Thursday, December 19, 2013

NVRPA and Alexandria's Strategic Plan

How the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority
Connects with the City of Alexandria’s Strategic Plan

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) has its own 5-year Strategic Plan that was adopted in 2012.  NVRPA’s plan is a living document that is strongly integrated into its annual budget and guides all programs and activities of the Authority. One of the major focuses of NVRPA over the last decade has been to become a strategic plan focused organization. This transformation has lead to great growth and development of the organization, and greater value for the public.

8 minute video on NVRPA's Strategic Plan:

While the City of Alexexandria's plan was developed primarily to guide the activities of City government, below are some of the ways that NVRPA actions are supporting the goals of the City.

Alexandria's Strategic Plan:

Goal #1
Alexandria has quality development and redevelopment, support for local businesses and a strong, diverse and growing local economy.

NVRPA’s two parks in the City, Carlyle House in Old Town, and Cameron Run/Great Waves on Eisenhower Avenue, are both economic engines for the City.
·         One of the City goals is to “increase the appeal of King Street and the Waterfront to shoppers and diners.” As a major historic tourist attraction in Old Town, the Carlyle House Historic Park contributes greatly to the historic charm of this area that draws so many visitors.  For 2014, the Carlyle House is projected to attract 16,700 visitors who might otherwise not be patronizing Old Town shops.
·         Cameron Run/Great Waves is considered to be one of the top waterpark attractions in the greater metropolitan area.  As such, this waterpark attracts 92,000 visitors each year.  While many of these visitors are from Alexandria, many other visitors from other parts of the region are coming to this attraction in Alexandria and are spending money in the community contributing to the tourism economy.  Some of the economic results of this include:
o   Over 60 local people find summer employment at Great Waves.
o   Many local contractors benefit from the purchase of all sorts of supplies needed to run this operation.

 Goal #2
Alexandria respects, protects and enhances the health of its citizens and the quality of its natural environment.

While the two NVRPA parks in Alexandria are urban in nature, NVRPA has over 11,000 acres in the Northern Virginia region, with about 90% of this land being in a natural state.  As a result of this, Alexandria citizens not only benefit from cleaner air and water, but are able to camp, hike, fish and enjoy wonderful natural places within easy range of the City.  All the drinking water for Alexandria comes from the Occoquan Reservoir, which is protected by nearly 4,000 acres of NVRPA parkland.

 Goal #3
A multimodal transportation network that supports sustainable land use and provides internal mobility and regional connectivity for Alexandrians.

Connected to Alexandria via City trails, is the W&OD Trail, owned and operated by NVRPA.  This 45-mile paved trail is the central spine of the bike trail network in Northern Virginia, and its trailhead in Shirlington is accessed by many Alexandria cyclists.

Cameron Run/Great Waves is connect with a well-used bike path, and is within a short distance of two Metro Stations. Carlyle House is in the highly walkable Old Town area with good bus service available.

Goal #4
Alexandria is a community that supports and enhances the well-being, success and achievement of children, youth and families.

At Cameron Run/Great Waves, over 60 local youth get meaningful summer employment.  In many cases, this is a first-time work experience for these young people.  From this summer employment, they learn skills for life, and are part of a safe and structured environment during the summer.

Starting in the summer of 2013 and going forward, the Carlyle House is offering an educationally rich summer camp experiences for young children.  Also at the Carlyle House, over 1,400 local school children are participating in  field trips that are tied to the Standards of Leaning.

Goal #5
Alexandria is financially sustainable, efficient, community oriented and values its employees.

NVRPA follows the City’s focus on sound financial management.  For the last six years, NVRPA has received both the ‘Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting’ and the ‘Distinguished Budget Presentation Award’ from the Government Finance Officers Association.

NVRPA puts a great deal of attention on developing diverse funding sources.  As a result of this focus, the percentage of operating funding that comes to NVRPA from Alexandria and the other five member jurisdictions has gone down annually.  Currently, only 16% of the operating revenues come from the member jurisdictions, with the remaining 84% being generated by a wide variety of self-funded enterprise operations.

Goal #6
The City protects the safety and security of its residents, businesses, employees and visitors.

With the large number of visitors at Cameron Run/Great Waves, NVRPA regularly hires off-duty Alexandria police officers to provide security and safety on busy days.

Goal #7
Alexandria is a caring and inclusive community that values its rich diversity, history and culture, and promotes affordability.

The Carlyle House is a key part of the attractions that make Old Town a heritage tourism destination center and economic engine for the City.  NVRPA collaborates closely with the City’s Gadsby’s Tavern and Apothecary Museums on programs and marketing focused on historic tourism.

To promote economic accessibility of facilities like Great Waves, NVRPA started a program four years ago that allow youth to work as volunteers and earn credits towards entry to NVRPA fee-based facilities.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Role of Parks in Global Climate Change

Nature is more than Birds and Bunnies
The Role of Parks & Rec in Global Climate Change
By: Paul Gilbert, Executive Director
Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

Parks have always had a role in nature education.  They are where the public goes to experience and learn about the natural world.  Many agencies have nature centers, guided hike or paddling trips, nature-focused summer camps, and more.  But most of those programs and facilities are focused on local flora and fauna (birds and bunnies).  There has always been and will always be some demand for this.  However, if parks and recreation is to remain relevant and important in our communities, we need to address the important issues of today.  And, in the environmental field, nothing is bigger than global climate change.  From extreme weather events to rising sea levels to reduced crop yields, the effects of climate change are front page news.

These planet altering impacts are caused by greenhouse gases like carbon pollution heating our atmosphere.  It may all seem too global to address on a local level, but it is not, and park agencies can be local leaders in promoting sustainability and educating people about what they can do.

Reducing your footprint:

In 2005, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority adopted energy conservation plans for each park.  At the same time, it started tracking its carbon footprint.  Using the accounting system, instead of just recording utility costs, it also recorded units of consumption for all fuels, so it could calculate its carbon footprint.  Every year, the facility that had the greatest reduction in energy consumption is recognized and awarded at an all staff meeting.

Results: While carbon emissions in 2012 were virtually the same as in 2005, our park system has grown dramatically from 19 to 25 parks and from $10 to 16 million in enterprise revenues.  With enterprise revenues as a good measure of activity, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has been able to go from 350 tons of carbon per $1 million of enterprise revenue to just 235 tons.  That indicates a great increase in efficiency!

How it was achieved: While many methods were used, the real answer to how it was achieves is the same answer to how anything is achieved…Focus.  In all aspects of life you will go where you place your focus.  In this case, focus has meant tracking results, creating plans and making many small decisions that collectively move you in the direction you want.  These small steps include:
·         Having a policy that the “life cycle costs” of any energy consuming system is considered.  This means that you may not buy the cheapest equipment if that equipment uses more energy in the long run.
·         Addressing “low hanging fruit” like lighting and insulation to improve the energy consumption of existing buildings.
·         Building new structures with green building elements that improve efficiency.
·         Using a wide range of technologies like geothermal heat pumps, electric and hybrid vehicles, solar panels and programmable thermostats.

Educate the Public: Reducing your carbon footprint is just a small part of the answer for park and recreation organizations.  At least as important is our role in educating the public, so they can learn how to be more sustainable in their lives too.

In 2009, Potomac Overlook Regional Park in Arlington Virginia revamped its aging nature center.  The new center has an energy theme throughout the exhibits, from the solar power that creates plant life, throughout the whole chain of life up to humans and how we use energy.  This center connects how we live to all the life on our planet.  It is a different approach from the dusty, taxidermied beavers of traditional nature centers.  And it is an approach that connects nature to people in more relevant ways.

In 2013 the two all LED holiday light shows that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority operates will have renewable energy credits purchased to offset their power consumption. This initiative has come from a sponsorship deal with Dominion Power for the light show. This is yet another opportunity to educate the public about carbon footprint and sustainability.

Park agencies have always had a key role in connecting people to the natural world.  In a world where our natural environment is changing rapidly as a result of climate change, we need to change just as fast in how we connect with the public on these issues and offer leadership in how to be part of the solution.

Monday, November 18, 2013

Healthy Government Retirement Plan

Government based retirement plans are sometime in the news, and rarely in a good light. So here is some good news! Since 2008 the retirement plan run by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) has grown its assets by over 75%. That works out to an average of 15% per year for that period.

The reason this is important is that more than half of our operating expense for a park system is the cost of people (employees). And a significant percentage of the cost of a full time employee is the contribution that the organization provides to that retirement plan each year to offset a future withdraws someday when that employee is retired.

Here are some facts that help to explain why this plan is healthy while others are still trying to recover from the hit in value that resulted from the recession:

  • NVRPA employees contribute 5% of there pre-tax income to the plan.
  • There is an actuary study done on the plan every year to determine what the contribution should be. This is essentially an outside audit of our assets and obligations, and how they balance out over time.
  • The plan Trustees have worked to diversify the range of investments working with our third party plan advisers.
  • Several times during the worst days of the recession (2009 - 2010) the NVRPA Board wisely invested additional funds after extensive study to shore up the plan. These investments when the value of stocks was low may prove to be one of the best long-term financial decisions made by the Board.
The financial health of any organization has a direct and powerful affect on the ability of that organization to achieve its mission. So if you appreciate open space, natural resources protection, history, and fabulous destination parks, you need to also support the financial health and vitality of park systems like NVRPA.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Expanding Parkland!

Anne Webb (former owner) and Lisa Alexander (Executive Director of ANS) at the Webb Sanctuary

More parkland is always a great thing, and I am pleased to announce that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has recently added 4 new properties to our portfolio of parkland! The new additions bring our total acreage up to 11,262!

·         Many people know that the Rust Sanctuary in Leesburg was added by way of a long-term lease. We celebrated this addition of 68 acres with an open house at the end of September. This is a partnership with Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS).

·         In addition to Rust another part of our partnership with ANS is the addition of the Webb Sanctuary a 20 property in Clifton. We just added Webb Sanctuary as a new NVRPA property last week!

·         Mt. Defiance is the central property for the Battle of Middleburg. We have been working on this deal for some time, but just this week we acquired ownership of this property from the Civil War Trust. This gives us another important piece of Civil War history.

·         At Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park, across from Mt. Zion a 66 acre property that we have been leasing from the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC) will be owned by us next week. Kate Rudacille successfully put together many different federal and state grants, so that our investment in this property will be less than 10% of the value, a remarkable accomplishment!

In addition to these great successes, we have a number of other great land acquisition deals in the works that will continue to grow our base of parkland in the region. I look forward to being able to announce more good acquisition news in the months ahead.

An important measure of success for any park agency is growth. Like the trees in our forests you are either in a state of growth or a state of decline. We should all take pride that the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority continues to grow and develop in wonderful ways! We measure this success and growth in many ways: new and improved facilities, and programs, number of users, customer service, and expanding revenue to support the agency and our mission. All of these measures are important, but growth of parkland is one measure of success that almost everyone can appreciate. This gets to the core of why we are here, to conserve land for current and future generations.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Great Success at VRPS Conference

The annual Virginia Recreation and Parks Society conference just concluded and was a great success. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority sent 9 people this year to learn and share information on the latest trends in our field.

We walked away with top honors in best renovation/addition for communities of over 100,000 for creating what many see as the best mountain bike trail system on the East Coast, which is at Fountainhead Regional Park.

The complete re-design and construction of the mountain bike course at Fountainhead was done in partnership with MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts). As activist mountain bikers the team at MORE was able to envision the ultimate course, and using the already challenging terrain we were able to create a challenging course that attracts mountain bike enthusiasts from great distances to come and experience one of the greatest courses in existence.

Excellence in Motion:
The professional team at the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority includes some of the best in our business. This expertise was on display at the VRPS Conference with many of our internal leaders sharing their knowledge and experience with other in the field. Below is a list of educational sessions that were led by NVRPA team members:

Hosting a Holiday Light Show- strategies for success- Keith Tomlinson and Kate Irwin

Water Trail Development and Management- John Houser

Create a Project Plan in under 60 minutes- John Houser

Developing Successful Teen Volunteer Programs- Casey Pittrizzi

Professional Development- How to take the next step- Blythe Russian

Just being selected to lead such a session is a great honor. The fact that they were all demonstrating the cutting edge thinking in these areas is even better. The work that these and all the other high performing members of the NVRPA team do enhances the lives of millions of people every year. They embody what is best about our region and our field!

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Paddling Tours in Northern Virginia Expand

2013 Paddle Adventures with the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority

Paddle Tours at Algonkian Regional Park

Come paddle the upper reaches of the scenic Potomac River. Paddle among the islands that are stretched out on this beautiful section of the river. Learn about the natural world around you and general ecology of the area. Call 703-450-4655 for reservations (required). Cost: $30 per person.

Saturday Morning Tours (3 hours)

Saturday 5/11 9:00am - 12:00pm

Saturday 6/1 9:00am - 12:00pm

Saturday 6/22 9:00am - 12:00pm

Saturday 7/20 9:00am - 12:00pm

Saturday 8/17 9:00am - 12:00pm

Saturday 9/14 9:00am - 12:00pm

Saturday 10/5 9:00am - 12:00pm

Fall Color Tours (3 hours)

Saturday 10/19 10:00am - 1:00pm

Saturday 10/20 10:00am - 1:00pm

Sunset Tours (2.5 hours)

Saturday 7/13 6:30pm – 9pm (sunset – 8:38pm)

Saturday 8/3 6:30pm – 9pm (sunset – 8:20pm)

Paddle Tours at Fountainhead Regional Park

Enjoy the natural beauty and diverse wildlife of the Occoquan Reservoir. Our friendly park staff guides will lead all groups on a fun and memorable outdoor experience while highlighting natural and historic features unique to the area. Tours are offered for ages 12 & up, 12-15 must be accompanied by an adult. Call Fountainhead Regional Park today to make your reservations (required) at 703-250-9124. Cost is $30 per person.

Sunset Tour Dates:

5/25, 6/9, 6/22, 7/7, 7/20, 8/4 6:30 pm - 9:00 pm

8/25 6:00 pm - 8:30 pm

9/8, 9/21 5:00 pm - 7:30 pm

Moonlight Tour Dates:

6/2, 7/6, 7/21, 8/17 (8:30 pm - 11:00 pm)

9/15 (7:30 pm - 10:00 pm)

9/29 (7:00 pm - 9:30 pm)

Fall Color Tour Dates:

10/27, 11/2 (2:00 pm - 4:30 pm)

Paddle Tours at Pohick Bay Regional Park

Join us for an exciting adventure on the water of Pohick Bay. Explore one of the area’s finest wildlife habitats while enjoying views of bald eagles, great blue herons, ospreys, fish and other wildlife. No experience is necessary! Appropriate for ages 8 and up (8 -15 must be accompanied by an adult). Reservations required by calling 703-339-6104. Cost: $30 per person. Private and group tours available upon request.

Kayak Tours: Meet at Pohick Bay Marina Boat Rentals

Morning Tours: 8 a.m. – noon

Saturdays – 5/11, 9/7

Sundays – 6/9, 7/7, 7/21, 8/11, 10/6

Evening Tours: 5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Saturdays – 5/4, 6/22

Moonlight Tours: Tour times vary as follows

Friday, 4/26 from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday, 5/24 from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Sunday, 6/23 from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday, 8/23 from 7 p.m. – 10 p.m.

Friday, 9/20 from 6 p.m. – 9 p.m.

Canoe Tours: Meet at Pohick Bay Marina Shore Launch Ramp

Morning Tours: 8 a.m.—noon

4/21, 5/19, 6/15, 7/6, 8/31, 10/5

Evening Tours: 5 p.m.—8 p.m.

4/27, 5/25, 6/1, 7/14, 9/15, 9/21, 10/13

Paddle Tours at Occoquan Regional Park

Historic Kayak Tours

led by Occoquan Town Mayor Earnie Porta

Learn about the historic region of the lower Occoquan River and the Town of Occoquan. See dates below.

Belmont Bay Tours

June 22nd & September 14 11am-2pm. Cost is $30 per person.

Tours to the Town of Occoquan: 11 am to 12:30 pm at Occoquan. Cost $10. Tours run the 2nd and 4th Saturday of the Month Beginning May 11 through October 26.

Paddle to Mason Neck

Join our naturalist for a kayak tour to Mason Neck State Park! Call 703-690-2121 for reservations. Cost is $30 per person. Kayak rental included.

Saturday 5/4 9am-1pm & Saturday 10/19 9am-1pm

Manassas Battlefield Historic Paddle

Saturday, May 11. Cost $30. 9 am to 3 pm. Put in at Old Stone Bridge, take out at Blackburns Ford (Rte. 28)

Occoquan Watertrail League (

Occoquan Watertrail League (OWL): Our mission is to work with volunteers, government agencies and land owners to promote resource awareness, encourage environmental stewardship and improve access to the Occoquan Water Trail.

Join us at

Tours in Cooperation with the Chesapeake Paddlers Association

Spring Bluebell Paddle: Sunday, April 14th 1pm

Meet at Bull Run Marina. Cost: $20 per participant to rent kayak. Call Occoquan Regional Park to register at 703-690-2121.

Route 28 Rock Paddle: Saturday, May 18th 1pm

Meet at Bull Run Marina. Cost: $30 per person to rent kayak. Call 703-690-2121 to register.

Fountainhead Fall Paddle: Saturday, October 26. $20 per person


Weather Conditions

Unpredictable weather conditions are to be expected. For late fall and early summer tours particularly, water temperatures can be cold despite warm air temperatures. Please dress appropriately. Guides will assess the weather at the time of the tour. If it is unsafe, the trip will be canceled and your money will be refunded, or your trip rescheduled.

Safety Considerations

Paddling can be fun. However, there are inherent risks involved. Paddling in the water is a strenuous activity. People who do not wish to or are not able to engage in strenuous activity should not participate. Remember, you are responsible for paddling your craft. Please bring a hat, sunscreen, drinking water and clothing that can get wet. Don’t bring any item you don’t want to get wet. (cell phones, cameras, etc.)

Registration Information

Registration is required for all tours. To register for tours, or for general tour information, contact the individual park that is leading the tour. Contact information is listed on the back of this brochure. Cancellation and refund policy varies with each park. Contact the individual park for more information.

Group Tours/Rates

Interested in reserving a private tour for your family, business, school, or scout group? Group tours can be arranged with any of the parks offering paddle tours. Contact the individual park for group rates and more information.

Monday, June 24, 2013

Over 500 acres of new parkland!

The graphic above shows the new park properties that have been added, or are near completion, over the last few years. Part of our Strategic Plan calls on the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to "acquire lans and facilities with national or regional significance throug fee ownership, lease, use agreement or other methods." I believe that acquireing new areas of parkland is one of the most important missions of any park agency. We exist to provide public open space and facilities, to enhanse the value of the whole area.

With many of our sites having historical significance or being regional attractions we also play an important role in our tourism economy. The jurisidictions of Northern Virginia are all generate significat tax revenue from tourism. The underpinning of this large segment of our economy are tourist destinations, and that is what we provide through significant and unique parks.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Rust Manor and Sactuary in Leesburg

The Rust Manor and Nature Sanctuary in Leesburg is one of the new jewels for the Northern Virginia Regioanl Park Authority. Through an innovative partnership with the Audubon Naturalist Society who owns the property, NVRPA has lease the property for the next 40 years.

This is an incredible 68 acre property on the western edge of the Town of Leesburg, with fields, forests, ponds, and a stunning 100 year old mannor house, and elegant new event tent.

Leesburg Magazine Feature on Rust Sancuary including video interview with NVRPA Board Members Joan Rokus and Dan Kaseman from Loudoun County:

A fantastic new web site for Rust Manor can be seen at:

Friday, May 31, 2013

Walter Mess, OSS operative and innovator

The following is a history of the military service of Walter Mess, Founder of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. This is from the "Adventurer's Club of Los Angeles" where he was a featured guest in 2012. Many of these stories I hear Walter tell, but it is interesting to see them all together and in sequence.

Mr. Walter Mess

Some Operatives never live a life like 007. Occasionally one comes around.

At 99 years old and 8 months( He turns 100 on December 20th 2012…) …The legendary Walter Mess was one of General Donovan’s “Best and Brightest” of O.S.S. and particularly O.S.S. Maritime Unit.

A true American treasure and enigma, by 1937 when Mr. Mess played professional football, already spoke several languages and held law and business degrees and a Coast Guard Ships’ “Master” rating which would soon help him on several of his future secret operations. In 1937 -- 4 years prior to the U.S.A. involvement in WW II -- Mess was recruited by Donovan, who at the time was in private law practice, into Donovan’s private OI (Office of Intelligence – the “Blackwater” of its Day) while completing his PhD in Law, at Catholic University at night. There he became one of the United States most private secret agents.

By 1938 – Mess was trained by the British and then dropped into Czechoslovakia where he walked out to the Adriatic with four 13-15 yr olds for training in the USA & reinsertion as USA agents. Mess also set up interaction with the British Station Chief & Tito. (One of those boys became USA Ambassador to Slovakia in recent years.)

In 1939 - Again flown by RAF into Poland on similar mission - Brought out three more young men.

In Nov `41 into US Army for COI (pre O.S.S. training) Pulled from OCS to repeat `37-`38 missions.

In 1942 things really started to heat up. Working at COI, Mess ventured to the Philippines on a mission by submarine. Later that year, he was in Morocco with the then new (O.S.S.) team to resupply a team to bring more gold to buy off the Vichy French to insure the French would not shoot at U.S. troops upon landing in operation Torch!

Late 1942 / early 1943 - Mess attended Boat training in the Gulf Mexico the Florida Keys and Cuba on his Army Air crash Sea rescue boat P-564 which would later become the O.S.S. Maritime units’ Flotilla operating in the China Burma India Theater. Mess repaired the cracked hull of a “Liberty ship” in Anchorage Alaska. O.S.S. boats P-564 & 563 loaded in San Diego liberty ship. Mess was the ship's Captain across the South Pacific to Ceylon via Sydney & Calcutta.

In late 1943 he commenced ultra classified OSS MU ops in the Bay of Bengal against Jap forces. Mess became an official O.S.S. operative and MU’s senior “flotilla officer commander” of O.S.S. Maritime Unit Operations in Burma, India and Thailand. As senior flotilla officer for O.S.S. SEAC MU operations, Mess’s O.S.S. air crash sea rescue (PT) Boat P-564 numbered over 36 missions with P 564 across the Bay of Bengal for official O.S.S. MU operations ferrying OG and Operational Swimmer teams; Also returned over 220 downed pilots & crewmen from 3 E&E pickup points on Burma coast.

In Apr 1944 he became primary boat for Dr Lambertsen & swimmers for combat evaluation of system & then swimmers became integral part of O.S.S. OG (operational groups) and SI (secret intelligence missions. These missions included many of the firs underwater.

This did not include the Occasional interruptions for special individual missions for the Viceroy of India, Lord Louis Mountbatten head of the British SOE and is O.S.S. Swimmer counterpart, the SRU.

In 1945 when the Japanese were eliminated from the Burma Coast, P-564 ["Jeanie"] no longer needed. Walter transferred to O.S.S. Det. 404 and assisted with air support missions to O.S.S. teams in the interior of Burma and Thailand. He made 10-15 + parachute jumps, including leading 30-50 Kachins (Burmese Highlanders) on 7 jumps to clear 7 landing strips for Air Ops.

Mr. Mess had over 100 secret operations under his leadership—many unbelievable—all very classified missions. Mr. Mess is a tireless, vigorous and stalwart example of the MU leadership General Donovan envisioned and is a lasting pioneer for all modern day U.S. Navy, Coastguard, Marine Corps and law enforcement, maritime , Special Boat unit operations and Air Force Special Tactics Squadron missions which American Treasure O.S.S. pioneer Walter Mess squarely left his foot print on.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Korean Bell Garden Anniversary

Saturday May 25th 350 people helped the Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Gardens celebrated its first anniversary. This unique garden has as a central feature a large cast iron bell made in Korea, and numerous other structures made by artists from Korea. In concert with Korean trees and plants, this makes an environment similar what would have been found during the Joseon Dynasty.

The Connection Newspapers covered the one year anniversay of the Korean Bell Garden:

L-R: Delegates Tom Rust, and Mark Keem, Senator Janet Howell, and Delegates Barbara Comstock and David Bulova

Supervisor Penny Gross

Taditional Dress
NVRPA Treasurer David Pritzker welcomes everyone
Paul Gilbert, Jeung Hwa Elmejjad-Yi, Hynae Shin
Harmony Hall

Drum Dancers

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Walter Mess leaves lasting legacy

Founder of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority leaves lasting legacy after 100 years

Walter L. Mess, who established the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority and was a member of its Board for more than 45 years, passed away on Sunday, May 26, at the age of 100. During his more than four decades on the NVRPA Board, the agency preserved over 10,000 acres of land.

I am humbled to be the current chair of NVRPA, knowing that Walter Mess chaired the Park Authority Board for 30 years,” said Brian Knapp, current Chairman of the NVPRA Board. “His vision, leadership, and his commitment to parks, trails, outdoor recreation and open space will be forever enduring.”

Walter Mess in the center on the deck of the boat he commanded
Mr. Mess grew up in Alexandria with a passion for outdoor adventures like hunting, fishing, hiking and boating, which he did throughout the region. In 1939, before the U.S. had entered World War II, he was recruited by a professor at Georgetown Law School to join the British Secret Service. His mission was to parachute into Nazi-controlled areas of Poland and Czechoslovakia to organize and train resistance fighters. When the U.S. entered the war, he joined the Office of Strategic Services (OSS; predecessor to the CIA) and conducted commando missions into North Africa prior to the Allied invasion. He later was sent to Asia where he commanded a speed boat (similar to a PT Boat) in operations in and around Burma. Decades later, he was given an honorary Green Beret status for his bravery and innovation in special operations.

Interestingly, it was via his military service that Mr. Mess was inspired to create a future park agency in his home state. While stationed in San Diego, California, he visited Balboa Park, a 1,200-acre urban park that was used as a Navy base during the war. Seeing this great park influenced his actions for years to come.

Upon returning from WWII, he worked for nearly 10 years to get state authorization to form a regional park system, while he built local support for the concept throughout the region. In 1959, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority was born with the support of Falls Church, Fairfax County and Arlington County. By 1961, Bull Run Regional Park was established with 537 acres. Just 10 years later, NVRPA had over 4,000 acres. By the time Mr. Mess stepped down from the Park Authority Board, it had over 10,000 acres. During his tenure on the Board, the Authority also expanded to include the Cities of Alexandria and Fairfax as well as Loudoun County. As a Regional Park Agency with six member jurisdictions, NVRPA is unique in Virginia.

In 2005 Mr. Mess said, “our whole idea was to protect the watershed and give people access to the water.” Always modest, he was quick to add: “this whole thing [NVRPA] … I’m being given credit for [something] I didn’t do; the people around me did.”

While Walter Mess loved the many waterparks, golf courses, historic sites, campgrounds, marinas and other facilities of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, he was most proud of the W&OD Trail. The first section of the W&OD Trail was established in 1974 in his home town of Falls Church by NVRPA, and over the next 10 years it expanded to its current 45-mile length.

Barry Buschow, an NVRPA Board representative from the City of Falls Church, remembers Walter Mess as an extremely active member of the local community, who worked tirelessly to donate his time wherever possible. “Having grown up in Falls Church just around the corner from Walter, I really didn’t get to know him until 23 years ago when I applied to be on the NVRPA Board from the City of Falls Church. What I learned about him shaped the rest of my life,” Buschow said. “Starting in 1946, Walter began volunteering his time, expertise and elbow grease to acquire land for city streets. He was a member of many different boards and organizations, and founded so many different successful causes, from raising money for athletic fields to personally building bookcases for the local library.”

In 1999, Mr. Mess was honored when the NVRPA headquarters building in Fairfax Station was officially dedicated as the Walter Mess Building. He would step down from the Authority’s Board in 2004, and was elected Chairman Emeritus. Since that time, he had served on the Board of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation, the non-profit that raises money to support the mission of the Authority.

"Walter was a pretty hard guy to summarize, but one trait that always impressed me was his boundless enthusiasm for life and all of its challenges and opportunities," said William Baskin, member of the Regional Park Foundation. "It was impossible not to notice and admire this. I will miss him. Walter, I'll see you when the roses bloom again."

“Our friend and long-time colleague, Walter Mess, had a dream – the preservation of unspoiled areas of natural beauty and places of historic significance for the enjoyment of Northern Virginians far into the future,” said NVRPA Board member David Pritzker from the City of Alexandria. “ Through more than a half century of inspiration, political acumen and just plain hard work, Walter achieved that dream and lived to see the success of the legacy he created for all of us.”

Walter was married for 62 years to his wife Jean, who passed away in 2002, and had four children and ten grandchildren.

“Considering that each year there are millions of uses of the Regional Park System that Walter helped create, few if any have left the kind of lasting legacy that Walter Mess has. He will be remembered and missed by all who knew him,” remarked Paul Gilbert, NVRPA Executive Director.

Donations in honor of Walter Mess can be sent to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation (NVRPF) at 5400 Ox Road, Fairfax Station, VA 22039.

“There is much more to this story and the man we know and love as Walter,” remarked Barry Buschow. “ He was always there with a helping hand and a pipe, with words of advice. Northern Virginia will miss him as the father of Regional Parks and the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park (W&OD). His community will miss him as he was one of our great leaders, and I will miss him as one of my best friends.”

Friday, May 03, 2013

Furloughed to Fairways

In response to the widespread furloughs of federal employees in our area, this week we announced a special program to offer these federal workers a special deal to make it easier for them to play golf on some of those days that they will be forced to take off. Below are some of the media links for those the have helped spread the news about this program:

Federal Daily:

The Weekly Standard:

Leesburg Today:

FCW - federal tech executives

Richmond Times Dispatch:

ABC 13:

Both WTOP and WMAL radio have also covered this story.

Furloughed to Fairways:
Thousands of area federal employees will be furloughed on certain days between April and September this year as a result of the Federal Sequester. In response, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) is offering a special deal for those furloughed federal employees who enjoy the outdoors and a good round of golf.

Starting on the first day of May, federal employees will be able to play any one of the three courses owned by NVRPA for just $25. This deal, which is about 30% off the regular greens fee, will be honored Monday through Thursday after 10 A.M. Federal employees must bring a civilian federal employee ID to the course to take advantage of the deal, which is targeted at furloughed employees.

“We greatly appreciate the federal employees who are so important to our region, and we want to show our solidarity with those public servants who enjoy the sport of golf," remarked Brian Knapp, Chairman of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. "It is very unfortunate that these federal employees are being impacted in this fashion. In a small way, we wish to thank them for their contributions to our local communities and our nation, and welcome them to visit our three beautiful golf courses.”

The Park Authority has three golf courses conveniently located throughout Northern Virginia, including Algonkian Golf Course in Sterling, Brambleton Golf Course in Ashburn, and Pohick Bay Golf Course in Lorton. Contact information for each course appears at the end of this release.

“NVRPA is giving a real morale boost to furloughed workers. To me, it’s more than just the golf discount-through Furlough to Fairways, NVRPA is showing that the Northern Virginia community supports us,” said Ted McCleskey, civilian employee with the Department of Defense.

The Department of Defense, the Federal Aviation Authority, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Management and Budget and many other departments will be sending workers home on a regular basis (often weekly) as a result of the Sequester.

"Co-workers may want to use this unique opportunity to play golf together during the week at prices that are not normally available," commented Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of NVRPA.

The three courses that this special offer applies to are:

Pohick Bay Golf Course
10301 Gunston Road, Lorton, VA 22079
T: 703-339-8585

Algonkian Golf Course
47001 Fairway Drive Sterling, VA 20165
T: 703-450-4655

Brambleton Golf Course
42180 Ryan Rd., Ashburn, VA 20148
T: 703-327-3403

Monday, April 29, 2013

Arbor Day - Earth Day in Fairfax County

Saturday was Springfest a joint Earth day and Arbor day celebration in Fairfax County. The event was very well attended and took place at both the Lorton Workhouse Arts Center and Occoquan Regional Park. While there were displays from many environmental organization and activities, the highlight of the event centered on trees.

Fairfax County won their 30th annual Tree City USA designation for good urban forestry, and many of the County Board of Supervisors were on hand to mark that accomplishment.

Fairfax County Supervisors:
Gerry Hyland, Penny Gross, Sharon Bulova, Jeff McKay, Linda Smyth
At Occoquan Regional Park, we were planting more trees. Below is a list of the trees added on Saturday to an already beautiful park. These native trees were selected to provide a variety of natural habitat.

7 Black gum

2 American beech

4 Serviceberry

4 Loblolly pine

3 Eastern red cedar

3 River birch

2 'Appalachian Spring' dogwood
1 Eastern Redbud

One of the key goals of our current five year strategic plan is to "expand riparian buffers by planting trees or creating no-mow zones along waterways to enhance water quality and wildlife habitat."   This spring has been a big one for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority with about 7,000 new trees going into your regional parks!
Tree Planting at Occoquan Regional Park

Monday, April 15, 2013

Reducing our Carbon Footprint

Reducing the carbon footprint of an organization is not easy. It is not about just one thing, whether that be changing lighting, or getting fuel efficient vehicles, it is about a holistic approach and long-term attention.

In 2006 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority was the first park agency to sign on to the Cool Cities/Cool Counties goal of reducing the carbon footprint of our agency. The local governments that have signed up with these efforts have voluntarily pledged to reduce their carbon footprint over time, an effort that will help us address the root causes of global climate change.

As a natural resource agency we see the impact of sever climate in a very direct way. The freakish derecho storm with hurricane force winds that hit Northern Virginia last July caused significant damage throughout the parks. The 2009 December and 2010 January snow storms that crippled the mid-Atlantic had a major impact on our operations. When major storms of one kind or another hit they have a large impact on parks and park operation. And these storms are becoming more frequent as a result of global climate change.

With the signing of the Cool Cities/Cool Counties pledge, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority initiated a number of steps that have been effective. We started tracking all of our energy consumption (building, vehicles, everything) and reporting it monthly to all of our facility managers. We also instituted an annual recognition for the facility with the greatest percentage of energy reduction. These efforts raised the profile of energy consumption and rewarded success.

We also had every facility come up with a site specific energy conservation plan. We passed a policy that looked at ‘life cycle costs’ rather than just purchasing based on lowest price. This life cycle cost focus helps factor energy consumption into any purchasing decision. Since 2006 we have added electric utility vehicles to 5 parks, we have replace worn out cars with hybrid vehicles when possible, and we have built our first LEED building that won a Gold Certificate. All of these steps have helped. We currently employ a wide range of alternative energy technologies from solar, to geothermal. Our two holiday light shows use all LED lighting, and our nature center at Potomac Overlook is an energy focused education center (another first in our field).

What has also happened since 2006 is that our operations have grown rapidly. We have gone from 20 to 25 regional parks, our enterprise operations which contribute 84% of our operating revenues have grown by over 30% which is a measure of greatly expanded usage and activity within our parks.

So what are the results?

We convert all of our energy usage into tons of CO2 carbon emissions, so we know exactly what our carbon footprint is. And for 2012 our carbon footprint was just about equal with energy usage we had in 2005 and 2006. This same total usage is great news considering the expansion of our system and growth in usage!

One way to look at carbon output in relationship with overall usage in the parks is to look at tons of carbon per Million dollars in enterprise revenue. In this calculation enterprise revenue is a measure of overall park usage.

More on Cool Cities:

More on Cool Counties:

Our latest energy conservation awards went to the following parks:

Brian Knapp, NVRPA Chair, Stella Koch, NVRPA Vice Chair, Brad Jackson, Fountainhead, Matt White, Sandy Run, Paul Giblert, NVRPA Executive Director
Fountainhead, Sandy Run and Bull Run Marina -25.58 %

Brambleton Golf Course -14.24%

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens -12.22%

Thursday, April 11, 2013

2013 Empoyee Achievement Awards

This week we held our annual 'All-Staff Meeting.' This meeting is one of the few times that all the full time employees, and some of the part time employees, get together to review the business of the Park Authority. We have presentations from each department on the major accomplishments of the last year and hear about some of the big goals for the coming year.

The highlight of this gathering is always the Employee Achievement Awards. Employees nominate co-workers in a number of categories and in the nomination tell the story of what they did to merit the award. A cross functional team of employees is pulled together each year to review the nominations and make the selections. Each year these awards help highlight some of the many great accomplishments that help drive the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority forward. Below are the results from this year.

(In most photos from left to right: Brian Knapp, NVRPA Chairman, Stella Koch, NVRPA Vice Chairman, Award Recipient, Paul Gilbert, NVRPA Executive Director)

Service Award for 25 years with NVRPA:

Ed Ambrosone
Ed Ambrosone has been an amazing asset, and team player for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority for 25 years. His great skills have benefited all of the parks in the system through his work with Central Maintenance.

Employee Achievment Awards:

(Mark was not present to accept his award)
Mark Whaley has achieved recognition in the area of Above-and-Beyond. Faced with many challenges over the past year, including the loss of several key employees, extensive damage to the park as a result of the derecho and a fire that claimed the park’s maintenance facility, Mark continued to provide superior leadership to staff and dedication to NVRPA. Mark’s great efforts meant the visiting public would always find the park as they expected, well maintained and managed.

Dennis Rust
Dennis Rust has achieved recognition in the area of Team Player.  Dennis continues to be a vital part of NVRPA’s overall success.  Dennis is often asked to balance the everyday needs of the NVRPA system with the complex and challenging maintenance issues that come about, and he does this in a timely and detailed manner with exceptional results.  This keeps the NVRPA facilities available and safe for the public to enjoy
Ben Bilko
  Ben Bilko has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. In the absence of a full-time Park Manager at Upton Hill, Ben stepped in to provide support to the Upton staff while continuing to manage the busy operations of Cameron Run. This role required Ben to spend significant time at Upton or in consultation with staff to assist with the park and waterpark operations. The result of Ben’s hard work was a safe and successful year at both Cameron Run and Upton Hill.
Clint Bennett
  Clint Bennett has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. Clint has taken an active interest in planning, designing and improving many aspects of the garden, in addition to his normal duties. Clint consistently displays a willingness to take on special projects, including the redesign and execution of the rock garden project. These qualities and skills make Clint a valuable asset to Meadowlark Botanical Gardens.

Dale Hook
  Dale Hook has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player.  In addition to Dale’s normal duties handling the front desk, she is always quick to take on new projects with great results.  These projects have included coordinating reservations and customer payments for numerous special events and managing promotional sales of seasonal offerings and passes.  This has resulted in a great “easy to use” system for our customers and an increase in our overall revenue.
Seth Fleming
  Seth Fleming has achieved recognition in the area of Above-and-Beyond. Recognizing the need for a garden as exceptional as the Bell Pavilion itself, Seth took the lead on the design and implementation of the planting and landscape plans for the Korean Bell Garden project. Seth researched and obtained the proper plants, shrubs and trees to help create a well landscaped garden that was ready in time for the Grand Opening.

Laurelyn Rawson
Laurelyn Rawson has achieved recognition in the area of Safety. Laurelyn has successfully cultivated a “safety first” approach at the Bull Run Shooting Center. Laurelyn was instrumental in assessing the existing safety rules of the range and worked hard to improve their wording and presentation throughout the range. Laurelyn also created a program that provides certification training for all range safety officers, improving the overall safety of the facility.
Kelly Koster
Kelly Koster has achieved recognition is the area of Above-and-Beyond. Kelly assumed the day-to-day management of Upton Hill Regional Park in the absence of a full-time Park Manager. This responsibility extended throughout the entire waterpark season and included such things as the derecho and participation in the World’s Largest Swim Lesson. Kelly handled these responsibilities with superior leadership and a “can do” attitude.
Brent Hodnett
Brent Hodnett has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. Brent has held the positions of Roving Park Naturalist and Park Specialist over the last year. Brent has taken on each of these very different roles with passion and a willingness to learn. Brent is constantly looking for ways to make himself and in turn NVRPA better. Brent’s enthusiastic approach and readiness to take on new challenges is a valuable asset to NVRPA.
Chris Liebermann
Chris Liebermann has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. Chris was an instrumental part in the overall success of the new Winter Walk of Lights event. Chris’ planning, implementation and management of several key aspects of the show were extraordinary. Chris’ leadership and ability to take on such a large and important piece of the show led to the flawless delivery of this first-year event.

Casey Pittrizzi
Casey Pittrizzi has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Programming. Casey filled in admirably after the retirement of the full-time park manager, which required him to oversee all aspects of the park’s management for several months. From a programming perspective, Casey continues to provide public programs that challenge the norm. These programs are well received for their exceptional content and approach to learning.
Tammy Burke
Tammy Burke has achieved recognition in the area of Above-and-Beyond. Tammy’s management of the Atrium gardens, both inside and out, provides the visitor with a fresh and ever changing visual experience. Tammy’s creativity continues outside the growing season with the installation of elaborate seasonal d├ęcor that transforms the Atrium into a “must see” destination for holiday parties and events.
John Moore
John Moore has achieved recognition in the area of Innovation. John created a vision for a full service retail store for the annual corn maize operation. Utilizing space inside the new visitor center, John created Temple Hall’s own Country Store. John’s work included the purchasing of new retail displays and appropriate inventory. This new operation led to a dramatic increase in retail sales over the previous years.
Kate Rudacille
Kate Rudacille has achieved recognition in the areas of Cost Savings and Versatility. In addition to Kate’s other duties in the planning and development department, she has successfully obtained more than $1 million in grant funding to go towards such projects as the purchase of additional acreage for Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park, the Fountainhead Regional Park mountain bike trail and the purchase of the Jackson House property near Ball’s Bluff Battlefield.
Kim McCleskey
Kim McCleskey has achieved recognition in the area of “Internal” Customer Service. Kim has the ability to clearly explain and interpret budget information across all levels of staff. Kim is patient and insightful with her explanations and continues to take on whatever role is needed to ensure NVRPA’s budget is a useful, easy to understand tool for those inside and outside of the organization.
Andy Kaganowich
Andy Kaganowich has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. Andy stepped in to manage Sandy Run Regional Park in the absence of a Park Manager during the spring regatta season. He worked closely with the regatta directors and participants and managed the park’s part-time staff. Andy did this with a positive attitude and achieved outstanding results.

Kim Marie Levesque
Kim-Marie Levesque has achieved recognition in the area of Customer Service. Kim is the perfect first face many of our golf course patrons see when visiting Algonkian Golf Course. Kim consistently brings a professional and courteous attitude to work every day, and it is contagious. Kim works hard to meet the needs of the customers and making them always feel welcome.

Reduction in energy usage:
Brad Jackson & Matthew White of Sandy Run/Fountainhead
Fountainhead, Sandy Run and Bull Run Marina -25.58 %

Brambleton Golf Course -14.24%

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens -12.22%

Improvement in net financial performance:
Staff of Algonkian: Kim Marie Levesque, Rebecca Flaherty, Ed McGee, Dustin Betthauser, Anna Cote, Bryan McFerren
Algonkian Regional Park +42.56 %

Pohick Bay Regional Park +35.22%

Cameron Run Regional Park +29.42%