Friday, December 28, 2007

Do not go where the path may lead,
go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
- RalphWaldo Emerson

In the spirit of Emerson's challenge to be a trail blazer, and do new things, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority's Board just adopted a new and exciting five year Strategic Plan. Below are some of the highlights. the full plan may be seen at:

Vision 2012
Envision Northern Virginia in 2012 and the role of the Northern Virginia Regional Park
Authority (NVRPA) in improving the quality of life of over 1.6 million residents. We see a Regional Park system that has grown substantially in the previous five years, responding
to the public’s strong interest in preserving more natural areas and historic sites through an expanded system of parks. We see a growing network of trails allowing the public to bike, walk, hike and paddle more places. We see NVRPA setting a national example of how every park can engage the public in learning about our natural, cultural and historic resources. We see a Regional Park system that has continued to innovate in providing popular regional recreational opportunities to the public. And we see a healthy park system where older facilities are well maintained, and where a strong entrepreneurial spirit allows NVRPA to continue its role as a national leader in conservation and recreation.

This vision of the future can become a reality, and this Strategic Plan for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is the trail map that will help us navigate from where we are to where we want to go.

Waypoint 2007
As we look back over nearly fty years of history at the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, it is clear that this unique agency has always been a trail blazer. Founded by forward thinking citizens who believed the preservation of large natural areas and protection of our major waterways could be best achieved by pooling regional resources. NVRPA is unique today as the largest regional park agency in the Commonwealth. Early leaders like: Ira Gabrielson, Walter Mess, Elizabeth Hartwell, Ellen Bozman, John Mastenbrook and many more, served as representatives of member jurisdictions on the NVRPA Board and helped the agency grow to include over 10,000 acres, 21 diverse and wonderful parks and over 100 miles of trails. In addition to the great parks and programs, NVRPA has won national recognition for its lean and innovative management. Where most park agencies’ operations are 40-80% taxpayer subsidized, NVRPA generates over 80% of its operating revenues through enterprise operations, providing taxpayers an unusually high value.

The Map Ahead
Like any forward thinking document, the Strategic Plan is not meant to detail every action that will be taken over the next ve years, but rather to articulate the major steps that need to be achieved to move the agency from where it is to where it can, and should be, in the future.

Goal 1: Increase, Maintain and Enhance Conservation of Natural, Cultural
and Historic Resources.
Develop the strategy and resources to grow our base of parkland (acquire more land).
Steward NVRPA existing natural and historic resources for the enjoyment of future generations.

Goal 2: Expand and Improve Recreational Facilities to Meet Northern Virginia’s
Population Needs.
Expand and adapt current facilities to better meet the needs of our diverse population.
Invest in the maintenance of current park facilities. Connect recreation with interpretive and educational efforts.

Goal 3: Enhance and Expand Opportunities for Cultural and Environmental
Interpretation and Education that Foster an Understanding of the Relationship
between People and the Environment.
Cultivate community partnerships that will bring great educational opportunities to the parks.
Make every park a place where we provide the public with information about our natural, cultural and historic resources.
Help the public understand the role NVRPA plays in preserving our natural and historic resources.

Goal 4: Develop Mechanisms for Sustainable Financing.
Assure sound nancial planning and management.
Expand resources through further enterprise operations, new partnerships and enhanced philanthropic giving.

Goal 5: Increase Public Awareness and Recognition of NVRPA’s role in the Region.
Expand the use of parks through effective marketing, and communicate the story of NVRPA’s achievements to the public we serve.

Goal 6: Provide Exceptional Leadership for NVRPA.
Assure good governance and development of volunteer and staff resources, to implement the Mission and Strategic Plan.

The Journey

The Journey ahead will be exciting. We have an opportunity to take this great and unique organization of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and build it into a powerful tool to enhance the quality of life in our region. If we succeed, we will have a healthier connection between our people and our land. The public will be spending more time engaged in outdoor activities and have a greater appreciation for the rich natural and historic treasures of our region. Embarking on any new journey takes courage. The great advantage of this journey is that we embark on this expedition with the energy and talents of all the NVRPA supporters, member jurisdictions, partners, volunteers and staff throughout our region. Together, we have a powerful team that can achieve great things.

Thank you for embarking on this journey with us.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Washington Post covers Strategic Plan

[The following come directly from the Washington Post, 11/29/07]

Park Authority Looks to Maintain High Ratings
5-Year Strategic Plan Takes Its Lead From Survey of N.Va. Residents

By Kirstin DowneyWashington Post Staff WriterThursday, November 29, 2007; VA03

Northern Virginians love their parks, and a five-year strategic plan being proposed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority aims to keep it that way.

In a new survey of area residents, four-fifths rated the quality of their local parks as excellent or good. They like the programs offered by the park agencies even more, with about 90 percent of residents giving the park authority high marks for the wide array of activities at the parks, such as fitness classes, golf lessons, tennis leagues and youth activities.

It's not surprising that residents are pleased. The park authority, the largest regional park agency in the state, encompasses 21 kinds of parks, more than 100 miles of trails and more than 10,000 acres of land.

Its sites include a water-powered grist mill in Aldie, an aquatics play complex at Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling, a Civil War battlefield at Ball's Bluff, a boating marina in Lorton, a wave park at Alexandria's Cameron Run Regional Park, a golf course in Ashburn and even a cornfield maze in Leesburg.

But many challenges lie ahead for park officials in an area with more than 1.6 million residents, many with widely varied ideas of what makes a day in the park fun and worthwhile. The debate over dog parks vs. playgrounds is just one illustration of the ways opinions can vary. Finite resources, however, require that the park authority make choices about what to do next.

For that reason, the park authority commissioned an evaluation of park programs by local elected officials and park enthusiasts. It surveyed 2,500 residents and got full responses from 900 of them.

"The creation of a plan like this is almost as important as the end product, since through the process, people are challenged to think beyond the needs of today and envision what could be in the future," said Paul Gilbert, the agency's executive director.

First: What do people like best? The authority found that paved walking and biking trails are the most important park feature for residents, with 71 percent declaring them a personal favorite, followed closely by small community parks, which 69 percent singled out. The most popular activities are adult fitness and local history programs.

About 59 percent of respondents said they support purchasing land to preserve open space. Consequently, in the next five years, the park authority intends to buy more land, particularly sites requiring watershed or habitat protection or places with valuable historic resources. It also will expand facilities in places it owns that include those features. Specifically, under the plan, the park authority seeks to buy three such properties within five years and add five trail segments to the hiking and biking system.

The park group also plans to increase its interaction with schools by creating interpretative activities tied to the Virginia Standards of Learning requirements, helping to boost student achievement. The authority plans to establish five SOL-based programs at parks within five years.

The agency also intends to put in place new administrative and accounting procedures to improve efficiency.

A public hearing on the plan will be at 6:30 p.m. on Dec. 20 at park authority headquarters at 5400 Ox Road in Fairfax Station. A debate over which projects get priority might be in the offing, because of the many differences of opinion among park-goers.

About 80 percent of Fairfax County residents said they had visited a park within the past year; 66 percent of Alexandria residents said they had. Fairfax City residents were happiest with the programs they were offered; half of those residents called the programs "excellent."

About 30 percent of Loudoun County residents said they felt they needed campgrounds, compared with 14 percent of Falls Church residents. Similarly, youth-oriented programs were more popular in Loudoun County than in Falls Church.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

"Cool" Park Authority

The author with electic utility vehicles now used at 5 parks

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is the first park authority in the nation to agree to voluntarily reduce our greenhouse gas emissions through the Cool Counties Initiative. Cities and Counties across the nation are taking steps to reduce the causes of global warming. In Northern Virginia all ready the City of Alexandria, Fairfax and Arlington Counties have made this commitment.

To bring attention to this critical issue, NVRPA hosted a free outdoor showing of the movie An Inconvenient Truth about global climate change. Prior to the showing of the movie on October 28th the crowd heard from Fairfax County Supervisor Cathy Hudgins, Arlington Board Chair Paul Ferguson and Falls Church City Councilman David Snyder about local effort to reduce carbon emissions.

NVRPA began its energy conservation effort a little over a year ago. These efforts have resulted in a total carbon emission drop between 2006 and 2007 agency wide. Efforts at Brambleton Regional Golf Course for example, saved enough energy last year to heat and cool 103 average homes for a year, a 27 percent reduction in the course’s energy consumption. Last month’s adoption of the Cool Counties Initiative by the NVRPA Board of Directors was an important step for the Park Authority, according to NVRPA Chairman Bill Dickinson.

“We shall lead by example in the field of energy conservation. By adopting this resolution, we will help create a more sustainable society that is less dependent on non-renewable resources, and achieve long-term cost savings in the process.”

“The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has shown real leadership in signing on to the Cool Counties initiative. Their efforts to reduce greenhouse gas are a direct help to the Arlington Initative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE). I am thrilled NVRPA is offering a free showing of An Inconvenient Truth. The more people that see this important movie the better our chances are to correct global warming. I would encourage everyone to attend this event,” remarked Arlington County Board Chairman Paul Ferguson.

NVRPA Board of Directors member Judy Braus (Fairfax County), who also serves as Vice President, Education and Centers, National Audubon Society added that programs like the one being held at Meadowlark were key in terms of raising public awareness.

“The local governments like Fairfax County, Arlington County and the City of Alexandria that have taken formal action to reduce their emissions and help citizens understand what they can do to reduce pollution are making an enormous difference,” Braus noted. “Global warming is one of the most critical issues facing our world. Understanding the issue and some of the steps we can all take to reduce our emissions is the first step to solving this issue. That is why coming to the event at Meadowlark is so important.”

Fairfax County was instrumental in working with other Counties to develop the Cool Counties initative. On hearing the news of NVRPA’s adoption of the Cool Counties Resolution Fairfax County Chairman Gerry Connolly remarked, “I applaud the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s adoption of Cool Counties. Because of their large land holdings, substantial fleet, and numerous facilities, the NVRPA has the capacity to make a significant contribution to the effort to stabilize and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Heroes Save a Young Life

On September 4, 2007 the Alexandria Fire & Rescue Department gave awards to a life guard and pool manager from Cameron Run Regional Park for their role in saving the life of a seven year old girl. The two heroes were, Colin Veditz the life guard that identified that the girl was in trouble and Amanda Lindsay who was the pool manager that assisted with the first aid.

The event happened in June when a young girl lost consciousness in a shallow pool, due to a medical condition. Colin and Amanda acted quickly, pulling her from the pool and brining her back to consciousness before the EMTs arrived. The City Fire and Rescue officials remarked that Amanda and Colin’s good training and quick response made their jobs easy and probably save the life of this girl.

NVRPA life guards and pool managers receive considerably more training than most life guard, and are regularly audited for safety related indicators like scan times, equipment readiness, and professionalism. The National Aquatic Safety Company (NASCO) ranked all of NVRPA’s five water parks as “World Class” after its most recent audit.

No job is more important than saving lives. We were honored to have heroes like Amanda and Colin, and all the other skilled aquatic safety staff that helped keeps our patrons safe.

Amanda Linsay has worked summer for NVRPA since 2002. She holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees from James Madison University in Education and is a special education teacher for the Fairfax County School System.

Colin Veditz was a first time life guard this year, and said it was the best job he has ever had. He is a rising sophomore at West Virginia University in the field of Management Information Systems.

DC Reflections on Pohick Bay

On the DC Reflections blog there is a great post about kayaking at Pohick Bay and the Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagles, and Red Winged Blackbirds he encounter on a short but memorable paddle in the Pohick Bay Marsh. I find a paddle in the Marsh at Pohick Bay for an hour or two is one of the most relaxing thinks I can do. In a very short time you reconnect with nature. I encourage you to read this post that so well conveys the experience of paddling in this area.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Lafayette Comes to Temple Hall Farm

Photo (left to right: Marquis de Lafayette, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams & Elizabeth Mason)

August 9, 1825 hero of the Revolution, Marquis de Lafayette, former President James Monroe and current President John Quincy Adams visited Temple Hall Farm as part of Lafayette's 13 month tour of the United States.

August 9, 2007 Temple Hall Farm Regional Park celebrates its first annual Lafayette Day. This event features living history re-enactors, a historic french carriage was provided for the day by Ayrshire Farm, wagon rides and historic house tours were also available. We acknowledged the donation last month of a gift from the Symington Estate to support the farm endowment. Since 2004 the Symington Estate has donated $5 million for the long term support and development of Temple Hall Farm.

This was a great start to an annual event that we hope will grow each year. The long term vision for Temple Hall Farm Regional Park is to greatly expand the interpretation of our agricultural history over the coming years. Lafayette Day gives us one annual special event were we focus on the most exciting day in Temple Hall's almost 200 year history.

For more information on the history of Temple Hall Farm you can see the application for the National Register of Historic Places for the farm at:

Monday, August 06, 2007

Making History Come Alive!

“Living history,” “re-enacting,” “period costumed performers,” whatever you call it, it is perhaps the most powerful tool to engage the public in historic sites. At the Regional Park Authority we have been working to expand the number and diversity of living history events in our parks to help engage the public in the rich history of our area.

Last Sunday, Carlyle House Historic Park in Alexandria hosted one of its annual re-enactments, focusing on when the Carlyle family moved into the house in 1753. Because of the great living history volunteers that made the house come alive with 18th Century activity, over 400 visitors participated in the afternoon tours! It was a steady stream of public from 12 to 4:00 P.M.

Visitors both learned about history and were treated to an entertaining experience. When people participate in an event like this they come away with a sense of what it was like to live in that time period. This is and experience that it is not easy to get from just reading an interpretive sign or seeing a static display. It is called “living history” for a reason.

The volunteers that do living history are an amazing group. Not only do they give great attention to correct period clothing, they often do extensive research into the character they are portraying. They are a wealth of information, and work hard to make history accessible to the general public. If you see a reenactor at one of our historic parks or one of the other great sites in the our area that do living history programs like, Gunston Hall, Gadsby’s Tavern, Mt. Vernon, or others, ask that person some questions. It will likely lead to a great conversation, that will be both fun and enlightening.

In addition to the programs at the Carlyle House, NVRPA also offers battlefield tours by living history volunteers of Balls Bluff Battlefield in Leesburg. Those tours are held on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:00 and Noon during the spring, summer and fall. Similarly we host milling demonstrations at Aldie Mill Historic Park in Aldie Virginia on weekends at 1:00, 2:00 and 3:00 during the spring, summer and fall.

This year we are adding a new program that we hope to do every August 9th. From 6:00 – 8:00 P.M. on Thursday August 9th we are hosting our first Lafayette Day, at Temple Hall Farm Regional Park outside of Leesburg. This event will celebrate August 9th 1825 when the Marquis de Lafayette, President John Quincy Adams, and former President James Monroe all visited the farm that was owned by William Temple Mason, the nephew of George Mason of Gunston Hall.

Below are some of the Living History Events coming up.
August 9th – Lafayette Day @ Temple Hall Farm
August 18th – Alexandria Surrenders (War of 1812) @ Carlyle House
September 22nd & 23rd - Civil War encampment @ Balls Bluff Battlefield
October 27th – Colonel John Carlyle’s 1780 Funeral @ Carlyle House
November 10th – Muster Day 1781 (join the Fairfax Militia) @ Carlyle House
December 1st – A solder’s Christmas (First VA Regiment) @ Carlyle House

(Check for more details on these and other programs.)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Above Photos:
Top: Blue Ridge Regional Park
Bottom: Cindy Holcomb & Rhonda Krafchin from REI present me with $5,000 check for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

Recreational Equipment Incorporated (REI) is much more than a great store to get all your outdoor goods, it is an organization that directly contributes to promote conservation and outdoor recreation.

Today REI donated $5,000 to help the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority develop Blue Ridge Regional Park, near Bluemont Virginia in western Loudoun County. This is a 165 acre property on the top of the Blue Ridge Mountains that we are developing into a youth group camping site. In June our first group of scouts camped out on this beautiful mountain wilderness location. With the donation from REI we will build an amphitheater and start the process of building a trail network on this property.

The site is both beautiful and rustic. If you are looking for running water, electricity and flush toilets, try one of our family campgrounds at Bull Run or Pohick Bay. Blue Ridge Regional Park is for youth groups that want to have a real wilderness experience. It has three camping areas that can each accommodate a group of 20-30. There are fire rings, picnick tables, and porta-potties. We will soon build a shelter using an old stone fire pace from a previous house as the focal point of the shelter. The camp ground is available for organized groups by appointment only. If your group is interested in a great back country camping experience call 703-352-5900.

REI's contributions are not limited to Blue Ridge Regional Park. They have been one of the most consistent contributing organizations for NVRPA for over a decade. In June they organized volunteers to build bridges and blaze areas of trail as part of the Potomac Heritage Nation Scenic Trail, on NVRPA easements and land. Last year they contributed to projects at both Potomac Overlook Regional Park and Bull Run Regional Park, and the list goes on, and on, and on... REI has made conservation a key part of their mission. They understand that people need places to camp, climb, bike, paddle and hike, if there is going to continue to be a market for outdoor gear... An incredibly enlightened perspective.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Largest Trees in Great Falls

On the 4th of July, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority received recognition for having some of the largest trees in Great Falls Virginia.
The Great Falls Citizens Association conducted an extensive heritage tree census this year. One of the goals of the Citizens Association was to highlight the great resource they have in large mature trees, and hope that this effort helps to save these great trees.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority owns over 700 acres in Great Falls. This land is along the Potomac River. Today it is a key part of the Potomac Heritage Scenic Trail system. In the late 18th Century this area was part of the Patowmack Canal system that George Washington built. The Patowmack Canal system was built many years before the C&O Canal on the Maryland side.
Because this area along the river has been largely natural for so many years, it is home to a very mature forest. The largest tree in Great Falls, a Sycamore is on Regional Park Authority land. We also had the largest Hickory, and White Ash. In addition we have among the largest American Beech, Chestnut Oak and Silver Maple.
The Great Falls Citizens Association is a great organization, and I hope their effort to highlight the importance of our mature trees help to protect them. Many of these large trees have been growing for hundreds of years. These giants should be protected like other historic assets.

Thomas Jefferson H.S. Competes at Henley

For the second year in a row the rowing team from Thomas Jefferson High School in Fairfax County was among the best crew teams in the world, competing at the Henley Royal Regatta in England. We would like to think that one of the factors assisting these great athletes has been one of the best rowing facilities in the country at Sandy Run Regional Park. The Sandy Run facility is on the Occoquan Reservoir and is a facility dedicated to scholastic rowing.

The TJ Men’s Varsity won all their regattas against all the local competition in Virginia. They then beat five top crews from across the Mid-Atlantic States and New England at the St. Andrew’s Invitational regatta. After that regatta, it became clear that TJ’s boat this year would be very good. And, good it proved to be, winning the Virginia State Championships, the world’s largest high school regatta (175 schools), the Stotesbury Cup Regatta in Philadelphia, and the Scholastic Rowing Association of America National Championships.

This record made it clear that the boat would not only qualify, but be offered one of the eight top seeds, for the Princess Elizabeth Challenge Cup at the Henley Royal Regatta, the premier rowing event in the world. As rowing is not school sponsored in Northern Virginia, the parents worked hard to make arrangements and to raise funds to get the team to England for the regatta. After practicing for more than a week in England, rowing practice races against numerous other college and club crews from the US, the competition bracket was determined on Saturday June 30. TJ, while seeded, was placed in the half of the bracket with the Irish, Australian, Canadian, and British champions.

TJ won its first two races “easily” (more than five lengths) against Methodist College, Belfast, the Irish champions, and then Winchester College. In the round of eight, TJ faced the Brentwood College School, the Canadian champions, and lost after battling its opponent for the lead for the first mile. Brentwood ended up second in the regatta losing by one foot to Shrewsbury School of England. The TJ Men’s Varsity Eight ended their amazing season US National Champions and one of top eight high school boats in the world!

Congratulations TJ on an outstanding season!!

(All but the first paragraph of this post was copied from a report to TJ supports from Warren Muir)

Friday, June 29, 2007

Attracting More Park Users & Winning National Recognition

This week I traveled to Boston along with Jim Mayer (NVRPA Vice Chair) and his wife Marjorie to receive an award in the Better Government Competition hosted by the Pioneer Institute. Pioneer is a public policy think-tank dedicated to promoting lean and efficient government.

We won our award primarily because NVRPA has been very effective in the last two years in competing for the public's leisure time, and attracting more visitors to our Regional Parks. This may not sound like a big deal, but there is a national trend away from people spending time outdoors.

Richard Louv's best selling book Last Child in the Woods focused attention on how today's children are not spending time outside engaging with nature, like previous generations have. The National Park Service release a study last year that showed a 26.5% reduction in camping in National Parks over the last 13 years. And the University of Maryland released a study recently showing a 50% drop in the amount of time children are spending in unstructured outdoor activities compared with a few years ago.

This is a significant societal issue, and for NVRPA whose operations are 80% self funded through user fees, it was a serious financial issue as well. We faced serious financial challenges in 2003 and 2004 as a result of lower park visitation, 2005 showed modest improvement, and in 2006 & 2007 we have been growing our user base rapidly.

To do this we needed to approach the delivery of conservation and recreation services in a business like manner, and actively compete for the public's limited leisure time.

With both our two family campgrounds, and our three golf courses we followed a very effective formula:

  1. We invested in facility improvements that the public valued. At our campgrounds we have added rustic cabins, better utility hook ups, and renovated restrooms. At our golf courses we have added a significant amount of new drainage to improve the course conditions, and we have added new tee boxes and made other improvements.

  2. We offered the public a very good value. Our golf membership program offers unlimited play for the avid golfer at a great price. Our campgrounds are nicer than ever and are price at the low end of the market.

  3. We marketed our offerings like never before. We created great new brochures that we put at all the Virginia Visitor Centers, and many other high traffic areas. We did targeted advertising in golf and camping publications.

The results of this formula for success were fantastic. Our campgrounds saw a 13% increase in usage in 2006, and our golf play was up 12% in the same year. Overall all of our park operations saw an increase of over 10% in public usage during a time when all the national studies are showing the trend going in the opposite direction.

It is critically important for ones mental and physical health at any age to get outdoor. It is also critical to a park agency like the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to have the public utilizing our parks.

Please visit a park this week, and tell a friend what a wonderful experience you had.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Draft Horses at Temple Hall

Temple Hall Regional Park is a historic farm park just outside of Leesburg on Rt. 15. One of the great new attractions at Temple Hall has been the introduction of draft horses that we use to take park patrons on wagon rides. It is a great way to step back in time and have an experience similar to one that you might have had one hundred and fifty years ago.

Temple Hall was built by Temple Mason, one of the nephews of George Mason in 1810. The farm was donated to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority by Mrs. Symington to be used as a site for education about our farming past.

This week, 800 Loudoun County fourth graders came to Temple Hall to learn about farming.

The Birth of a New Water Park

On Memorial Day Weekend 2007, NVRPA opened a redesigned and rennovated water park at Upton Hill Regional Park in Arlington VA.

For decades that has been a popular pool, mini-golf, batting cage, and picnic areas at Upton Hill. What users experience now is the result of almost $2 million in rennovations to the pool. It is now much more of a water park. While we kept the popular lap swimming pool, we completely rennovated the tot pool, and added two new water slides, rennovated the main pool area, and added a great new water play area. The end result is a much more exciting and engaging attraction than we have ever had there.

This year's Memorial Day weekend saw almost twice as many park users at the pool than the preceeding Memorial Day weekend!

NVRPA runs five aquatics facilities, including ones at Algonkian Regional Park, Bull Run Regional Park, Pohick Bay Regional Park, and our flagship waterpark at Cameron Run Regional Park.