Friday, July 31, 2009

Jim Mayer Leaves a Legacy of Good Will and Contribution

I am sad to note that James I. Mayer passed away today. Jim served on the Regional Park Authority Board from 2001 – 2009 and was the Chairman from December 2007 – February 2009. Jim was a person of high intelligence and integrity, but he is perhaps best known for being good natured. His friendly demeanor and ever present humor had a positive effect on everyone around him.

Jim loved the parks. He was proud of having played all the mini-golf courses in the regional park system. He was particularly attached to Potomac Overlook and the W&OD Trail. As Chairman he helped plan the extensive renovation made at the Potomac Overlook Nature Center that have transformed it into a center for energy education. During his tenure as Chairman, NVRPA saw expanded use of our parks, bold steps to acquire new lands, as well as good financial management. NVRPA won the highest awards for both the budget and audit from the Government Financial Officers Association during this period.

Jim had a career in the Air Force and Federal civil service, was Chairman of Arlington’s Industrial Development Authority, Secretary of the Arlington United Way Board, Chair of the Arlington Committee of 100, and a Board Member of the Dominion Brewing Company.

Jim lived a life of contribution to his community, and we are all enriched by those gifts.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Tremendous Growth in Camping

Is it the “Staycation” phenomenon driven by the recession, or is it a desire to reconnect with nature? Either way, local residents are turning to camping in record numbers. In just the last year, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has seen a jump in camping of 10 percent increase over last summer, and an astonishing 75 percent increase since 2004.

“Part of the recent interest in camping is likely driven by the economy and camping being a low cost form of vacation. However, since it has been on an upward trend over the last five years I have to think part of it is a desire to spend more time outside,” said Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. “Richard Louv made the idea of ‘nature deficit disorder’ popular in his best selling book ‘Last Child in the Woods.’ This growth in camping may be partially driven by a desire of families to spend more time exploring the outdoors,” Gilbert continued.

For Pohick Bay in Lorton and Bull Run in Centreville - the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s two family camp grounds – it has proven to be one busy summer.

“We haven’t seen this kind of traffic in decades,” said Todd Benson, Park Manager at Pohick Bay. “Typically, you might see crowds of this size on a holiday weekend, or if it should coincide with some kind of local event. This summer, you’re talking about your average weekend from Thursday to Sunday.”

Tom Doyle, Vice President of Information and Research at the National Sporting Good Association, says the increase in visitation is no fluke. “In our last national survey, we found that camping has dramatically increased, from 46 million campers (nationally) in 2005 to 49.4 million last summer.”

Those figures show no sign of slowing either. Camping, hiking, kayaking – all three areas remain on the rise according to Doyle. Meanwhile, tent sales nationally have been trending up the last few years.

“I fully expect the increase in camping to continue,” Doyle said. “People are foregoing expensive travel.”

That increase in the park’s regular weekend population has caused a swell in other areas as well. Pohick Bay’s boat rentals – especially kayaks - have boomed as eager campers take to the waters for fishing and a glimpse of nature.

Meanwhile, while many prefer to enjoy the great outdoors the old-fashioned way, recent surveys have also shown that vacation cabin rentals at Pohick Bay and Bull Run have increased dramatically, increasing 23 percent in a one year period.

“I think for lots of folks the cabins are a great compromise,” Benson added. “You can spend your day in the park, boating, fishing, hiking or swimming at the waterpark, then bunk for the night in a weather-controlled, temperature-controlled cabin. For many, it’s the best of both worlds.”

In addition to the social and economic factors driving more people to camp, the facilities at both Bull Run and Pohick Bay Regional Parks have seen significant improvements over the last few years including: updated restrooms, new playgrounds in the campgrounds, renovated waterparks, improved trails, additional power and sewer connections available at some camp sites, and new cabins. All of these new amenities make for a great camping experience.
As for the latter, Pirate’s Cove Waterpark at Pohick Bay and Atlantis Waterpark at Bull Run were both renovated, in 2008 and 2009 respectively. Both provide just one more great amenity for overnight park visitors, a great way to spend the day cooling off and enjoying the sun with family and friends.

“Honestly, I think our campgrounds are the complete package,” Gilbert added. “There’s something for everyone, and you don’t even need to leave the park.”

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Connect with Nature on Pohick Bay Marsh

Rent a canoe or kayak or launch your own at Pohick Bay Regional Park and in just 10 minutes of paddling you can be in the Pohick Bay Marsh. This is one of the best places in Northern Virginia to reconnect with nature.

I paddled it today and saw 17 White Herons perched in a couple of dead trees at the edge of the water. I had two large Great Blue Herons swoop out in front of my kayak as I paddle near the shore. Red Winged Black Birds, dragon flies and butterflies darted over the surface of the water and hydrilla. I saw a Bald Eagle soring overhead, and an Osprey catching fish for lunch.

With the water only a few feet deep in the marsh and very little effect of tide and current, this is a wonderful place to go paddling with the whole family. The distance is not far from you launch site and no real technical ability is necessary. Pohick Bay has a great inventory of rental boats, so you do not need any gear other than sunscreen, hat and water bottle. And if you have your own boat Pohick Bay offers a great launch area.

If you would like to reconnect with nature an hour on the bay will give you a great experience.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Bull Run Occoquan Trail and the Civil War

I recently hike sections of the Bull Run Occoquan Trail in search of history. In addition to being designated as a National Recreational Trail, this 18 mile path is also the site of many Civil War actions.

The Bull Run served as as a defensive line for both the North and South during the Civil War. The second battle of the war was fought while crossing the river at Blackburns Ford (the site of the current day Rt. 28 bridge). All along the high bluffs overlooking the river, earthen forts and defensive positions were created.
If you want to interact with nature, get some exercise and learn about history the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail (aka the Blue Trail) is for you. I encourage you to get out and do some exploring of your own.