Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Scout Camping in Northern Virginia

Youth group camping, primarily from the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts is a great way for kids to have fun and learn great life lessons at the same time.

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority offers a number of wonderful places for scout camping. Our oldest site is Camp Wilson, which is part of Pohick Bay Regional Park in southern Fairfax County on Mason Neck. This site was owned and operated by the Boy Scouts from 1948 - 1969. In 1969 the Boy Scouts sold this land to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to help fund the purchase of Goshen. The Regional Park Authority has continued to run this site as a place for youth group camping, and it continues to be very popular with Scouts. This large site has accommodated well over 500 campers at one time. In the center of the site is a rest room facility with flush toilets, hot & cold water and showers. Camp Wilson offers a great trail network that connects it to the main park area which features boat ramp, and boat rentals (canoeing/kayaking the Pohick Marsh is always popular), Frisbee golf, and Pirate's Cove Waterpark. Mason Neck also features a great paved bike trail that connects Pohick Bay Regional Park with Gunston Hall Historic Site and Mason Neck State Park. Across the road from Camp Wilson is the Meadowood BLM facility with horses and miles of additional trails.
For some interesting historical infomation on Camp Wilson see:

Bull Run Regional Park in Centerville VA has youth group camping at two sites that can each accommodate 35 campers and is adjacent to the family campground. These camp areas are served by a restroom with flush toilets, hot & cold water, showers, and laundry facilities. Bull Run Park is the trailhead for the 18 mile Bull Run/Occoquan Trail (Blue Trail). Coming this summer Bull Run will also feature Atlantis Waterpark, as well as playgrounds, open fields, and the Bull Run Shooting Center with skeet, trap, and archery.

Our newest youth group camping area is Blue Ridge Regional Park in western Loudoun County not far from Bear's Den and the Appalachian Trail. This site is more primitive than the other, and perfect for that authentic outdoor experience. The amenities include a well with potable water, porta-jon, central pavilion with stone fireplace, camp sites with fire rings, picnic tables, and level tent areas. This site also features fantastic views, and a growing trail network. There are three group areas, each can accommodate 35 campers.

All of these group camp areas must be reserved in advance by calling 703-352-5900.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

World Class Lifeguards

The first wave of lifeguard training is starting in preparation for the summer season. About six years ago the Regional Park Authority reviewed all the available lifeguard training programs available and selected NASCO as the most rigorous program in the nation. NASCO focuses on training, certification and auditing for large waterparks where the need for safety and professionalism is high.

Our guards go through 16 hours of in-class training and 8-10 hours of in-water training. This is just the first step. Once certified they are all tested a second time by a different team of instructors to make sure the have mastered all the material. Once they are a guard they receive on-going training on a weekly basis and are regularly audited, to make sure they are scanning completely, quickly, are demonstrating the right posture and have all of their equipment at hand.

Having witness the high degree of professionalism and attention of our guards vs. the guards at many community pools, there is no comparison. The NASCO standards also dictate the number of guards on duty, the amount of pool area they are guarding and the rotation of stations so they stay fresh and attentive while on duty.

We should all be very proud of the young people who take on a summer job with this level of responsibility. For the last several years all of NVRPA waterparks have received NASCO's highest safety ranking of "World Class."

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Paddling the Bull Run

The following is an e-mail sent by Jim Zawlocki to a group of kayakers after a paddle trip last weekend on the Bull Run to both enjoy the Spring and see the Bluebells and other natural wonders. OWL is the Occoquan Watertrail League, a great paddling group that is supported by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

"The OWL Bull Run Virginia Bluebell Paddle was 8.4 miles and lasted for 3.5 hours . We saw many birds and waterfowl along the paddle. The great blue heron, grey heron, kingfisher, mallards, Canadian geese, and birds of prey were present. Beaver, deer, and turtles were enjoying the bluebells too. The bluebells were in their glory as Bull Run creek narrows with trees arching overhead . I saw the bluebells last year and knew it was a unique place to paddle. It was great to share a place I love to paddle and relax with paddlers new to the area. Our founding fathers thought the same when the first saw the bluebells in the Virginia colonies. John Banister in the late 1600s was the first to describe the bluebells. Thomas Jefferson described the bluebells as "blueish funnel flowers". So, we were able to enjoy history, flowers, a fantastic paddle, and great company. Thanks NVPRA for making the paddle possible. I hope you enjoy the pictures."


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Preserving History

Preserving history is a critical part of the mission of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. One way we are doing that right now, is the stabilization and partial restoration of the Country Mill at Aldie Mill.

While the main Merchant Mill at Aldie Mill is fully restored and operational, the small and likely older mill building was in need of repair. So we have hired a specialty firm that is strengthening and restoring part of this building. It has stood on this site for 200 years, and we want it to be there for another 200 years.

Last year we put a new, historically correct roof on the Carlyle House in Old Town Alexandria. It is all a part of being good stewards of history, just as we strive to be good stewards of nature.

In addition to just preserving history and nature, we also try to educate the public about these resources. As part of our strategic plan we have incorporated environmental and/or historical interpretation into every one of our parks. One of the newer additions to the Aldie site are two interpretive signs that tell the story of the Battle of Aldie in 1863, courtesy of the Civil War Trail Association.

Earth Day

Happy Earth Day everyone.

Earth Day started as an annual celebration in 1970. Interest in the day fell in the late 1970's and 1980's, and then it received a major boost with the 20th anniversary of the day in 1990, which featured large celebrations around the country. Hopefully since that time, Earth Day had transformed from a once a year event into a new way of looking at all of our actions throughout the year.

In public opinion polling the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority did in 2007 the public showed there interest in parks with the following results:

80% of the public used parks.

77% had a high need for trails.

The best way to spend public dollars to improve parks, was to buy more land for protection of natural areas.

A poll by the Trust for Public Land ( a few years ago showed similar results which included:

84% of voters though it was "Very Important" to buy land to protect drinking water.

79% said "conservation issues" were very important to their voting.

In addition to offering great parks for the public to enjoy and reconnect with nature, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has been trying to set a good environmental example in what we do.

  • NVRPA was the first park agency to adopt the Cool Counties/Cool Cities pledge to reduce greenhouse gasses. We now have energy conservation plan in place at each park and track our energy consumption and convert it to both btu and carbon emissions.

  • NVRPA was the first park agency to have its golf courses certified as Wildlife Sanctuaries by Audubon International, an extensive year long effort.

  • NVRPA has worked with the EPA and others to develop a cutting edge policy on fertilizer and pesticide use in all of our parks.

  • NVRPA is working on our first LEED certified building, a visitor center for Temple Hall Farm Regional Park.

In a study we did of the organizational culture of the Regional Park Authority we found that an overwhelming majority of our employees have come to work here out of a love of the outdoors. The focus on the environment is rooting deep in the DNA of this organization. This love of nature started with the founding of the organization 50 years ago and the great conservationist like Walter Mess and Ira Gabrielson who founded it.

Ira Gabrielson, first Chief of the US Fish & Wildlife Service and the first Chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is one of just 25 American to be inducted into the Conservation Hall of Fame.

Image of Dr. Ira Gabrielson releasing a duck

Friday, April 03, 2009

It is time to start peddling

As the weather warms up, it is a great time to think about riding your bike more. Have you ever considered riding your bike to work? If that is too far, think about riding you bike to a closer designation like a local store to run an errand. Increasing how often you ride your bike can be good for you and good for our environment.

Biking Facts: Did You Know?

  • 5 reasons to bike your drive

  • The average person loses 13 pounds their first year of commuting by bike.

  • 40% of all car trips in the U.S. are made within 2 miles of home.

  • 60% of the pollution created by autos happens in the first few minutes of operation, before pollution control devices can work effectively.

  • Just 3 hours of biking per week can reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke by 50%.

  • The U.S. could save 462 million gallons of gas a year by boosting bicycle trips just half a percentage point: from 1% to 1.5% of all trips.

REI recently put up a new page on their web site that offers good advice on increasing your bike riding. It has everything from safety tips, to cycling myths, to bike maintenance, and of course what kind of gear to consider. It is a great resource to look at if you have considered riding more, you can find it at:

If your biking route includes parts of Fairfax County, Virginia there is a relatively new set of maps that show all the best bike routes. Your can download these maps at:

And of course I would not be doing my job if I did not mention that one of the best bike routes in the world is the W&OD Trail that stretches for 45 miles through Northern Virginia. As a former rail road bed it is relatively flat and straight, which makes for great cycling.

Happy cycling!