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%

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Multicultural Region Shines in the parks

On Sunday, March 31st, during a rainy day, 7,500 people celebrated the Persian New Year with food, music and dancing at Bull Run Regional Park’s Special Events Center. Last year, with the sun shining, the same celebration saw nearly 11,000 participants.

Northern Virginia and the greater-Washington region are known as a cosmopolitan area with many languages, cultures and foods making it one of the most internationally diverse places in the nation. What is less known is the role the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority plays in supporting this multicultural nature of the region.

On any sunny weekend, tens of thousands of people picnic in the Regional Parks throughout Northern Virginia, and many of these people are immigrant families, many from Latin America, as well as other areas of the world. This is a result of parks being public places where extended families can gather to relax and play. But there is another, more organized side of the multicultural role of parks.

The Special Events Center at Bull Run Regional Park just off I-66 in Centreville has become the gathering place for large ethnic festivals. Just like the Persian New Year festival last weekend, the Events Center with its large amphitheater, center stage and ample parking routinely hosts cultural events with 5-10,000 participants per day. Annually, there is a festival tailored to the people of the Punjab Region of India, a three day Korean festival and a Pakistani festival.

“These festivals help communities in our area stay connected to their culture. This makes our whole region a more interesting and dynamic place to live for everyone,” said Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.

One participant from the Persian festival last year said to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, "we would like to thank you and your staff for having arranged a well-organized place for the last day of our Nowruz celebration. We had ample parking space, beautiful surroundings, appropriate posted signs to make navigation easy and above all, lots of fun. We do appreciate your efforts for making it happen the way it did."

The most interesting example of parks supporting international culture in the region has been the creation of the Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. From 2007 to 2012, the Korean American Cultural Committee, under the leadership of Jeung Hwa Elmejjad-Yi, funded and constructed a Korean Bell and surrounding garden that is now part of the Meadowlark Gardens. This project was partially funded by the Republic of Korea and partially by donations from the local Korean American community. The end result is the only Korean Bell and Korean Garden of its type in the Western Hemisphere, a true cultural touchstone.

“Not only do these cultural events make the region a more cosmopolitan place, they also are significant attractions bringing in visitors both domestic and international which contribute greatly to the local economy, and provide opportunities and memorable experiences for residents and visitors alike,” remarked Barry Biggar, President and CEO of Visit Fairfax.

Monday, April 08, 2013

Rapid Flashing Beacons on the W&OD

Partnerships is the name of the game, particularly when your job includes a super popular 45 mile trail that goes through 3 Counties, 2 Towns, and 1 City. The trail is the W&OD Trail, which sees over 2 million uses a year.

Recently safety was just improved at Blemont Ridge Road in Ashburn. VDOT just installed a new technology to improve pedestrian safety that is called "Rectangular Rapid-Flashing Beacons." Below are some guidelines for both trail users and drivers as they approach these flashing beacons. We greatly appreciate the innovative approach VDOT has brought to this challenging intersection, and we also thank the Transportation Office of Loudoun County that has worked with VDOT and the Northern Virgina Regional Park Authority to implement these new beacons.

Trail users:

Press the push button to activate the flashing lights. Cyclists usually can press the buttons without dismounting, and they are within convenient reach of pedestrians as well. Studies from other areas have shown that drivers yield to trail users as much as four times as often when lights flash only “on demand”.

• Trail users should continue to wait for a safe gap in traffic before proceeding across the road. The flashing lights do not guarantee that motorists will stop.

For drivers:

• When the lights are flashing, drivers can be sure a trail user is nearby, and they should be prepared to yield or encounter stopped vehicles as they approach the crosswalk.

• Not all trail users will press the button to activate the flashers, so motorists should continue to be alert as they approach the crossing even when the lights are not flashing.

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Trees are the answer. What was the question?

Over 20 acres of open fields was recently converted to forest with the planting of over 1,600 trees on a new area of parkland along the Potomac River.

The property is White's Ford Regional Park which is a 295 acre property north of Leesburg with over a half mile of Potomac River frontage. This area will open to the public later this year with a launch site for canoes and kayaks. Part of protecting this half mile of river frontage is greatly expanding the riparian forested buffer. The benefits of creating expanded vegetative (forested) buffers along rivers and stream is great. It is one of the most effective methods of environmental protection available. The results of this kind of tree planting include:
  • Holding together the shoreline
  • Filtering storm water run off before it hits the river
  • Absorbing more of the rain fall so it does not need to run off into the river
  • Absorbing carbon in the air (reducing air pollution)
  • Cooling the area in the summer
  • Creating expanded wildlife habitat for flora and fauna
The White's Ford tree planting which was done in partnership with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (Cadillac Crew) included the area along the river as well as some upland area.

This is the first of many more tree plantings to come in the next five years. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has set expanding riparian buffers and partnering with community groups to plant more trees on our parkland as major goals of the 2012 - 2017 Strategic Plan for the agency.

From protecting and enhancing water, air or ground, it almost doesn't matter what the question is, the answer is more trees will help!