Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 NOVA Parks Reached new Heights

2014 has been a troubling year nationally, and internationally, but in Northern Virginia it has been a great year for NOVA Parks. Our system of destination parks throughout the Northern Virginia region has achieve so many wonderful things this year, that I would be challenged to list them all. So, rather than trying to be inclusive of everything, I will just highlight a few of the larger issues. Even that list is quite long:

  • We opened a new 300 acre park on the Potomac River with the dedication for White's Ford Regional Park.
  • We entered long term leases with both the City of Falls Church, and Fairfax County for a civil rights historic site called Tinner Hill. Now most of the development work has been done and we will be cutting a ribbon on this new park on January 10th.
  • We opened a W&OD - Meadowlark Connector Trail that makes a wonderful linkage between two of our best known parks.
  • We broke ground on the new Jean R. Packard Occoquan Center that will be built at Occoquan Regional Park.
  • Just last month we received 4 awards from the Virginia Recreation and Parks Society (VRPS). One for the top volunteer in the state: Brian Knapp, our Board Chairman; One for the top professional in the state: Blythe Russian, our Superintendent of Operations; One was an award for our marketing efforts for the Atrium at Meadowlark; And one was for MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts) the mountain bike group that has been critical to the development of the Fountainhead Mountain Bike Trail.
  • Our Board had their annual all day retreat at Hemlock Overlook Regional Park and enacted a number of forward thinking policies including changes to our compensation system that puts a strong focus on setting and achieving individual goals that tie to the larger organizational goals.
  • In addition to the individual performance goals for employees, all staff have been engaged in a comprehensive and on-going customer service initiative that was launch this year.
  • Laura Grape join our Board representing Fairfax County.
  • Several great event were held celebrating the Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark.
  • We hosted a W&OD summit focused on trail safety, and are continuing to implement the numerous recommendations that came out of that effort.
  • We were able to engage more children in outdoors activities through a number of avenues including grants for school groups to go to Hemlock Overlook, and a significant expansion in all of our summer camp programs this year. The grants were donated by our Foundation.
  • Our two light shows have seen their best season ever due to new features, expanded marketing, and good winter weather.
  • Our fall festival at Temple Hall out performed previous years.
  • Our Fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2014 was our best on record.
  • Our retirement plan which struggled during the recession, as did most investments, has recovered well in 2014.
  • We adopted our new brand name "NOVA Parks."
  • And in the first days of 2015 we will sign an option on a property that will be another new park in the months and years ahead!
Over all 2014 has been a great year at NOVA Parks. In addition to over 11,000 acres of land, and great facilities, we are endowed with an excellent Board of Directors, and an amazing staff. This wonderful group make our region a better place to live each and every day.

I know many more good things will happen in 2015!

Young NOVA Parks fan enjoyed the day

Summer Camp Programs Expand

Dedication at White's Ford Regional Park
Falls Church City Council at Tinner Hill Signing

Staff Training
W&OD - Meadowlark Connector Trail Dedication

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Winter Walk of Light is a huge hit!

Here is an amazing video of the Winter Walk of Lights at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. This show is just spectacular. We have been doing this 1/2 mile walk through show for 3 years, and this year it has even more custom light displays.

Visit Fairfax put this video on their Facebook page in in about two weeks it had nearly 13,000 people watch it. For the last two years we have had about 30,000 people enjoy this show, and this year that number may be higher.

Because so many trees are wrapped and the displays all have a nature theme, it is really perfect in this garden setting. If you have not experienced it this year, you have not seen it!

Here is the site to get tickets for this stunning show:

Monday, December 15, 2014

Top State Professional & Volunteer are with NOVA Parks

NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) is thrilled to announce that two members of its team took home the top awards given to individuals at the 2014 Virginia Recreation and Park Society Conference this week. Brian Knapp, the current NOVA Parks Chairman, won the Distinguished Volunteer Service Award, in recognition of an individual’s dedication and contributions to the parks and/or recreation field.  Blythe Russian, who serves as Operations Superintendent for NOVA Parks, won the Distinguished Service Award, in recognition of professionals who have displayed continuous outstanding service to the profession and community.

Brian Knapp has served on the City of Fairfax, Parks and Recreation Advisory Board (PRAB) since 1999. He spent most of these years as the Chairman of PRAB from 2002 to 2010 and 2013 to present. Mr. Knapp has also served on the Board of NOVA Parks since 2007, a 50-plus year old authority that is made up of six jurisdictions in Northern Virginia including the City of Fairfax. Since 2011, Mr. Knapp has served as the Chairman of NOVA Parks and led both agencies to excel in the delivery of comprehensive, quality and award winning parks and services.

In addition to the two local park agencies, Brian Knapp is also on the Board of the National Recreation and Parks Association.

“A heartfelt congratulations to Brian Knapp for receiving the Distinguished Volunteer Award from the Virginia Recreation and Park Society,” said Barbara Tulipane, president and CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association. “In working with our Board of Directors, I get to witness Brian’s dedication and contributions to parks across the country on a regular basis and know this is a well-deserved recognition. I am also pleased to congratulate another NOVA Parks professional, Blythe Russian for receiving the Top Professional in Virginia Award. Earning both of these distinguished awards speaks volumes about the quality of the parks and professionals in northern Virginia.”

Blythe Russian has worked in the Parks and Recreation field for many years. As a professional, she has continuously displayed an amazing level and degree of dedication, commitment, energy, enthusiasm, support and involvement. Her positive attitude and leadership capabilities are remarkable, not only within her respective job roles, but through her involvement in VRPS.

Over the last 6 years, Blythe has worked with NOVA Parks, in which she serves as a Park Operations Superintendent. In this capacity, she is responsible for the oversight and supervision of 11 of the Park Authority’s 25 Regional Parks, consisting of approximately 5,000 acres of parkland. She manages and oversees the Park Managers at her respective parks, working closely with them to ensure park operations in all facets of the park are run effectively and efficiently.

“The excellence of the award winning projects was evident and we offer our congratulations to each winner for their outstanding contributions to the profession and their community,” said VRPS President Art Thatcher.

“It is a great honor to work with both Brian and Blythe on a regular basis. It is wonderful that the state association has recognized what many in our area already know - that Brian Knapp is an amazing leader on the governance side, and that Blythe Russian is an amazing leader on the professional staff side,” remarked Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of NOVA Parks. “It is because we have such a remarkable team that NOVA Parks has been able to grow our park system with seven new parks in the last seven years, and new programs and features that make our region a remarkable place to live,” continued Gilbert.
NOVA Parks also received two other VRPS awards. MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts) was selected for the Distinguished Private Sector Service Award for their work with NOVA Parks on the mountain bike trail at Fountainhead Regional ParkThe NOVA Parks marketing team also took home the Best Promotional Effort Award for its Atrium at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens wedding guide book.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Performance Goals = Agency Success!

NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) has just taken the next step in becoming a truly high performance agency. It is all about boiling the strategic goals of the organization down to individual duties and making specific people accountable to achieving measurable goals.

Since 2007 we have had strategic plans that outlined the transformative steps that would build a stronger more effective park agency. In 2012 we generated our current 5 year plan. These plans have measurable results, and are tracked every six months to see how we are progressing. The results have been amazing! Becoming a goal oriented organization has resulted in new parks being acquired and developed, new programs, innovative facilities, cutting edge marketing and communications, and more.

Setting goals and achieving them has the added benefit of build morale and a sense of great momentum within the organization. It is hard to quantify this “X factor” but it is significant!

This month we took this to the next level, and everyone had very specific and measurable goals set for their individual performance. We have 120 full time employees and they all have goals now. The 72 that are grade 13 and above have more detailed measurable goals that relate to our current Strategic Plan. These are goals that go far beyond just doing a ‘good job.’ They are specific and they require staff to step outside the day-to-day and work on those transformative steps.

Based on how our agency performs financially over the coming year, there may be a pool of funds for performance incentives. Based on how individuals achieve their performance goals they can be eligible to participate in the performance incentive program.

This is organizational development:
  • Start with a mission & vision 
  • Develop a Strategic Plan that identifies the transformational steps that will lead to a stronger organization to better service to the public
  • Develop individual goals based on the Strategic Goals and hold people actable to results
  •  Reward great performance
  • Build energy and momentum for the next round of goals setting – Start over again 
I could not be prouder of the remarkable group of professionals that help this agency continue to exceed all expectations. Real teamwork is built over years, and is the result of a history of achieving goals. Implementing this ambition program of developing meaningful goals for everyone was an enormous task. It was done both on time and with great quality! Congratulations to all those involved.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Jean Packard's great life of contribution

I was extremely honored to have had Jean Packard as a friend and mentor for over 20 years. Her reputation as a civic and environmental leader was towering. But in person she was always kind, and unassuming. While she had strong opinions and fought for what she thought was right, she never said anything bad about those that did not agree with her. She was really a remarkable person. She served on the Board of the NOVA Parks for 24 years, and gave of her time and leadership to many other good groups. She will be missed.

On October 21, 2014, Jean R. Packard passed away in her home in Fairfax at age 91.  Mrs. Packard was the first woman to be elected Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors from 1972 – 1976.  During her term as Chairman, she led the effort to down-zone the Occoquan Watershed resulting in the protection of the Occoquan Reservoir, which today is the drinking water source for over one million people.
Packard served as a civic leader on many boards and commissions including: President of the Fairfax County Federation of Citizens Associations, on the National Board for the Sierra Club, on the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation Board, Chairman of the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust Board, and 24 years on the NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) Board. 
On September 27, 2014, NOVA Parks broke ground on a new building at Occoquan Regional Park that will be called the ‘Jean R Packard Occoquan Center.’  Mrs. Packard was present for this celebration.  At that event, Congressman Gerry Connolly, Chairman Sharon Bulova and many others spoke about the tremendous contributions Jean Packard has made to our community.  Congressman Connolly noted the tremendous impact that Mrs. Packard has had as a tireless civic advocate for the environment.
Sharon Bulova, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors said yesterday, “Jean was a true trailblazer for women leaders in Fairfax County.  She was a forward-thinking, passionate steward of the County’s parks and water and natural resources, and will be sincerely missed by all who had the pleasure of knowing her.”
Some of Mrs. Packard’s colleagues on the NOVA Parks Board reflected on Jean with the following comments:
Brian Knapp, Chairman of NOVA Parks, from the City of Fairfax:
“For over twenty years, Jean served faithfully as a Director on the NOVA Parks Board, and she contributed to so many of our successes related to conservation and land preservation and protection of our environment here in Northern Virginia.  Her service and dedication to NOVA Parks will forever be treasured and remembered.”
Stella Koch, Vice Chairman of NOVA Parks, from Fairfax County:
“Jean has left an amazing legacy in Fairfax County, from her part in founding Nova Parks to her leadership as Chairman of the Board in Fairfax to her long standing involvement with the citizens associations throughout the County.  She will be remembered every day by the legacy that remains behind.”  
Laura Grape, NVRPA Board Member, from Fairfax County:
“Jean will always be remembered for embedding an environmental ethic into the story of Northern Virginia that will continue to enrich the region long into the future.”
Dan Kaseman, NOVA Parks Board Member, from Loudoun County:
“Jean taught me that the secret to a full and satisfying life is what we do for others.”
Paul Ferguson, NOVA Parks Board Member, from Arlington County:
“Jean Packard was one of our region’s great environmental leaders.  She will be remembered as a local government leader who was ahead of her time.  Jean will be missed but has provided an example that local leaders will continue to follow.”
Barry Buschow, NOVA Parks Board Member, from City of Falls Church:
“Many of us will never truly understand the extent or the impact Jean had on the quality of life in Northern Virginia.  From political to plain old elbow grease, Jean did it all to preserve and enrich our environment.  She will be missed but never forgotten.”
Paul Gilbert, NOVA Parks Executive Director:
“Jean was a mentor and friend to me and many others.  Her legacy is one of conservation of nature, as well as demonstrating political and civic engagement that was always civil and respectful.  All those who knew her were better because of that experience.”
Some of Jean Packard’s many awards and civic engagements include:
o    Metro Washington Council of Governments, Chairman
o    Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District, Board Member
o    Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, Board Member
o    Sierra Club, National Board
o    Fairfax League of Women Voters, Board Member
o    Northern Virginia Conservation Trust, Chairman and Board Member
o    Fairfax County Community Appearance Alliance, Board Member
o    Fairfax County Citizen of the Year, Winner
o    Fairfax County Conservationist of the Year, Winner
o    Architecture Medal for Virginia Service, Winner
o    Sally Ormsby Environmental Stewardship Award, Winner
o    NVCT Lifetime Achievement Award, Winner
Mrs. Packard will be remembered at an event on Thursday, November 6, 2014, from 1:00 – 4:00 p.m. at the Atrium at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. The event is open to the public. The Atrium is located at 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna Virginia

Friday, October 10, 2014

Alexandria Residents flock to NOVA Parks

The City of Alexandria just concluded a survey of 915 residents concerning NOVA Parks. While it is odd that the City Parks and Recreation Department would pay for a survey of parks that they do not operate, the results reaffirm how important NOVA Parks are to Alexandria residents.

55% of City Residents enjoy Cameron Run/Great Waves regularly. Out of those that use Cameron Run, 60% use the water park several times a year. Before this survey was done, NOVA Parks had shared with the City that over 30,000 City residents a year were using the Great Waves water park at Cameron Run. This survey just serves to confirm the high rate of use by City residents that was already documented.

It is encouraging to see hard numbers to support how much City residents use the NOVA Parks that are not located in the City. 31% of people from Alexandria are using the W&OD Trail. 19-20% of Alexandrians are using Pohick Bay Regional Park as well as Bull Run Regional Parks. Both of these parks are very large parks with a great deal of nature, trails, access to the water, camping and much more.

We all are part of the larger Northern Virginia Region and our lives do not begin or end at a City/County line. If you live in Alexandria and want an outdoor experience that includes hiking, camping, kayaking or other ways to connect to nature, you can have those experiences at a Regional Park that is not very far away. This was why the Regional Park system was set up 55 years ago. There are amenities that can not be easily replicated in each jurisdiction. But as a member of NOVA Parks, City residents have all be benefits of a wide variety of parks and amenities.

This survey confirms the high value the citizens of Alexandria place on NOVA Parks.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Great Park Performance in 2014

Fiscal Year 2014 (July 1 2013 - June 30 2014) was the best year in NOVA Parks 55 year history! Park usage was up about 9% overall topping last year's great numbers.

In 1959 the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks) was founded to conserve major areas along the region's rivers. Eventually the regional agency grew to 3 counties, and 3 cities, with each jurisdiction contributing a small per capita fee to support both capital and operating expenses. While this contribution of tax dollars funded 100% of the operations in the early years, it never kept pace with inflation.

Starting in the mid-1960s the agency became an innovator in enterprise operations, and that innovation has continued. Today 85% of the operations of NOVA Parks is funded with enterprise operations, not tax dollars. The growth of this entrepreneurial model has allowed NOVA Parks to continue to grow and develop, conserving more natural areas and historic sites in the process.

Many people have the wrong idea about how park revenue (fees) work. They think this means raising rates and charging people to enter public parks. In reality that is not how it work at NOVA Parks. We look at our fees and prices every year and make small adjustments up and down depending on the market. But in general our rates do not change much over time.We make more money, and serve more of the public, by being attuned to our customers. We must compete for the time and money of our customers. To be successful our facilities, and programs must be attractive. This is a very different model than being largely tax funded. The largely tax supported agencies can do great good, but are at risk of being less responsive to the desires of their customers. I think the enterprise approach has a lot of advantages. One of the great advantages is that when we make money, it is reinvested in improving our facilities and programs. This creates a positive cycle of improvements and performance reinforcing each other.

While we measure many of our performance data in dollars, since the rate are not changing much, a spike up really means we were successful in attracting and serving more of the public.

Here is a snap shot of fiscal year 2014:

  • Total users up 9% over last year
  • Rental of meeting & event facilities up 23%
  • Cultural, Natural and Historic sites up 19%
  • Waterparks up 11.6%
  • Recreational resources parks up 3%
  • Golf - about the same
  • Camping - about the same
All of this resulted in a new high water mark for the organization. Part of this success may be due to a new comprehensive customer service program? Or, perhaps the excellent condition of our facilities? Or, perhaps innovative new programs and offerings? Or, most likely a little bit of all those efforts. An exceptional staff, and a smart and focused Board, all contribute to this great performance!

Friday, September 19, 2014

New Mission, New Look, New Brand

"NOVA Parks - the best of Northern Virginia through nature, history, and great family experiences"

This is the new Mission Statement for NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority). Many Mission Statement try to say too much. They try to explain the "hows" and "whats" of everything the organization does. What a Mission Statement is really supposed to do is just address the all important "why" questions. What is at the core of why this organization is? What purpose this group serves in the world?

With NOVA Parks we have for 55 years conserved some of the best nature in the region. Over 11,000 acres, most of it in a natural state, and much of it along the major rivers of the area, providing the most important wildlife habitat.

With history NOVA Parks is one of the top preservation organizations in the area. The list of historic assets is long, and growing but a few notable sites include:

  • Carlyle Historic Mansion in Old Town Alexandria c1752
  • Ball's Buff Battlefield in Leesburg c1861
  • Aldie Mill c1810
  • Mt. Zion Historic Church c1852
  • Mt. Defiance (Battle of Middleburg) c1863
  • Tinner Hill (civil rights parks) c1915
  • And many other sites...
Great family experience can be found throughout the park system. In my opinion few can beat family camping at Pohick Bay or Bull Run. Attending our award winning five water parks can create lasting memories of great times. And our numerous seasonal events including:

  • Temple Hall fall corn MAiZE and festival (fall)
  • Bull Run Festival of Lights (winter)
  • Meadowlark Winter Walk of Lights (winter)
  • Many unique events at the Bull Run Special Events Center
  • And much more...
NOVA Parks represents the best of what the Northern Virginia Region has to offer!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

High Performance Agencies

Park, Recreation or Tourism organizations have the potential to transform communities, and make the world a better place in numerous way. But this great potential can only be achieved if those organizations are functioning at their best. This is the underlying premise of my new book High Performance Agencies: The Entrepreneurial Model for Public Parks, Recreation, and Tourism Organizations. This book was just released by Sagamore Publishing. and is available at:

I was very honored to have Barbara Tulipane the President/CEO of the National Recreation and Park Association write the forward for this book. The book features great examples from around the Country of agencies that are using best management practices in various areas to achieve great results. In addition to the Forward, various leaders in this field have contributed to sections of the book. These contributing writers include:
John O'Meara - Executive Director, Columbus and Franklin County Metropolitan Park District
Tom Starnes - Communications Manager, Orange County Park District
MaryBeth Thaman - Director, Kettering Department of Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Arts
Brian Zimmerman - CEO, Cleveland Metro Park District
Michael McCarty - Director, Fairfax City Park and Recreation Department
Tom Lovell - Administrator, Lee's Summit Park and Recreation Department
Randall Ferris - Senior Attractions Supervisor, Herschend Family Entertainmant, Stone Mountain

For more information on this and my other book Lead Like a General visit my author web site at:

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Land donations for parkland leaves lasting legacy

NOVA Parks, with its reputation for conservation and running world class public sites has attracted land donations for many decades. Counting full ownership donations, partial value donations, and long-term leases for token amounts, we have 14 properties that have been contributed to the public good.

If you visit the headquarters of NOVA Parks there is one wall will back and white photos of land donors from the 1970s and 1980s. And outside the Board room is another wall with color photos of some of the more recent donations (although it is not fully up to date, due to recent donations).

Since 2006 there has been a new wave of land donations that are celebrated on this wall. The modern donations include:
  • Aldie Mill Historic Park - 2006
  •  Mt. Zion Historic Park - 2009
  • Additional area of Pohick Bay Regional Park  - 2009
  • Additional area of Pohick Bay Regional Park - 2012
  • Linn Nature Preserve - 2012
  • Rust Sanctuary - 2013
  • Webb Sanctuary - 2013
  • Mt. Defiance Historic Park - 2013
  • Jackson House (part of Balls Bluff) - 2014
  • Tinner Hill Historic Site - 2014 
Historically, big parks like Meadowlark Garden, Red Rock Overlook, and Temple Hall Farm Park were donated to NOVA Parks.

These donations have, and will continue to leave a legacy of history, nature, recreation, and open space that will enrich the lives of countless people in our region for generations to come!

If you are interested in exploring the idea of donating all, or part, of your land for public park use, contact me at pgilbert(at) and we can help you think through the issues related to such a gift. Virginia continues to have one of the strongest tax credit programs in the nation to encourage this kind of gift.
Gary Knipling Donating one of his properties on Mason Neck

Journey Though Hallowed Ground Living Legacy Project

Our great partners at the Journey Though Hallowed Ground have launched a remarkable effort. They are working to plant over 600,000 trees along Rt. 15 from Gettysburg to Charlottesville. These trees will each represent an individual who died as a result of the Civil War. This multi-year effort is not only a meaningful way to honor these fallen soldiers, but also a great way to make the Rt.15 corridor one of the most beautiful in the nation.

JTHG is a great organization that NOVA Parks is proud to partner with in many ways, with our numerous historic properties in this corridor. These parks include:
  • White's Ford Regional Park
  • Temple Hall Farm Park
  • Ball's Bluff Battlefield Park
  • Red Rock Wilderness Overlook Park
  • Aldie Mill Historic Park
  • Mt. Zion Historic Park
  • Gilbert's Corner Regional Park

Living Legacy Tree Planting Project Ceremony with U.S. Marine Corps
Sunday June 29, 2014

In its continuing effort to appropriately commemorate the 150th anniversary of the American Civil War, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership will host a Living Legacy Tree Planting Project ceremony, scheduled to take place on Sunday, June 29th at 2:30 p.m., at Oatlands Historic House and Gardens in Leesburg, Virginia. The Commandant's Own, the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the official Color Guard of the Marine Corps will be participating in the ceremony. The 60 members of this prestigious military group will perform as part of the ceremony, which is free and open to the public.

The United States Marine Corps Drum & Bugle Corps and the Official Color Guard of the Marine Corps are part of the Marine Corps Detachment attached to Marine Barracks Washington, also known as the "Oldest Post of the Corps." These Marines have agreed to participate in the June 29th Ceremony to honor the over 500 fallen Civil War soldiers who will be commemorated with newly planted and dedicated trees along the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Scenic Byway, Rt. 15. The Marine Corps Color Guard carries the official Battle Colors of the Marine Corps. The 54 streamers and silver bands displayed on the battle colors commemorate the military campaigns in which Marines have participated. They span the entire history of the nation, from the American Revolution to the present.

The June 29th Living Legacy Tree Project Planting Ceremony is scheduled the week of Independence Day and serves as a reminder to us of the sacrifice made by generations before. This planting is part of the Living Legacy Tree Planting project, a sweeping and ambitious effort to plant or dedicate a tree for each of the more than 620,000 soldiers who died during the American Civil War and was launched by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership to create an appropriate legacy for the Civil War Sesquicentennial. Each tree is geotagged to share the name of the soldier, where he was born, where he died and include the story of the soldier’s life.

In addition to the musical interlude, remarks will be given by JTHG Partnership President Cate Magennis Wyatt, Senior Executive Brock Bierman, and other dignitaries. Students who have been researching the stories of the fallen soldiers will also be on hand to dedicate the trees that day. Oatlands will be offering free admission to the mansion for anyone attending the ceremony, and welcomes visitors to join the opening of their Annual Art Show with a reception beginning at 5:30 in the Carriage House. This will be the seventh planting ceremony, each one of which recognizes the individuals for whom the tree is planted.

Monday, June 30, 2014

Wolf Run Shoals

Recently new interpretive signs were installed at NOVA Parks land at the end of Wolf Run Shoals Road in the Clifton area of Fairfax County. Jim Lewis with the Bull Run Civil War Roundtable was instrumental in getting this Civil War Trails sign and organizing this great event.

Chris Pauley, Director of Operations for NOVA Parks spoke to the group about some of the many civil war sites that are under the stewardship of NOVA Parks.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Tree Planting to Improve Parkland

New trees at Occoquan Regional Park
Spring is here and we have been busy planting trees! 800 new trees this month to be exact, and most of them along major rivers. The area next to the water is call the "riparian" zone. And this area is where the most ecological benefits can be gains from planting a buffer. The wooded buffer filters the water after it rains, and holds the soil in, so it does not wash away. This riparian zone is also key wildlife habitat for many animals.

This spring our 800 new trees went in at Bull Run Regional Park, Algonkian Regional Park, and Occoquan Regional Park, all of which are on major rivers.

The Strategic Plan for NOVA Parks calls for us to "enhance natural resource conservation in riparian areas." Last year we planted several thousand trees at White's Ford Regional Park. In the coming years we will continue this effort to improve the ecological value of our parkland near the water.

Groups that helped plant these trees included Potomac Heritage Trail Association, Sterling Rotary Club, Cascades HOA and local Boy Scouts.

Tree Planting at Algonkian Regional Park

Monday, May 19, 2014

Remarkable deal on Parkland for the Public

One of the great bargains of living in Northern Virginia is that you get wonderful destination parks offered by NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority) for a bargain. The tax dollar cost per person for this system of 25 unique and iconic parks (over 11,000 acres) is just $1.89 per year.

One of the keys to this remarkable deal is that through enterprise operations we are able to generate 85% of our operating revenues! Below is a chart that was published in the May issue of Park and Recreation Magazine. The column that is called "Spending per Resident" is the one that compares to our unusual $1.89 per person per year, tax support.

NOVA Parks is truly unique in the deal that we provide the public. Local park systems in the Northern Virginia area range from $27.5 to $179.2 in their tax dollars per person per year.

Part of the difference between these system is how extensive they are. It is no surprise that a simple system can be at a lower cost than a fancy system. But that is not the entire issue. NOVA Parks has some of the best and most iconic parks in the nation, places like the W&OD Trail, Meadowlark Gardens, Bull Run, Algonkian, Carlyle House and much, much more.The other issue is how the agency has structured their funding. In some areas free services are seen as a great virtue and that is an OK choice, but leads to a higher level of tax support. Offering value added services that people can choose to do with they want, is another way. At NOVA Parks 90+% of our parkland is free to the public, but beyond just the land, there are things to do that have reasonable fees connected to them. By offering a good value for these extra services, these offerings are very popular, and drive more visitation. This approach helps make an expanding park system available to the public with a low level of taxpayer support. A win-win solution in many ways.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Korean Bell Garden, Unique in Western Hemiphere

This Saturday, May 10, 2014 we celebrate the second anniversary of the completion of the Korean Bell Garden at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna. From 11:00 - 12:00 we will have music, speakers, and food that highlights some of the best elements of Korean culture. Some of the interesting facts about the Korean Bell Garden are:
·         All the structures were built by hand by artists from Korea.
·         The bell pavilion has virtually no nails or screws in it. Every piece was carved to fit together perfectly.
·         Large bells like this are common in many Asian countries with differences in how they are made. Korean Bells have an acoustic tube cast into the top to give them a unique sound.
·         This bell was cast in the Gyeonggi Province of Korea. Governor Kim from Gyeonggi Province recently visited the Bell Garden.
·         This bell is one of a kind with nature images from both Korea and Virginia cast into it. The Cardinal and Dogwood are both cast into the bell.
·         This bell  garden is unique in the Western Hemisphere. There is a Korean Bell in California, and another in Vancouver CA, but no other with a complete setting around it.
·         The whole Korean Bell Garden was built without any local tax funds. Community leaders raise the money primarily from private donors with help from both Gyeonggi Province, and the Republic of Korea.
·         From 2007 – 2012 the Korean American Cultural Committee  raised the money and oversaw the development of the garden.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Fishing at Lake Cooke

While Cameron Run Regional Park is known to tens of thousands as the home of Great Waves Water Park, it is also the home of Lake Cooke which is enjoyed by many as a fishing site inside the beltway.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Webb Sanctuary

The Webb Sanctuary is a 20 acre property just outside of the Town of Clifton. The property had been donate from the Webb family to Audubon Naturalist Society (ANS) almost 15 years ago. In November 2013, ANS gave this property to the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA).

This was part of a larger partnership between ANS and NVRPA that has been formed over the last several years. In Leesburg ANS is leasing its Rust Sanctuary to NVRPA long-term. A great deal of this partnership has to do with aligning strengths. ANS has over 100 years of environmental education as their strength, and NVRPA owns and manages over 11,000 acres of parkland in Northern Virginia, which is a strength.

From a practical perspective the use of the Rust Sanctuary is not changing. With ANS the land was open to the public, and the nice trail system and diversity of wildlife habitat made it a great place to visit. ANS also rented the house on site, which helps with night security, and provides someone who can do some on-site mowing and other minor maintenance. Under NVRPA management all the same uses will be in place. From the visitor perspective nothing will be any different.

From a long-term perspective, we would love to see a trail someday that could go from this site and connect with Hemlock Overlook Regional Park and the greater Bull Run/Occoquan Trail System. That vision is years (maybe decades) off, but with the addition of the Webb Sanctuary the connection to the 4,000 acres, and 19 miles of trails that NVRPA owns on the banks of the Bull Run and Occoquan Rivers is a natural one to hope for.

Entrance Drive

Interpretive Sign

Rental House

Trail Signs

Paul Gilbert, NVRPA, Anne Webb, former owner,& Lisa Alexander, ANS

Park Performance Featured at All Staff Meeting

Every year around this time we have the annual 'All Staff Meeting' at the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. This is one of the few opportunities that we have to come together from facilities spread across over 50 miles and review the performance of the last year, and look ahead to the season to come.

The meeting saw presentations form every department in the organization. One of the many great things was to hear the connection to our strategic plan that is integrated into everyone's thinking. We are a remarkable goal oriented organization, and the results show this focus. We are adding new parkland, creating innovative programs that engage the public about nature, history and more. We are expanding operations, developing our customer oriented focus, and growing our enterprise operations.

NVRPA is among the very best park agencies in the nation on just about every level of measurement, and it is because of a great Board, and the best staff that any organization could hope for.

One of the high lights this year were a series of reports from each of our operational team leaders. These are committees that focus on similar operations that exist at multiple locations like: camping, waterparks, shelters, summer camps, and event venues.

Anna Cote presents on the Event Venue Committee
Todd Benson received recognition for his 20 year of full time service, and as he pointed out there was another 6 years of part time service.

Todd Benson Reflecting on 20 years of service

One of the highlight of this annual meeting are the employee achievement awards. Each year a different cross-functional team reviews and awards nomination that come from other staff. It is a great way to celebrate some wonderful success stories from the year.

Employee Achievement Awards:

In all the photos from left to right is: Stella Koch, Vice Chair, Brian Knapp, Chairman, Award Recipient, Paul Gilbert, Executive Director, David Pritzker, Alexandria Board Member, & Dan Kaseman, Loudoun County Board Member

Johanna Vanness

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. Johanna was a dedicated performer during the Festival of Lights as the Light Show Technician. This position required a self starter and independent worker who could take on a variety of complicated tasks to keep this signature event running smoothly. Johanna handled this task with pride and great results in often less the ideal weather conditions.

Johanna Vanness
Chris Wright

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. Chris consistently displays a willingness to do what it takes to accomplish the job at hand which often can mean arriving early or staying late. Chris assists in the maintenance and care of all facilities within the park with a great attitude and pride in the work being performed.

Brad Jackson

has achieved recognition in the area of Safety. Brad’s quick transition into the management of our instituted water policies at Fountainhead has continued to allow those who enjoy the park to do so in a safe manner, including those taking part in our ever growing paddle tour offerings. Another area of note with regards to safety is the Brad’s work with users and contractors on the use and design elements of the park’s extensive mountain bike trail network.

Brad Jackson

Doug Radoye

has achieved recognition in the area of Safety. By its nature, Doug’s position is one that must operate with a “safety first” approach, but Doug takes his work beyond that with a great understanding of facility needs. Doug has an ability to develop sound and safe remedies to get a multitude of challenging tasks accomplished. An example of this is Doug’s work on Meadowlark’s Winter Walk of Lights setup. With light displays within arms length of the public, Doug worked tirelessly to ensure the safety of the public and staff.

Doug Radoye

Paul McCray

has achieved recognition in the area of Above-and-Beyond. Paul stepped into one of NVRPA’s newest properties and quickly brought it up to NVRPA standards while transforming it into a successful and highly sought after outdoor event venue. Building on its existing reputation, Rust has continued to exceed budget expectations.

Paul McCray

Donny Wensinger

has achieved recognition in the area of Innovation. Donny’s working knowledge of waterpark operations and his ability to develop new ideas and operational strategies has been exceptional. Developing a focused approach on improving sales and overall facility marketing of Great Waves will grow our business and the bottom line.
Donny Wensinger
Matt White

has achieved recognition in the area of Safety. Safety is often the first course of business for the facilities Matt oversees. Of particular note is Matt’s management of the mountain bike trails addition of a new “Black Diamond Loop.” Matt worked closely with the designers to ensure a safe course, and with county safety personnel to create a management plan for incidents that may occur on the trail.

Matt White
David Garcia
has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Programming. David continues to provide the exceptional programs the Roving Naturalist program has become known for, but has created a focus on additional unique experiences. Expanding an already great program base helps our visitors find their own personal connection, whether it be on the water or in the woods.
David Garcia
Frank Basye
has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. Frank’s performance during this past unforgiving winter included extended shifts that often began during the overnight hours and lasted until the job was complete. He accomplished this with a great attitude and a “get it done” mentality. Frank also consistently displays an ability to assume roles outside of his normal duties such as carpenters helper and float driver for the NVRPA parade float, filling vital needs across our CM crew.

Diana Lancaster

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. In the absence of full time staff Diana assumed a leading role in reconciliation of general and credit card accounts. Diana’s can do attitude and willingness to pitch in with duties above and beyond her normal tasks showed her tremendous work ethic and value as a team player.

Diana Lancaster

Charlie Anderson

has achieved recognition in the area of Above-and-Beyond. Charlie’s work to help open facilities after the heavy snows of winter were exceptional and often required extended shifts and working through the night. Charlie remains a go to employee to get these tasks accomplished.

Charlie Anderson
Renee Arellano

has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Above-and-Beyond. Renee’s idea to create a unique bridal basket giveaway as an incentive for prospective brides that generated a large number of sales leads. Renee was also instrumental in the design and execution of The Atrium’s open-house, event which created several on the spot contracts while opening the facility to a variety of prospective clients..

Renee Arellano
Janet Treerapong

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond, Versatility, and Customer Service. In the absence of full-time-staff, Janet assumed many additional accounting responsibilities. These additional tasks included keeping track of incoming deposits and issuing weekly deposit memoranda. Janet accomplished these tasks with great care. Janet also shines with regard to great internal customer service; she is always quick to respond to staff requests for information or guidance.
Janet Treerapong
Dennis Peacock

has achieved recognition in the areas of Cost Savings and Above-and-Beyond. By assuming target setting duties for registered shoots and assisting with day of tournament management, Dennis provides services that would otherwise have to be contracted out, saving NVRPA significant money.

John Justice

has achieved recognition in the areas of Cost Savings and Above-and-Beyond. By assuming target setting duties leading up to registered shoots and assisting with day of tournament management, John provides services that would otherwise have to be contracted out, saving NVRPA significant money.

Greg Fansler

has achieved recognition in the areas of Cost Savings and Above-and-Beyond. By assuming target setting duties leading up to registered shoots and assisting with day of tournament management, Greg provides services that would otherwise have to be contracted out, saving NVRPA significant money.

Lacy Scango

has achieved recognition in the areas of Versatility and Programming. After completing her internship in early 2013, Lacy quickly assumed multiple roles at the park, which she performed with a high level of success. Lacy also assisted in the direction of three summer camps, including the park’s first ever “Puddle Jumper” session. Lacy is also a top mention in program surveys for her expertise and ability to connect with the campers

Debbie Patterson

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Versatility. In just a short time, Debbie has proven her versatility and willingness to jump in and assist where needed. Debbie’s assistance with cash reconciliations while outside her normal duties was handled with precision and accuracy. Debbie accomplished all this while still learning and preparing the agency budget.

Debbie Patterson

Liz Gearhart

has achieved recognition in the area of Team Player. Liz continues to take on a number of important roles within Great Blue Heron Catering and does so with exceptional detail and accuracy. Liz plays a critical role in the administration of all catering files, including those from the event venues and a number of other food and beverage operations.
Liz Gearhart
Sarah Johnson

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. Sarah assumed the role of Team Leader for the Aquatics Committee bringing to the position an outstanding level of organization and creative thinking. This leadership role has been instrumental in moving NVRPA aquatics to the next level.

Sarah Johnson

Heath Baumann

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Team Player. Heath’s role at the park is one that can vary depending on the day. Heath adapts to this environment with great ease, handling the day to day maintenance tasks of the park, while also being a valuable resource for visitors and staff alike with his expertise in Natural Resource Management.

Heath Baumann
Vivian Roski

has achieved recognition in the area of Team Player and Customer Service. Vivian has displayed exceptional dependability with her recently expanded role in the management of the golf operations. Vivian continues to provide an unmatched customer service to those who play at Pohick and brings a great deal of creativity and passion to the staff and operations.

Tracy Gillespie

has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Programming. Tracy continues to introduce the mill to many new faces through a range of dynamic programs. These programs consistently find their mark at telling the story of the site while engaging the visitor in a one-off experience. Some notable examples are: “Spirited History: A Tasting of Whiskey and History at Aldie Mill and Afternoon Tea at Aldie Mill.

Tracy Gillespie
Anna Cote

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Customer Service. Anna continues to meticulously develop The Woodlands product with a focus on such things as customer care, detailed planning, and exceptional event management. The results of her efforts are satisfied clients and an increase in the overall revenue performance of the venue.

Anna Cote
Casey Pittrizzi

has achieved recognition in the areas of Innovation and Programming. Casey rose to the challenge of creating additional sessions for the always popular park summer camps program. The creation of two new programs, including “Nocturnal Naturalists” were well received and provided the public with additional opportunities to experience Potomac Overlook.
Casey Pittrizzi

Tim Geisler

has achieved recognition in the areas of Above-and-Beyond and Cost Savings.  Tim’s extensive working knowledge of the GIS System has saved NVRPA from having to hire consultants to perform the work he can with the system.  Tim’s willingness to learn this system on his own time has been exceptionally helpful when it comes to planning, land acquisition, and permitting.

David Fletcher

has achieved recognition in the areas of Customer Service and Team Player.  David is often the first staff member a visitor to the park may encounter.  David is always ready to provide assistance when needed, from helping a first time fisherman set up his pole to providing the latest tips on where to fish along the reservoir.  David displays a passion for the park and all the activities it encompasses, often assisting with paddle tours, fishing tournaments and clinics.
David Fletcher

Financial Performance Best Net Change in Income
Bull Run Shooting Center up 256%

Laurelyn Rawson of BRSC

Energy Conservation Best Net Change in Consumption
Central Maintenance down 17%

Central Maintenance