Tag Archives: winter

Something Old, Something New

New Nature Programs Planned at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park

This is no time to get lost in nostalgia. True, December holidays are a time of tradition, and Ellanor C. Lawrence Park (ECLP) is reaching back to its past by continuing its annual holiday festivities, such as Holidays at Walney Farm. But staff has eyes peering ahead to the future.

Snow-covered holly berries

Snow-covered holly berries

New programs are coming in the new year, and with them come opportunities for you to spend time outdoors, to imagine the past in the very place where history happened, and to become a park steward. Stewards are caretakers and adventurers, seeking knowledge and understanding, new and special relationships. Many people visit Ellanor C. Lawrence Park each day and enjoy its natural beauty as they walk or jog. Some seek a connection and would heartily agree with Ellanor Lawrence, one of the park’s greatest stewards, that this place “seems to have a kind of living spirit that needs the kind of love you and I have for it.”

Interpretative programs are an important and fun means to developing that special connection with stewardship. William Carr, the high school graduate who taught the first class on outdoor education at Columbia University, wrote, “Not having an interpreter in a park is like inviting a guest to your house, opening the door, and disappearing.” Programs reveal the amazing web of life that exists within the park’s many habitats and allow voices from the past to speak once again. They provide opportunities for learning, inspire curiosity, and engender a sense of wonder that we often leave only to children to enjoy. In a program with an interpreter you can uncover millipedes that smell like almond cookies, stroke the smooth, cool skin of a live snake, or try a taste of hard times washed down with sweet potato coffee.

Long-eared Owl

Long-eared Owl

January provides an opportunity for you to learn how you affect a forest and how that forest shapes your life. It may not be obvious, but we live in a forest biome. How we treat that land, whether it is our parkland or our own backyard, has lasting impact. The new programs start with a January expedition to see Winter Birds at Mason Neck. You’ll join naturalists Michael Gregory and Megan Tolosa in exploring the Great Marsh Trail at the Elizabeth Hartwell Wildlife Refuge. By the end of this trek, you’ll have an understanding of the ways in which ECLP, the river, its winter birds and you are all connected. Families and dedicated birders both will fit well in this program.

February rolls out the Forest Treasure Campfire. Bundle up and hear the crackle of fire-licked logs while learning how trees helped to build our nation, figuratively and literally. You can bet the guides will bring along s’mores.

By March, it’s time to get down and get your hands dirty. Uncover the diversity of soil organisms and the crucial role that invertebrates play in keeping forests healthy at the new Life in the Leaf Litter program. Then, wash the dirt off your hands because you may want to return to the park for some Confederate cake and sweet potato coffee.  That’s part of another new program in March. Hard Times, Difficult Choices will take a look at the struggles and critical choices made by some of the people who lived and worked at Walney, the Machen family farm that once encompassed Ellanor C. Lawrence Park.

RAC debuts in March when spring critters are shifting out of winter patterns. The Reptile and Amphibian Club is for kids 6 to 15 years old. Award-winning naturalist Hayley Ake guides them through a one-hour adventure with snakes, lizards, salamanders, turtles and frogs. RAC will join ECLP’s already-established Bird Watching Club as a regular, once-a-month gathering at the park.

Along with spring showers, April will produce ECLP’s first Wild Bird Spring Camp (registration begins February 14). Kids will be able to spend the week of April 14 through 18 searching the park’s diverse habitats to discover and identify species that reside in the park or that may be passing through on their spring migrations. Naturalist Megan Tolosa will keep the week lively with her enthusiasm and her love of birds.

So set aside the nostalgia, plan a new adventure this year, attend some programs and become a park steward. Who knows where that will take you: park contributor? Advocate? Volunteer? Spend time in your parks this spring and discover a new you.

For information more information on programs at ECLP, visit their web page. Information about nature programs throughout the park system also is online.

Author Cheryl-Ann Repetti is a naturalist at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in western Fairfax County.

Fairfax County’s Favorite Park Prepares for Winter

Burke Lake Park remains a popular destination even during the cold months.

Burke Lake Park remains a popular destination even during the cold months.

Burke Lake Park is a popular place. Approximately 2.1 million visitors come to the park each year. They come to catch fish, paddle canoes, ride the miniature train, play putt-putt, spin on the antique carousel, pitch a tent, play disc golf, eat a picnic lunch, walk a dog, ride a bike, see children’s entertainment in the amphitheater, and walk or run around the 218-acre lake. You get the picture. Our parks with athletic fields may see more total visitors due to the number of teams that rotate through for games, but Burke Lake is far and away Fairfax County’s busiest traditional park.

The trails are well-traveled throughout the year, but the majority of visitors come during the summer months when the marina, campground, and amusements are open. Now that seasonal staff has returned to school and the Ghost Train has pulled into the station for the last time, maintenance workers are busy winterizing the park and preparing for the crush of visitors next spring.

Superintendent of Maintenance Will Jennings has worked at Burke Lake for 24 years. He has seen it all, but his passion for Burke Lake’s upkeep has never waned. Listening to him talk, it’s obvious how much he loves every inch of the 880-acre park. I recently sat down with Jennings and his 19-year-old African gray parrot, Samson, to talk about what it takes to winterize the park. The list of tasks was long – and didn’t even include the golf course chores – but Jennings was confident in his crew’s ability to complete it.

The Ghost Train’s last ride in late October marks the end of the season for the miniature Central Pacific Huntington train. After it is serviced and cleaned the train is parked inside the tunnel and the garage door-style doors are pulled closed. The train will remain in this dark, dry storage area until spring’s return.

The miniature train will emerge from the garage next spring.

The miniature train will emerge from the garage next spring.

The antique carousel horses are removed and stabled in a secure shed behind the maintenance shop, and the top of the carousel is removed before too many leaves pile up. The canvas top is cleaned and put away for safekeeping.

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The park’s fleet of boats spends a lot of time on the water during the summer months – over 5,000 rentals! Damages sustained throughout the summer need to be repaired. Oar locks are fixed on the rowboats and seams are re-welded on the aluminum canoes. Boats are dragged away from the water’s edge, stacked, and locked together. Trolling motor batteries are charged or replaced and put away until next year, and the boat house is shuttered and locked.

Picnic tables are leaned against trees to prevent puddles of rainwater and piles of snow from accumulating and causing water damage. The tables will receive a fresh coat of paint in the spring, no matter what. Grills in the campground are covered with trash bags to prevent them from rusting. Even with efforts to protect them, 20 to 30 grills need to be replaced each year. Fire rings, which tend to go missing if left out for too long, are collected from the campsites and safely stored.

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Leaves, which decompose into dirt and hold water if left alone, are blown from the trails. Water fountains are turned off and lines are cleared of any remaining fluid. Steps are taken to winterize the three bathrooms that are kept open and unheated all winter. Antifreeze is pumped into the plumbing at the campground’s bathhouse to prevent pipes from freezing. Dumpsters are stored at the campground to save money on removal (they have a way of filling up with illegally dumped trash if left out). Two bins are kept at the shop and one is left at the golf clubhouse. The ice cream parlor vendor cleans the vending and dining areas and removes stocked goods before the building’s heat is lowered.

Walkers, cyclists, and cross-country runners can look forward to a resurfaced trail. The maintenance crew will spread 300 tons of gravel on the lakeside trail this winter. Partial funding for this project came from a local photographer who sold calendars featuring images of the park and donated the proceeds for trail improvements.

As may be expected, trees are the root of many of the problems in the park. Jennings said trees are the biggest issue the park faces and that the agency’s tree crew is smaller than ever, which means he and his guys help out wherever possible. Trees on trails, dead trees that need to be removed, and trees that fall during storms all require attention – and they’ll get it. But Jennings knows that come spring, Burke Lake Park will be in tip-top shape and ready to welcome back the throngs of daily visitors. As his pet parrot Samson is fond of saying, the park will be “pure butter, baby!”

Written by Matthew Kaiser, deputy public information officer

A Whiff of Winter Witch Hazel

Subtle fragrance is a calling card for winter walks, and many witch hazels have their name on that card.

We simply call her ‘Jelena.’

Jelena's colorful blooms and subtle fragrance brighten up a winter day.

Jelena’s colorful blooms and subtle fragrance brighten up a winter day. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

We say, “Did you see ‘Jelena’ in the parking lot?” She is beautiful decked out in her copper-colored fringe.  A reliable bloomer and stunning. ‘Jelena’s full name is Hamamelis x intermedia ‘Jelena.’  She’s a hybrid witch hazel whose parents, H. mollis and H. japonica, are of Asian origin. She has greeted visitors to Green Spring Gardens since 1996. However, fragrance is not her thing.

To beguile you with a sweet fragrance, can we entice you to walk west of the site’s Historic House? In the grove nestled between the house and the path to the ponds, you’ll find a fine collection of more than 20 witch hazels. The Chinese witch hazels are among the most fragrant, and here two yellow witch hazels won’t disappoint, H. mollis ‘Early Bright’ and H. mollis ‘Kort’s Yellow.’

Winter Beauty blooms near the historic mansion.

Winter Beauty blooms near the historic mansion. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

Among the witch hazels, the strap-like petals and cup-like calyx both contribute to the color effect. The color ranges include yellows, oranges, reds and purples. The combinations, such as red blending to yellow found in H. intermedia ‘Feuerzauber’ and purple blending to cream found in H. intermedia ‘Strawberries and Cream,’ add intrigue and depth.

'Strawberries and Cream' is a popular variety of witch hazel.

Strawberries and Cream is a popular variety of witch hazel. Photo by Brenda Skarphol

The impetus to develop a strong collection of witch hazels came with our successful application to the American Public Gardens Association’s North American Plant Collections Consortium. Through this project, 65 member gardens focus on a particular group of plants, each site providing a documented repository of plant types for their particular group. We specialize in witch hazels.

H. Intermedia "Feuerzauber"

H. Intermedia ‘Feuerzauber’ Photo by Brenda Skarphol

Our collection started with a gift of six witch hazels from the Chapel Square Garden Club in Annandale. We now have selections from all the Hamamelis species, including the native eastern witch hazel, H. virginiana, the Ozark witch hazel, H. vernalis, and many of their hybrids. Our collection of varieties of the well-known Asian hybrid, H. intermedia, will soon top 100 specimens.

H. virginiana "Harvest Moon"

H. virginiana ‘Harvest Moon’ Photo by Brenda Skarphol

For many of you that regularly strolling the garden in the winter months, you know how the witch hazel beckons, furling and unfurling its petals as the day warms and emitting a come hither fragrance. If it has been a while since you visited, let our witch hazels be the calling card that brings you back to explore.

More than 200 witch hazels beckon you to visit Green Spring Gardens during their peak bloom season, January through March. Green Spring is at 4603 Green Spring Road in Annandale.

Author Mary Olien is the site manager of Green Spring Gardens.