Sunday, November 22, 2009

A great day for History

Sharon Bulova, Chair of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Addresses a crowd at the dedication of historic exhibits on the W&OD Trail
From tales of the role of the W&OD Railroad during the Civil was to tales of General Braddock and the his launching the French & Indian War from the dinning room of the Carlyle House, Yesterday was a big day for history at regional parks.

First, over 100 people showed up for the dedication of six historical displays along the W&OD trail. The turnout included half the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors including: Chairman Sharon Bulova, Cathy Hudgins, Linda Smyth, Michael Fry and John Foust. Congressman Gerry Connolly and Delegate Ken Plum were also on hand to mark this special event.

The Hunter Mill Defense League did most of the research on the historical markers, funded some of the signs and organized the event. The Friends of the W&OD and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority also payed for some of the exhibits. These displays focused on the role of the rail and the Hunter Mill Road area during the Civil War.

In 2007 the National Recreational Trails Association gave an award to NVRPA for the many (nearly 60) historical markers along the W&OD Trail. The new signs help tell new stories that will add to the experience of the over 2 million trail users every year.

From the Civil War, we stepped back in time over 100 years to the French & Indian War (1750's) and a book signing by author Thomas Crocker of his new book "Braddock's March" that gives considerable focus to the campaign preparation that took place at the Carlyle House Historic Park in Alexandria. Riding next to General Braddock, an arrogant British General, was a young George Washington, Col. in the Virginia Militia. Crocker makes the point that the seeds of the American Revolution were planted during this under-studies campaign.

Northern Virginia is an area that is steeped in our Country's early history, and a central focus of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is to both conserve our regions most significant natural areas as well as to preserve many of the most valuable historical resource of our area.

One of the goals of NVRPAs Strategic Plan is to make every park into a center of learning about our natural or historic resources, a goal that was advance during yesterday's events.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Take a hike and call me in the morning

This week the Health Section of the Washington Post had a great story about the health benefits of not just exercise, but being outdoors in natural surroundings (article is below). This makes so much sense, it is surprising more of the medical profession has not made this connections earlier.

Working out with weights or exercise equipment is great for your muscles but does only a little to bring peace of mind, relieve stress and ground you. If you can go for a hike in the woods, a bike ride along a wood lined trail, or a paddle on a scenic body of water, the result is both exercise and a relaxing and grounding connection with nature.

In addition to the story below, the Post had a side bar on some of the great trails in our area including the W&OD, the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, and others. Link to this section is below:

A trail they did not mention that is one of the very best for a nature hike is the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail that runs 18 miles along the southern boarder of Fairfax County along the Bull Run and Occoquan Rivers. More information on this trail can be found at:

Take a hike and call me in the morning

By Daphne Miller

Special to The Washington Post Tuesday, November 17, 2009

"I have a StairMaster right in my own basement, but honestly it's been there for years gathering dust and making me feel guilty," said Miriam, one of my patients. "It wasn't until I started walking the three-mile trail in the park near my house that I got serious about exercising. I do it now rain or shine. I love the fresh air. The best part is that I get a great workout and don't even mind sweating."

At this point, I have heard enough variations on Miriam's story that I have started to make formal "park prescriptions." The prescribing instructions are considerably more detailed than ones you might get with a medication; they include the location of a local green space, the name of a specific trail and, when possible, exact mileage.

It turns out I am not alone. I've begun hearing about doctors around the country who are medicating their patients with nature in order to prevent (or treat) health problems ranging from heart disease to attention deficit disorder.

Eleanor Kennedy, a cardiologist in Little Rock, helped create a downtown "Medical Mile" with the support of local funders and the National Park Service's Rivers, Trails, and Conservation Assistance Program. "If my patients feel that they can get outdoors, they are more likely to be consistent about exercise," she told me. "Whether you are waddling, walking or running, going out and exercising will help build your confidence, flexibility and adaptability." And it will also be good for your heart -- a particular benefit in Arkansas, where rates of heart disease and stroke, as well as obesity and diabetes, are among the highest in the country.

Other physicians, from New Hampshire to Texas, are sending their patients out to wade through streams and walk on beaches and trails. Earlier this year the city of Santa Fe, N.M., launched a Prescription Trails program to target the high rates of diabetes in the community. The program, partially funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, includes a trail guide that physicians can hand to their patients.

"Of course, this is not the only answer to the obesity epidemic," said Michael Suk, an orthopedic surgeon and former health adviser to the NPS, "but it sure is a good start. All these insurance companies focus on prevention, but no one thinks of the free public land resources that we have at our disposal."

Richard Louv, author of the best-selling book "The Last Child in the Woods" and coiner of the term "nature deficit disorder," is all for these prescribing patterns. "I think that physicians can do more [to get people out into nature] than any other professional," he said. Louv's book and Web site ( cite dozens of studies documenting the positive impact that wilderness outings can have on mental and physical health. The fact that the American Academy of Pediatrics has invited Louv to deliver the keynote address at its 2010 annual meeting indicates that the larger medical community is starting to recognize the therapeutic value of time spent in the woods.

Fortunately, the custodians of nature are also on board. Howard Levitt, chief of interpretation and education at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, an NPS site in California, loves the idea of park prescriptions. In the near future, he and his colleagues hope to create a prescription "tool kit" for doctors, possibly in partnership with a large health organization such as Kaiser Permanente. "I see this as a mutually beneficial arrangement," Levitt said. "We know what parks exist to do and . . . doctors want to care for their patients."

Rick Potts, the Park Service's chief of conservation and outdoor programs, echoed Levitt's enthusiasm: "Science is validating what moms have known for generations: Being outside is good for your health.

"I've never known a ranch kid on Ritalin," added Potts, who comes from rural Montana.
He expects support from the newly confirmed NPS director, Jonathan Jarvis. "We all see that the role of national parks in the 21st century is evolving. They are becoming more critical to our well-being as a society." As Potts continued talking, using such terms as "affordable prevention services" and "increasing access," he sounded more like a government official discussing health reform than one explaining park systems.

In fact, it's not too much of a stretch to think of our national park system as an integral part of our health care system; the NPS is already offering wellness services that are free and accessible to all, regardless of preexisting conditions. And according to Suk, the NPS wants to to expand that access by supporting public open space developments such as Little Rock's Medical Mile in communities around the country.

So don't be surprised if, at your next visit to the doctor, you are handed a trail map and itinerary along with your lab slip. In fact, if you are not offered one, you should demand it.
And once you set foot on the trail, how hard should you exercise? I like what Dr. Kennedy tells her patients: "Hard enough that you can still talk in sentences but not in paragraphs."

Miller is a family physician and an associate clinical professor at the University of California at San Francisco.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Korean Bell Garden @ Meadowlark

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has an MOU with the Korean American Cultural Committee(KACC) (a non-profit group out of the Annandale area) to build a bell garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna.

KACC has been working for several years to raise the funds necessary to build the bell pavilion and gardens that will be built on a hillside overlooking the main lake at Meadowlark. It is a very exciting project with the bell and pavilion being designed by Professor David Chung from the University of Michigan.

Recently I had the opportunity to go to Korea with several others that are working on this project. Our trip was funded by the Korea Foundation and included tours of many historic palaces, gardens and museums, in addition to meetings with numerous branches of the federal government in Seoul as well as officials from GyeonGi Province, which is a sister state to Virginia.

The trip was truly fantastic, and from it we all gained a much deeper appreciation for traditional Korean gardens and architecture.

These enormous cast iron bells have been made in essentially the same way since around 770 AD. I particularly like the rugged and natural look of Korean gardens.

2010 and 2011 are going to be the big years for developing this garden. Next June we will hold a ground breaking ceremony to correspond to the 60th anniversary of the Korean War.

More information on this project can be seen at:

The partnership with KACC and its Chair, Ms Jeung Hwa Elmejjad-Yi has been fantastic. Our trip to Korea resulted in strong pledges of support from the Korean Government and others. That combined with the good local fundraising efforts of KACC are going to make this project not just a success, but a significant tourist attraction and symbol of the partnership between Korea and America and of the great contributions that Korean/Americans continue to make to our society. Virginia has around 45,000 people of Korean decent and nearly 35,000 of those live in Fairfax County, making Meadowlark Gardens an idea location of this bell garden.

Images of the trip can be seen on the following link: