eyes adjusted to the darkness, the stars appeared one by one. At the last hint of sunlight I remember looking up and staring in amazement at a faint swath of billions of stars banded across the sky: the Milky Way.

As a D.C. resident, I’m usually attuned to an orange haze that descends when the sun goes down and thousands of my city’s streetlights reflect off of clouds. At Riverbend, it feels like I’m a million miles away. That December night was the first time I had seen the Milky Way in the Washington metropolitan area, and the first time I could appreciate what a special place the park is both at day and at night.

The fact that viewers can observe the Milky Way at Riverbend is astonishing when you consider the park’s proximity to urban, highly developed areas. The swath of parkland that separates Riverbend from the hustle and bustle of communities further away from the river is complimented by the semi-rural character of the park’s immediate neighbor, Great Falls. When night falls at Riverbend, inky shadows, starlit islands and moonlight reflecting off the water dominate the landscape. The singsong of birds and occasional rumble of traffic is replaced by the ambient noise of Great Falls downriver and the occasional hoot of an owl. But what really draws folks to the park at night is the unfiltered view of the night sky; it helps when we have a powerful telescope to explore it.

The sky, telescope and a variety of activities and demonstrations are on full display during our Winter Astronomy festivals, held monthly from November to March. Riverbend alternates between hosting festivals for Girl Scouts and for the general public.

A crowd of close to 300 Girl Scouts was at the park on a recent January weekend, and they had great views of the festival’s “featured planet,” Jupiter. A look through the powerful scope, purchased for us by the Friends of Riverbend, revealed the planet’s four Galilean moons and suggestions of Jupiter’s famous red bands. While a film of clouds prevented a clear view of the Milky Way that night, scouts and their families enjoyed constellation tours, arts and crafts, constellation stories around the campfire and, of course, hot chocolate.

Nights like those show the worth of shaking off cobwebs and exploring what’s in, and above, Fairfax County parks.

By Ethan Kuhnhenn, park/recreation specialist, Riverbend Park

Here’s more about astronomy programs in the parks and about programs at Riverbend.