Tag Archives: science

Volunteering At Hidden Pond – Not Just For Kids Anymore

Volunteers enjoy the dynamic environment at Hidden Pond Nature Center.

Volunteers enjoy the dynamic environment at Hidden Pond Nature Center.

New Year’s resolutions are usually intended to help us be “better” people in the New Year.  But often they are punishing in some way, and so are abandoned before winter is over. However, you can make a painless resolution that doesn’t involve restricting calories or creating sweat. And you can make it now, just as others are breaking their promises.

Give a little of your time to make a difference in your community and the environment. If you resolve to volunteer, we’ll arrange a schedule to fit your schedule, teach you new, fun things about nature (or maybe you’ll teach us) and help you connect with other volunteers.

Hidden Pond Nature Center has hosted a vibrant and vital volunteer program for youth for years.  A few wonderful adult volunteers have helped along the way with administrative tasks, nature programs and other special projects.  We would like to spread the joy in 2013 to include more adults.  There are opportunities to fit every personality, and training will be provided.

Are you a people person?  Maybe you would like to volunteer at the front desk of the nature center.  You could expand your knowledge of nature without getting dirty or facing the weather.  Handling animals is optional in this position.  You would greet visitors and answer questions about the animals and park programs. 

Another great position for a people and nature lover would be as a nature program assistant, helping staff with programs.  Many of these programs are for children and would involve learning to handle the animals.  Have you dreamed of holding an exquisite Green Tree Frog in the palm of your hand?  This might be for you.

Maybe you consider working with the public a bit like one of those punishing resolutions.  Then you could volunteer for any of numerous other important activities at the park, including animal care, native plant gardening, invasive plant removal, trail maintenance, or naturalist surveys.

If you would like to talk with someone about volunteering at Hidden Pond, please contact Carmen Bishop, or ask for an adult volunteer application form at the nature center.

Make it a Happy New Year beyond January 1!

By Carmen Bishop, Hidden Pond Nature Center

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.