Tuesday, March 31, 2009

How the W&OD Was Created

Photo from Left to Right: NVRPA Executive Director Paul Gilbert, Councilman Nader Barouk, Councilman David Snyder, Friends of the W&OD President Roger Neighborgall, Congressman Jim Moran, Councilman Daniel Maller, NVRPA Chairman Emeritus Walter Mess, Vice Mayer Hal Lippman, City Manager Wyatt Sheild, NVRPA Chair Su Webb, Falls Church Recreation & Parks Director Howard Herman, NVRPA Board Member Barry Buschow, Chairman Falls Church Recreation &Parks Advisory Board Gerard Mene.

The W&OD Trail is the crown jewl of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and on Saturday we dedicated some new interpretive signs that help tell the story of one of the most famous trails in the nation.

The City of Falls Church was a critical partner in the creation of this great 45 mile trail that started as an experiment with with 1.5 miles of paved trail on the section in the City of Falls Church in 1974. After the dedication Falls Church Vice Mayor Hal Lippman said, "as a longtime resident of Falls Church and user of the W&OD Trail, I know the City is very proud of the role its citizens played both in its initial development and the establishment of the NVRPA. Saturday's kick-off of the Fifty Year Anniversary celebration of the NVRPA with the dedication of new signage that tells the Trail's history," he continued, "inspires us to carry on the vision of those special leaders who set out to develop what has become a landmark recreational venue that has benefitted untold numbers of people throughout Northern Virginia."

The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park, affectionately known to the world as the W&OD Trail, is the first large scale rails to trails project and one of the most successful trail corridors in the country. Today, between 2-3 million users a year enjoy the recreational opportunities of this 45-mile bike, equestrian and hiking trail, through the heart of the Northern Virginia suburbs.

From 1847 – 1968, the W&OD rail line was an important railroad that went from Alexandria west towards the mountains. It featured significantly in the Civil War, with the area near Park Street in Vienna being the first military engagement fought over a rail road in history. The rail stops also helped define a large area of Northern Virginia with rail stations like Vienna, Falls Church, Wiehle (Reston), Herndon, Leesburg and Purcelville leading to towns and cities that had grown around the stations.

Creation of the Trail:
When the railroad stopped running in 1968, the right-of-way was purchased by Virginia Electrical and Power Company (VEPCO) to be used as a power transmission corridor. In 1974, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and City of Falls Church leased a section of the property through Falls Church to build the first section of an “experimental trail.” The experiment was very popular, and in 1977 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority entered into a five year purchase agreement to buy all of the 100 feet wide, 45-mile long former railroad property. VEPCO (now Dominion Power) maintained an easement on the property allowing for the electrical transmission lines to co-exist with the trail.

Funding acquisition and development of the Trail:
The initial purchase of the property from VEPCO was $3.7 million, with additional adjacent properties raising the acquisition costs to over $5 million (not accounting for inflation in land values). Development of the 45 miles of 10 feet wide paved trail, 30+ miles of parallel gravel trail and numerous bridges and other improvements, has cost over $14 million over the years. Of the roughly $19 million acquisition and development costs, about $1.7 million came from federal grants, including both Rails To Trails grants and Land and Water Conservation Funds. The other funds for the acquisition and development of this trail came from the six local governments that make up the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, and other grants.

The W&OD has been one of the most popular and award winning trail systems in the nation, from its completed last mile of development in 1988 through ongoing safety, interpretive and other improvements today. Some of the organizations that have given the W&OD Trail awards include:

Rails to Trails Conservancy
Coalition for Recreational Trails
National Voluntary Service Award
Washington Post Reader’s Choice
Governor’s Safety Award
Scenic Virginia
Virginia Urban Forestry Council
Washington Area Bicyclist Association

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Connecting with Nature through Camping

Richard Louv started a nation-wide movement to get children re-engaged to nature in his best selling book Last Child in the Woods. As a result of this book we now have an effort to get an addition to the No Child Left Behind K-12 legislation that is called No Child Left Inside. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has signed on to this effort that would provide more environmental education.

As we enter spring, it is a good time for families to start thinking about camping. There is no better way to connect to nature than to spend the night outside in a natural setting. Growing up, camping with the Boy Scouts had a greater influence on my appreciation for nature than anything else. Last weekend I completed a training course to lead Girl Scout groups on camping trips (that's me in the photo practicing knots as part of the training).

Camping can be both an inexpensive vacation in uncertain financial times, and a great way to bond with the family. One of the best things about camping is that it takes you out of the normal daily routine, and away from computers, and other electronic devices. You will likely have some of your best conversations around the campfire because to are away from the many modern distractions of life.

For those who would like more comfort than tent camping, or are not experienced at camping, a great option is one of the rustic cabins that we have at both Bull Run Regional Park and Pohick Bay Regional Park. These cabins are in the campground, but have heating and cooling, a small refrigerator and microwave. They have a bed room with both double bed and bunk bed, and the front room has a futon that can sleep two. These cabins can be a great choice for those that are not interested in tent camping but want the camp experience. Both parks have wonderful pools, trails, camp stores, and playgrounds. Pohick Bay also has the waterfront with rental canoes and kayaks, and a boat ramp for your power boat. There are many other amenities at both parks, but the thing you will likely enjoy the most is having a great time with family and/or friends in a natural setting.

If ever there was a year to put camping on your list of things to do, this is it!

For information on camping or cabin rentals go to:
Rustic Cabins at Pohick Bay
Rustic Cabins at Bull Run
Camping at Bull Run
Camping at Pohick Bay

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

2009 Employee Achievment Awards

For our fourth year in a row, we had our Employee Achievement Awards for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. This is a program where employees are nominated by their fellow employees for great achievements over the previous year. A cross functional team of staff reviews all the nominations and determines the best candidates for the year.

This program celebrates innovation, customer service, cost savings, team players and other important values that help to make NVRPA a lean and innovative team.
John J. Houser - Innovation

In the category of Innovation, John Houser has raised the profile of both Occoquan Regional Park and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority though innovative and strategic partnerships. John brought new life to the park by organizing the Occoquan River Community to hold its first annual River Festival in July 2008. By partnering with the Fairfax League of Women Voters, John raised the historic profile of the park by creating Turning Point Plaza and highlighting the role of this area in the quest for women’s voting rights. John also has forged a partnership with the Lorton Arts Foundation, which has resulted in new contract services for the park. John has become a regional model for how to build and cultivate meaningful partnerships.

Azeana N. Roehn – Innovation

In the category of Innovation, Azeana Roehn has won recognition for her key role in creating accounting procedures that provide both accountability and flexibility in supporting NVRPA’s catering services. When the current accounting procedures were not working well for the new catering service, Azeana took on the task of understanding the operational issues and building new procedures that allowed for both seamless catering operations and adequate tracking and controls of accounts. Her innovations have allowed NVRPA to be highly accountable and also highly enterprising at the same time.

William T. Tracey – Safety & Cost Savings

In the categories of both Safety and Cost Savings, William (Bill) Tracey has made great contributions over the last year. In addition to being a maintenance staff member at Algonkian Regional Park, Bill is an expert in tree health and tree removal. He has used this knowledge and some of his own specialized tree equipment to safely take down a number of dead trees at Algonkian Golf Course. In doing so, he has demonstrated the highest degree of safety focus and has saved the Authority a considerable amount of money.

Vivian M. Roski – Customer Service

In the category of Customer Service, Vivian Roski has won recognition for her great service to Pohick Bay Golf Course. Vivian has played a key role in creating an atmosphere of warmth and community at the golf course. She has a sincere interest in the well being of every customer she interacts with. Her positive attitude and helpfulness carry through in her interactions with all her co-workers, contributing to the welcoming environment of the whole facility.

Edna C. Scott – Customer Service

In the category of Customer Service, Edna Scott has won recognition for her great service to all the parks in the NVRPA system. Edna’s “can do” attitude, ability to organize projects and work quickly, have been of great value to all NVRPA park employees. She is a team player who has helped parks with a wide range of human resource issues.

David R. Longhorne – Customer Service

In the category of Customer Service, David Longhorne has won recognition for his great service to all NVRPA parks. As the small engine mechanic, David interacts with all our parks. In addition to being very timely, David is always looking for ways to keep equipment running and to save money. David’s friendly attitude has been described as contagious.

Roy A. Geiger – Above and Beyond

In the category of Above and Beyond, Roy Geiger has won recognition. Roy has proven to be an invaluable member of the Algonkian team, working many more hours than appear on his timesheets, and enthusiastically helping out with whatever issue needs attention. When the Holiday Village at the Bull Run Light Show needed a Santa, Roy became the perfect “jolly old elf.” He came in early and left late and was the best representative the North Pole has ever had. NVRPA is extremely fortunate to have a person of Roy’s dedication, skill and outlook as part of the team.

Budget & Finance Team – Above and Beyond

In 2008, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority won the highest honors from the Government Finance Officer’s Association for both the CAFR (audit) and the Budget. Winning these two awards in the same year represents a tremendous amount of work by everyone in Finance and Budget and demonstrates the highest level of professionalism in these fields. For this achievement, the entire Finance and Budget team earns an award in the category of Above and Beyond.

Central Maintenance – Cost Savings

In the category of Cost Savings, the Central Maintenance team has won recognition. In 2008, the team rebuilt a dilapidated storage building at Central Maintenance, adding concrete floors, siding and interior walls. The end result has been a dedicated electrician’s shop, more usable storage and improved appearance of the shop area. This job was done in-house at a fraction of the cost of outsourcing this renovation.

Cindy Hudson – Cost Savings

In the category of Cost Savings, Cindy Hudson has won recognition. She led the effort to create an automated timekeeping solution that works with NVRPA payroll system. This process required months of meetings and extensive problem solving to finally develop a system that works. After working through all the technology issues, she worked closely with the management of each park and department to make sure that implementation was successful. The end result is a system that will save us tens of thousands of dollars every year.

Chris Liebermann – Versatility

In the category of Versatility, Chris Liebermann has won recognition. Chis worked with numerous Eagle Scout candidates to implement projects that have benefited Meadowlark Gardens. He has mapped over 2 miles of irrigation systems on GPS to help maintain the system. His considerable IT skills are regularly used to help with computer issues at the Visitor Center and Atrium, and his customer service skills are world class. Chris is able to carry out his many diverse skills and tasks with an extremely positive attitude.

Chris Pauley – Team Player

In the category of Team Player, Chris Pauley has won recognition. During the summer of 2008, Chris stepped in when he was the only superintendent and oversaw all the parks during the busiest season. He also took on additional responsibility in helping to review and prepare budgets for all the parks. He took on this doubling of responsibilities with calm, cool professionalism. Chris embodies the best of NVRPA’s team playing spirit.

Charlie Anderson – Team Player

In the category of Team Player, Charlie Anderson has won recognition. Charlie’s inherently helpful attitude has made him a model team player. From laying out the light displays at Bull Run, to volunteering, to complete plumbing jobs, to helping out with any other job that needs to be done, Charlie’s energetic good will is valued by all those who work with him.

Sarah A. Coster – Programming

In the category of Programming, Sarah Coster has won recognition. Sarah developed the SOL-based school tour program Road to Revolution about the causes of the Revolutionary War; and has played a leadership role in developing a new program on 18th century weddings. Sarah recruits, trains and supervises all the volunteer docents at the Carlyle House and, under her stewardship, there has been a 100% retention of volunteers. Sarah has exhibited exceptional talents in the area of programming.

George Tabb – Programming

In the category of Programming, George Tabb has won recognition. George has worked closely with the volunteers at Ball’s Bluff and, in doing so, created a pod-cast of the guided tour of the battlefield that visitors can download from the NVRPA website and listen to on an MP3 player. This allows the public an alternative way to have the guided tour experience at Ball’s Bluff any time they want. This innovative approach has greatly added to the interpretive options available to our park visitors.

Mark E. Brooks & Edward J. Ambrosone – Creativity

In the category of Creativity, Mark Brooks and Edward Ambrosone have won recognition. The team of “Ed and Mark” has worked together on numerous creative projects that have benefited NVRPA. One project of particular note this year was the creation of a distinctive, cost effective and highly functional menu board for the Algonkian pro shop. The artistry and creativity that Mark and Ed provide for all the parks is enormously valuable.

Tammy L. Burke - Creativity

In the category of Creativity, Tammy Burke has won recognition. Tammy has used her considerable skills in working with stained glass, ceramics, metal and colors, to create numerous works of garden art for Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. Her various creations, from a copper and glass trellis to a mosaic tile frog to hand cast birdbaths and stepping stones, have contributed greatly to the beauty of Meadowlark.

Laurelyn L. Rawson – Creativity

In the category of Creativity, Laurelyn Rawson has won recognition. Laurelyn took it upon herself to transform an unattractive weedy area behind the starters’ booth at Algonkian into an area of beauty and wildlife habitat. Working with the golf course maintenance staff, she planned and directed the creation of a pond, with fountain and native plants surrounding it. This project was done primarily with surplus materials and help from park staff, making it very cost effective.

Todd Hafner & Paul McCray – Project of the Year

The 2008 project of the year was Pirate’s Cove Waterpark at Pohick Bay. The project transformed an underperforming pool that most people in the community had long forgotten about into an exciting water theme park. The first highly themed waterpark for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, Pirate’s Cove saw about a 200% increase in usage in one year. While many played critical roles in this project, a great deal of credit goes to Todd Hafner and Paul McCray for taking this project from idea to operations in just 9 months.

Central Maintenance – Best Energy Conservation of 2008

In 2008, the staff of Central Maintenance reduced their energy consumption by 13.25%. This achievement was a result of new insulation and weather stripping of the buildings and careful use of the thermostats. They also focused on reducing fuel consumption in vehicles and reduced diesel consumption by 27%.

Upton Hill – Best Improvement in Financial Performance for 2008

In fiscal year 2008, Upton Hill Regional Park saw a 94.47% improvement in financial performance. This is the result of a very successful and popular pool renovation, that has motivated more people than ever before to make Upton Hill their destination for summer recreation.