Northern Virginia is home to a surplus of natural grounds, ranging from parks to hiking trails, as well as a surrounding community that values it all. And while the land, recreation centers and available activities are well-kept and planned for, there’s a lot of behind-the-scenes action required to ensure the operation runs smoothly.
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The prestigious award is given to a community in the nation that demonstrates excellence in long-range planning, resource management and innovative approaches to delivering the best park and recreation services possible. To receive the award, agencies must submit a 12- to 15-page application, as well as a complementary video if admitted to the final round against three other groups. The application is then evaluated by a panel of five park and recreation professionals.
Due to the size of the county, the Fairfax County Park Authority won in the class one category for populations greater than 400,000. This year, the local park authority was up against agencies in Chicago, Illinois, Baton Rouge, Louisiana and Mesa, Arizona.
“What makes Fairfax county unique is the fact that we have a park system where 90% of residents live within a half-mile of a park,” says Sara Baldwin, deputy director of the park authority. “We have nine recreation centers, several golf courses, nature centers, so it’s the entire system that we have that makes us unique compared to our competitors.”
In addition, most agencies across the country are tax-supported, according to Baldwin, but Fairfax County’s revenue stems from fees and a steady income, reflective of a business.
Over the course of the past three years, Fairfax County has implemented a number of programs and changes in its system to better serve the community, focusing on topics like overall health and wellness, preservation of historic grounds and recognition of local volunteers.
Because the park authority has won the National Gold Medal for Excellence four times—in 1983, the 1990s and 2010—the team is restricted to applying five years after the previous win. Yet that doesn’t stop them from maintaining prestige.
“The thing that’s gratifying to us is … there are a lot of places that have won this one time and then that’s it,” says Nick Duray, marketing manager for Fairfax County Park Authority. “The Park Authority, because we have such widespread community support, has really been able to demonstrate continual excellence since the 1980s and it’s so gratifying to us and the policymakers in the county.”
In 2015, REI Co-op kept its doors shut on Black Friday, the biggest retail shopping day of the year in the United States. All of the company’s locations refused to open and, instead, motivate customers to “opt outside.”
Now in its fourth year, the company has taken its initiative a few steps further, by sponsoring local clean-up events from Seattle, Washington to Jacksonville, Florida, giving consumers a list of 52 things for the next year (one per week) that can help save the planet in a variety of ways.
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If you’re looking for ways to #OptOutside this year, there is not a REI Co-op-sponsored cleanup in the DMV area, but there are some great hikes to enjoy. We told you about the best five hikes in Northern Virginia for a summer day back in June. Here, find a few (in alphabetical order) that will help you get some head space after the holiday, and make those Thanksgiving leftovers even more enjoyable after a day of walking, hiking and seeing the sights.
Manassas National Battlefield Park Trails range from .5 mile to over 5 miles; Easy to varied difficulty Thanksgiving is a holiday often rooted in tradition, and at times, a great time to explore history. Whether it’s personal history, family history or the history rooted in your hometown, there is always something new to learn. For those feeling historic this year, take your search outside at Manassas National Battlefield Park. The 5,100 acres of land has more than 40 hiking trails, and has a series of loop trails that were key areas for the First and Second Manassas Battlefields. Find the location where on a July day in 1861, the Union and Confederate armies clashed for the first time, the historic Thornberry House, a statue dedicated to the memory of the patriots who fell at Bull Run and so much more. // Manassas National Battlefield Park: 6511 Sudley Road, City of Manassas
Mason Neck State Park Trails range from 1 mile to over 7 miles; Easy to challenging difficulty Hiking doesn’t just have to be about getting in some outdoor exercise. If you’re into bird-watching, (or birding, as referred to by the Northern Virginia Bird Club) Mason Neck State Park is Northern Virginia’s best location for catching a glimpse of a wild bald eagle. It also features three paved trails and over 8,000 acres of national, state and regional park land for visitors to enjoy. Take the mile-long Bay View Loop Trail to see the last of the fall color on the trees, or the Great Marsh Trail, where there’s ample free parking and a paved pathway, making the marsh views and peaceful outdoors accessible for everyone, even pets! // Mason Neck State Park: 7301 High Point Road, Lorton
Scotts Run Loop on the Potomac Heritage Trail Trails range from .5 miles to over 5 miles; Easy to challenging difficulty Scotts Run Nature Preserve is a small oasis not far from the nation’s capital, and if you have family visiting the DMV during the holidays, it’s worth taking a trip to the woods to see the sights that the 336-acre preserve has to offer. The Scotts Run loop trail has a cliffside view of the Potomac River, a small but beautiful waterfall, and several options to make the hike more challenging, if needed. If you climb the Stubblefield Falls Overlook, beware of slick, leaf-covered rocks, especially if it has recently rained. The trail does offer a view of the Potomac River surrounded by fall foliage, and it’s only a half-mile from the Scotts Run waterfall. // Scotts Run Nature Preserve: 7400 VA-193, McLean
Seneca Regional Park Trails range from .2 mile to 1.5 miles, Easy to varied difficulty “Let’s take a slow walk,” is one common saying on Thanksgiving Day that comes right before dessert. Not only does it allow you a chance to let the fullness of dinner subside (and to enjoy more pie later), it makes an opportunity to reconnect through deeper conversations while walking around the neighborhood. Head to Seneca Regional Park for that same opportunity to bond and connect while exploring the Potomac River and the remnants of George Washington’s Potowmack Canal. The park is also equestrian-friendly for those looking to ride rather than walk. // Seneca Regional Park: 101 Seneca Road, Great Falls
Sky Meadows State Park Trails range from 1 mile to over 7 miles; Easy to challenging difficulty If you want to experience a slower, more relaxed pace of things over the holiday weekend, find scenic views, woodlands and rolling pastures at Sky Meadows State Park. A little over a 45-minute to an hour drive from Northern Virginia, the park boasts 1,860 acres of a historic farm in the Crooked Run Valley. There are 22 miles of hiking trails, 9 miles of bike training and access to the Appalachian Trail. When John Edmonds purchased the land in 1780, he built a one-and-a-half-story house, which is still standing today, after almost 240 years. Along the journey (whether short or long), visitors will get scenic views of the Eastern side of the Blue Ridge Mountains. // Sky Meadows State Park: 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane
Three years ago, Michael Applegate—known as Apple to friends— was biking the trails of Lorton Hills Park when he found several blocks along the pathway that hindered his ability to continue. Overgrown shrubbery, tick-filled grass, mud-covered potholes—there was work to be done.
“The next day, I came back with a mower and other tools and started to clear things up,” says Applegate, who lives with his wife a few miles up the road in Fairfax County. “I retired in 2016 from the Marine Corps to really do this full-time. Now I get to come out and play every day.”
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The grounds were once home to part of the Lorton Reformatory in the 1900s, giving inmates the chance to practice a trade in the gardens and surrounding forestry. But when the Fairfax County Park Authority took over as caretakers of the 12-mile park following the closure of the facility, maintaining upkeep was a challenge.
“The county has great parks, but they have too many of them and don’t have the budget to take care of them all,” says Applegate.
No matter the season, you can find Applegate outside tending to the grounds. Since he started volunteering full-time, Applegate has dedicated about 1,200 hours every year (or 30 hours a week) to solely Lorton Hills Park, singlehandedly benefiting the surrounding community that utilizes the grounds on a regular basis.
In 2018, Applegate was honored by the Fairfax County Park Authority with the Elly Doyle Volunteer Service Award, as well as by the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials for being an outstanding volunteer. And even with the recognition, he continues to take his John Deere Gator out on the trails from Monday through Friday.
While he has no professional experience with horticulture, fixing storm damage or improving the physical surface of a landscape, his 30-plus years in the Marine Corps enabled him to learn as he goes. Now his daily tasks consist of cutting vines from trees to enable growth, maintaining safety measures along the land for the equestrians and families who wander the pathways, and even molding slopes for bikers that have a dual function of reducing storm runoff.
“They reduce runoff from rain on the trails, but they’re also just fun as hell for bikers,” says Applegate.
Applegate receives no payment for his labor, yet is given complete freedom and responsibility over the grounds. In fact, as of January of last year, the Fairfax County Park Authority had provided him with over 240 tons of material to maintain the property, as well as his very own John Deere to get from place to place each day.
As for his favorite part of the work? Bringing new life to the local trails by trimming and growing trees, hoping to eventually plant enough maple and cherry trees to one day enclose the majority of the pathways with forestry.
And despite checking in with the Fairfax County Park Authority to receive more supplies or an update on the landscape, Applegate can reach that goal with a plan of his own.
“There are no more meetings for me,” Applegate says with a smile in reference to his schedule. “I just figure out what I need to do and enjoy the freedom I have to do it.”
Labyrinths, unlike mazes, have one path that goes into the center and back out, making them a peaceful walk for centering, grounding or just enjoying the setting and surroundings. More than a dozen labyrinths are located throughout the Northern Virginia area. Generally, they are open from sunrise to sunset. Here are five.
Judy Lowe Neighborhood Park
Judy Lowe, known as the “First Lady of Del Ray” because of her countless hours of involvement in community programs, has a pocket park dedicated to her in the Del Ray section of Alexandria. It includes a 25-foot medieval design, seven-circuit labyrinth that’s made with bricks and pavers and surrounded by trees and benches. The park is dog-friendly and has a play area, water fountain and a dedication plaque describing some of Lowe’s activities. // 1 & 7 E. Del Ray Ave. (at Commonwealth Avenue), Alexandria
Little River United Church of Christ
One-half-mile outside the Beltway, by the cross across the street from the campus of Northern Virginia Community College, in the wooded grove behind the church is Little River United Church of Christ. The labyrinth was installed in 2007 and the congregation wants visitors to use the labyrinth as a “tool of meditation that can help us experience more deeply how God moves in us and with us on our life’s journey.” // 8410 Little River Turnpike, Annandale
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
Cross the wood bridge near the picnic tables and go up the path to the right to visit the medieval Cologne cathedral-style, six-circuit octagonal labyrinth with a stylized Luther Rose in the center. It was created by Inocencio (Chencho) Orta as an Eagle Scout project and has a path wide enough for wheelchair use. More than 65 people worked on this 47-by-47-foot labyrinth that was installed in late 2015. // 8712 Plantation Lane, Manassas
United Christian Parish of Reston
When you visit the 42-foot labyrinth at the United Christian Parish of Reston, you’re asked to do so after 1 p.m. on school days because it’s used by preschool children. The patio is the result of Ian Hodges’ Eagle Scout program which, after the fundraising, took about a month to paint on concrete and seal. Join them on the annual World Labyrinth Day on the first Saturday of May at 1 p.m. // 11508 N. Shore Drive, Reston
Burke Presbyterian Church
Burke has two labyrinths. One is outdoors, a seven-circuit labyrinth in a serene, wooden Memorial Garden, near the end of the parking lot entrance. A second is a canvas that’s laid out in the Meeting House sanctuary on the first Monday of the month, 9 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. They say it’s a replica of one created circa 1200 as part of the stone floor of the cathedral at Chartres in France. // 5690 Oak Leather Drive, Burke
“It’s all about reconnecting with yourself, your loved ones or your dog.”
That’s how Amy Jacobowitz, head of content for Getaway, explains the growing concept created a few years ago in the city of Brooklyn that gives people the chance to escape from reality to a nearby national park without having to sleep in a tent.
Here’s how it works: You book an escape online, hop in your car and drive about two hours to one of nine outposts, park your car outside the tiny wooden cabin that awaits you, type in the entrance code and proceed to clear your mind from the reality you drove away from.
Just two hours away from the bustling life of Northern Virginia and Washington, DC, 35 modern cabins lie sprawled across 20 acres of land surrounded by Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Mountains. Whether you choose to travel alone, with youngsters in tow or bring along man’s best friend, these well-equipped cabins are built with relaxation in mind.
The concept started in 2015 when co-founder Jon Staff felt burnt out in his early 20s and decided to turn his past experience of traveling in small spaces into a business idea. Since Getaway launched its first outpost in 2017, eight more have grown outside of cities like Boston, Los Angeles, and Dallas.
Each cabin is equipped with a queen bed (or two beds if four people are traveling), mini kitchen featuring a two-burner stove and sink, a full-functioning private toilet and shower and heat or air conditioning, depending on the time of year. Plus, there are picnic tables and a fire pit outside of each site, as well as shower and cooking products that are restocked for every individual who makes their way to the outpost.
While all the cabins are built and designed in a similar way, the variety stems from the views and experiences encompassing each tiny house, which guests can take in on a 24/7 basis, thanks to the floor to ceiling glass wall. And when you arrive at the Shenandoah post, you’ll be met with an itinerary of hiking trails, best views to see and other activities to participate in that all lie beneath the trees.
Within each tiny home, there is also a lockbox for cell phones, giving visitors the opportunity to really “get comfortable with being bored,” as Jacobowitz puts it.
“A lot of people take the plunge and do it, and find it jarring, kind of like a phantom limb,” says Jacobowitz. “But then, just noticing your body and realizing that you are doing those things makes you aware and gives you a chance to reground in the moment. Sometimes we just need a break.”
If you’re interested in making your own escape to the Shenandoah outpost or others this fall, click here, as homes sell out quickly.
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The many parks in Northern Virginia are home to some of the most unique events in the region, ranging from seasonal festivals to weekly yoga sessions looking out on the Potomac River. No matter what you’re interested in, there is an outdoor activity for everyone to participate in this September. Here, we share them all.
Junior Ranger Weekend Sept. 6-8, all day Are your little ones interested in all-things nature? If so, you’re in luck, as Junior Ranger Weekend is approaching. As they learn essential outdoor skills, including how to build a fire and the seven tenets of the National Park Service’s Leave No Trace policy, your youngsters will have a great time outdoors eating hot dogs and s’mores by a fire. Registration is required for this event. // Bull Run Regional Park: 7700 Bull Run Drive, Centreville; free
W&OD 45th Anniversary 5K Run/Walk and Family Fun Festival Sept. 7, 8 a.m.-6 p.m. In celebration of 45 years on 45 miles of trails at the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park, the Ashburn community is hosting a full day of events for kids and adults alike. While the morning begins with a 5K along the trails, the festivities will continue with an all-day DJ, a moon bounce, a live petting zoo with pony rides, food vendors and so much more. // Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park: 21293 Smiths Switch Road, Ashburn; $30-$40 for 5K, free entry for festival
Dog Days Sept. 7, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. For one day only, you can bring your furry friend to any of NoVA’s water parks for a swim. From the morning to early afternoon, you and Fido can play fetch and swim alongside one another for just $5 at your favorite water park. // locations vary; $5
Yoga in the Park Sept. 8, 8 a.m. Start your Sunday morning with a little relaxation at this once-a-month event held alongside the Potomac River at Algonkian National Park. Registered yogi Poppy will guide individuals of all skill levels through an 90-minute practice, leaving you refreshed and ready for the day ahead. // Algonkian Regional Park: 47001 Fairway Drive, Sterling; $25
11th Annual Prince William Cruisers’ Benefit Car Show Sept. 8, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. From trucks to motorcycles, this event will feature hundreds of vehicles for residents to check out. As you walk around to take in the old, new and everything in between, you’ll enjoy music from the sounds of DJ Aaron Raffle, T-shirts, light bites and refreshments and more. Plus, all proceeds from the day’s festivities will benefit the Wounded Warrior Project of Virginia. // Occoquan Regional Park: 9751 Ox Road, Lorton; $20 registration fee, $3 entry, free for children 12 and under
2019 Algonkian Club Championship Sept. 8, 10 a.m.-noon Prepare yourself for two hours of golf, eats and, of course, fun. Whether you are a member of the Algonkian course or not, you can come out for this 18-hole tournament that includes a golf cart, food and awards for the best players on the green. // Algonkian Golf Course: 47001 Fairway Drive, Sterling; $40 for members, $60 for non-members Wednesday Wonders Sept. 11, Sept. 18 & Sept. 25, 10:15-11 a.m. Let your youngster have a first look at nature life at this weekly event happening throughout the month. Each Wednesday, park staff will explore a new topic surrounding the outdoors and the life within it. This activity is meant for parents and children ages 2 to 5. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington; $12 drop in, $40 for series
The Local History NOVA Parks Preserve Sept. 12, 7-9 p.m. Head over to Marymount University in Arlington for a lecture surrounding the past 60 years of NOVA Parks. The host will discuss the history of each park, as well as how far the grounds have come since inception. // Marymount University Main Campus, Library Auditorium: 2807 N. Glebe Road, Arlington; free
Fall Clean Up Day Sept. 14, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. As outdoor life in our parks becomes more beautiful in the fall, it also becomes more fragile. This month, help protect the nature that lives around us through the fall clean up day, where participants will help with trail clean-up projects, invasive plant removal and other tasks as needed. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington; free
Second Saturday Concert – Western Avenue String Band Sept. 14, 6-8 p.m. Spend an evening under the stars at the Potomac Overlook for the final night of this summer’s second Saturday concert series. This week’s star will be the Western Avenue String Band, so be prepared to dance to original bluegrass and fiddle tunes while snacking on the picnic you bring for you and your family to enjoy. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington; free
Spirited History Whiskey Dinner Sept. 14, 6:30-10 p.m. For the ninth year in a row, the staff at Aldie Mill Historic Park will host an intimate evening at the historic Aldie Mill. The meal consists of four courses, each paired with different flavors of whiskey prepared by Parallel Wine and Whiskey Bad. Following the dinner, guests will explore the grounds and be met with a grinding demonstration by award-winning miller Mike Devine. // Aldie Mill Historic Park: 39401 John Mosby Highway, Aldie; $115
Walk in the Woods: Occoquan Regional Park Sept. 15, 10 a.m.-noon This weekend event is both a lecture series and a workout at the same time. Listen as local expert Mike Nardolilli discusses the interplay of water demand, politics and zoning here in NoVA as you walk along the 3-mile terrain. Be sure to bring a bottle of water to stay hydrated. // Occoquan Regional Park: 9751 Ox Road, Lorton; free
Homeschool at the Park Sept. 19, 1-2:30 p.m. This September, home-schooled students will have the chance to learn from naturalists at the Potomac Overlook. During the event, the leaders will take students out to explore the park, learn about wildlife and participate in hands-on activities. This event is limited to home-schooled students ages 6 to 12. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington
Doggie Dash 5K Sept. 21, 9-11 a.m. Spend the morning getting fit with your pooch for the annual Doggie Dash 5K. For about two hours, you and Fido will have the chance to match—you in a shirt, he or she in a bandana—as you run through the beautiful Bull Run Regional Park. // Bull Run Regional Park: 7700 Bull Run Drive, Centreville; $35
Crafts at Carlyle House Sept. 21 & Sept. 22, noon-3 p.m. In honor of the King Street Art Festival happening this same weekend, the folks at the Carlyle House will be hosting a free, DIY event for children. The youngsters will be able to paint their own version of a floorcloth, a popular 18th-century floor covering, and take it home when they are done. // Carlyle House Historic Park: 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria; free
Potomac Rangers Sept. 21, 4-5:30 p.m. For those ages 12 and up, this is a great opportunity to try your hand at being a naturalist at the park. Throughout the afternoon, participants will learn about the animals at the center, how to care for them and also what their life would be like in the surrounding wilderness. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington; $10
Eyewitness to War: Fourth Sundays at Mt. Zion Sept. 22, 1-5 p.m. Take the day to explore the historic site of Mt. Zion. Guests will have the chance to see the 1851 Old School Baptist Church, the site of an 1864 battle and the adjacent cemetery, all while learning from historians about the lifestyle that once existed on those grounds. // Mt. Zion Historic Park: 40309 John Mosby Highway, Aldie; free
Trivia Night at the Nature Center Sept. 22, 6-7 p.m. For the first time, the Potomac Overlook will host a trivia night, with all questions relating to the environment, nature and the living things within it. So if science was (or still is) your thing, it’s time to take advantage of that knowledge with a team of two to six individuals this month. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington; $15
Pohick Bay Club Championship Sept. 28, 8 a.m. Take a day for yourself at the golf course at the end of this month with the Pohick Bay Club Championship. Throughout the day, athletes of varying ages and genders will compete against one another in separate flights for the chance to win a trophy and other awards that will be announced the day of. // Pohick Bay Golf Course: 10301 Gunston Road, Lorton; $55 per player
Temple Hall Fall Festival & Corn Maize Opens Sept. 28, continuing for six weeks You know autumn has arrived when the six-week, annual Temple Hall Fall Festival & Corn Maize opens for the public. This season’s festival consists of giant jumping pillows, pumpkin blasters and corn cannons, live music, pig races and, of course, the famous 20-acre corn maze. Plus, this year marks the debut of the A-maize-ing Race 1.5-Mile Fun Run that will kick off the festivities at 10 a.m. on opening day. // Temple Hall Farm: 15855 Limestone School Road, Leesburg; $12-$15
Animal Feeding – Raptors Sept. 28, 1-2 p.m. Bring the kids out for this one-of-a-kind event, where they can learn all about the hunting techniques of NoVA’s native birds. As you listen to the naturalist share his knowledge, you’ll also be able to witness live birds eating their prey. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington; $5
An Evening of 18th Century Games Sept. 28, 6-8 p.m. You are cordially invited to participate in an evening of 18th-century games and refreshments hosted on the Magnolia Terrace of the Carlyle House. Following a tour of the first floor, you’ll indulge in light hors d’oeuvres and two complimentary cocktails before playing classic games like Shut the Box and Whist. // Carlyle House Historic Park: 121 N. Fairfax St., Alexandria; $40
Agents of Discovery Sept. 29, 2-4 p.m. Agents of Discovery is a free, educational and entertaining mobile app that will take you across the park as you try to complete as many challenges as possible for a special prize. All participants will meet at the nature center before heading out in teams on a unique adventure. // Potomac Overlook Regional Park: 2845 Marcey Road, Arlington; free
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It’s a bird! It’s a plane! Wait, no, it’s actually a bird! And you can learn more about it by attending birding classes throughout the Northern Virginia Region.
Birding, also known as bird-watching, has an active following in the area, as there are several parks and other nature spots to choose from. Interested? Continue reading to find out more about upcoming birding events happening this summer.
Sunday Morning Bird Walks Every Sunday, 8 a.m. Friends of Dyke Marsh hosts a bird walk every Sunday morning at Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve. Walks are led by birders with years of experience, and the walks are open to all levels. // George Washington Memorial Parkway, Alexandria; free
Birding for Beginners July 28, 8-11 a.m. Enhance your knowledge of local bird species with this introductory program at Huntley Meadows Park. You’ll learn basic identification skills at an indoor discussion, and then will get the chance to try out your new talent with bird-watching in the park. // 3701 Lockheed Blvd., Alexandria; $12
Bles Park Bird Walk Aug. 17, 8-11 a.m. Leader Jean Tatalias will walk participants through Bles Park for a morning bird walk. The terrain is easy, and participants will get to look at birds along the marsh and woods’ edge. // 44380 Bles Park Drive, Ashburn; free
Morning Guided Bird Walk Aug. 19, 8-11 a.m. Watch the early fall migration of bird species in the Northern Virginia area on a Morning Guided Bird Walk with Colt Gregory. You’ll see birds that use the woods, field and ponds of the Meadowlark Botanical Gardens. // 9750 Meadowlark Gardens Court, Vienna; $2.50-$5
Raptors of the East Coast Region Sept. 26, 7-9 p.m. Join the Audubon Society’s Northern Virginia chapter for Stacia Novy’s presentation on birds of prey. Novy has been involved with wildlife conservation projects for over 30 years and is on the board of directors for Save the Prairie Society. She will discuss flight characteristics, identification and migration patters of East Coast raptor species. // National Wildlife Federation: 11100 Wildlife Center Drive, Reston; $50 members, $60 non-members
The phone at the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (VDACS) has been buzzing off the hook, according to Elaine Lidholm, the office’s director of communications.
She has yielded dozens of phone calls that have streamed in since the June 17 public announcement of the return of the Beehive Distribution Program, a government-funded project that offers free beekeeping equipment to residents across the state.
“This is one of those rare opportunities where there’s actually good news,” Lidholm says.
Not to mention the announcement was made at the beginning of one of the office’s busiest weeks of the year, Virginia Pollinator Week (June 17 to 23), where VDACS was responsible for using the week-long campaign to spread awareness about the state’s pollinators and educating residents of the impact they have on everyday life. (Although, Lidholm says, they do that year-round).
Now, Virginia residents are eager to get involved.
Starting on July 1, the VDACS will begin taking applications for the beehive program in hopes of creating a win-win situation: create more knowledgeable bee advocates and beekeepers (with no initial financial investment), and ideally, the state will have stronger pollinator populations in upcoming years.
The office is set to receive $125,000 from the General Assembly, which it will use to buy proper startup equipment and materials for budding beekeepers across the state, then distribute to accepted applicants in the fall.
The idea to make beekeeping more accessible wasn’t new, but the process was. It’s now in its second year thanks to its popularity in 2018.
“We used to do a reimbursement grant for residents to start their own hives, but it dawned on us the buying power of getting so much equipment,” Lidholm says. “We get a significant price reduction and can have them delivered free to people’s homes.”
That way, according to Lidholm, the program can have a wider reach with hopefully higher success rates.
The problem is that there are so many individuals who would like to participate that the office must have requirements, even though previous experience with beekeeping is not one of them.
If someone is interested in applying for their own beehives through the program, applications will only be permitted to Virginia residents, ages 18 years or older, and they must commit to raising the hives in Virginia. The applicant must also allow regular inspections of the hives from local and state volunteers to ensure the bees are healthy and well taken care of.
But the office knows the initiative can’t be that simple.
It can’t just give out beehive equipment, cross its fingers and hope for the best, especially after the program’s announcement was aligned with disappointing findings out of a recent survey by the Bee Informed Partnership, which reported that U.S. beekeepers lost nearly 40% of their honeybee colonies during the last winter.
That’s why VDACS is looking to the many active beekeeping associations across the state for help.
“They are so willing to mentor and educate others,” Lidholm says. “They are an extension of our program on a volunteer basis, and we are grateful for their input.”
Just ask Fred Hollen, the first master beekeeper of the Virginia State Beekeepers Association and beekeeping instructor at Blue Ridge Community College, about his experience with beekeeping. He lost his first hive, and now he’s been raising bees since the early 1990s.
His first steps to success after getting the proper equipment?
“Get a mentor, and read every book you can on the subject,” Hollen says. “You want to know what you’re doing.”
Luckily, when chosen for the program, according to Lidholm, applicants receive a beekeeping guide to get them on the right track. “Some of them are starting from zero,” Linholm says. And Virginia has several dozen beekeeping associations spread out through each region that are willing to help those interested.
It’s OK to be a novice, but it can still be dangerous. According to Hollen, it comes down to not only knowing bee behavior, but also your own behavior. Interested beekeepers and pollinator advocates need to know the importance of protective behaviors rather than reactive ones (like your initial instincts to flee from them or swat at them—those should be avoided).
“Keep [the hives] away from pesticides (or simply don’t use them at all), prevent them from overcrowding their space and do everything you can to avoid a swarm,” Hollen says.
Otherwise with high hopes, this project hopes to do more than just simply help people raise bees, it hopes to reach the public through knowledge that the office is willing to provide to whomever is interested.
Getting to know the basics of helping, rather than hurting, vulnerable pollinator species that are quintessential to Virginia’s agriculture and overall plant health is just the beginning of creating a more positive outlook for the future.
“People need to know the basics,” Lidholm says. For example, when asked the primary goal of bees, Lidholm says, most people will say to make honey. But that’s actually a side effect of their real job, which is pollination, and directly impacts all crops and plant species (especially those such as apples, watermelon, squash and berries that grow across the state). “So, we want to use this time [in the spotlight] to educate consumers about how to protect pollinators overall, how to attract them to your yard safely, and about all of the benefits they provide to our state.”
Lidholm continues, “One out of every three bites of food on a person’s plate each day is made possible because of a pollinator,” and Virginia farmers rely heavily on the pollinator’s activity and support. Agriculture is the state’s largest private industry with an economic impact of $91 billion.
That’s why VDACS is so passionate about being the go-to source for information on the importance of pollinators in Virginia. It wants everyone to know that the types of flowers you plant, the pesticides you use and the more knowledge you have, all greatly influence the state’s pollinators (ranging from the birds to the bees).
“There is just pure amazement [in beekeeping],” Hollen says. “[I believe] you can’t get familiar with bees, know and understand how they operate or see how they interact with each other without feeling the presence of a divine power.”
To learn more about VDACS Beehive Distribution Program, visit vdacs.virginia.gov. For a lengthy list of local beekeepers associations across the state of Virginia, visit virginiabeepers.org.
The climate change lobby has been assuring us for years – decades, really – that we are all on the brink of certain death because of global warming or cooling or climate change or whatever the term du jour is at the time. In the ’80s actor Ted Danson campaigned against global cooling, saying we had 20 years to shift course or succumb to the new ice age. Al Gore told us the inconvenient truth of our impending death way back in 2006. In California, former Governor Jerry Brown told his residents that the summer fire season was only going to get worse and worse thanks to global warming. And of course who can forget Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’ constant, dire warnings that we only have a mere dozen years left on this planet?
Glacier National Park in M0ntana has been warning about the coming apocalypse by posting signs around the park that say “Gone by 2020”, referring to fears that the glaciers were receding more rapidly than normal and would eventually melt completely, leading to other natural disasters.
However, nature has a way of surprising us. In recent years the glaciers have actually begun expanding again, and park officials have been subtly removing the grim signage and language from their brochures, say visitors from Lysander Spooner University who regularly visit the park.
Officials at Glacier National Park (GNP) have begun quietly removing and altering signs and government literature which told visitors that the Park’s glaciers were all expected to disappear by either 2020 or 2030.
In recent years the National Park Service prominently featured brochures, signs and films which boldly proclaimed that all glaciers at GNP were melting away rapidly. But now officials at GNP seem to be scrambling to hide or replace their previous hysterical claims while avoiding any notice to the public that the claims were inaccurate. Teams from Lysander Spooner University visiting the Park each September have noted that GNP’s most famous glaciers such as the Grinnell Glacier and the Jackson Glacier appear to have been growing—not shrinking—since about 2010. (The Jackson Glacier—easily seen from the Going-To-The-Sun Highway—may have grown as much as 25% or more over the past decade.)
Visitor Roger Roots detailed the changes, noting that they hadn’t completely scrapped the signage but rather subtly changed the language from saying the glaciers would disappear by 2020 to saying they would be gone in “future generations”.
Independent blog Wattsupwiththat.com claims that national parks often use deceptive marketing to make it appear as though certain areas of the park are deteriorating due to climate change, but it isn’t always necessarily true.
Almost everywhere, the Park’s specific claims of impending glacier disappearance have been replaced with more nuanced messaging indicating that everyone agrees that the glaciers are melting. Some signs indicate that glacial melt is “accelerating.”
A common trick used by the National Park Service at GNP is to display old black-and-white photos of glaciers from bygone years (say, “1922”) next to photos of the same glaciers taken in more recent years showing the glaciers much diminished (say, “2006”). Anyone familiar with glaciers in the northern Rockies knows that glaciers tend to grow for nine months each winter and melt for three months each summer. Thus, such photo displays without precise calendar dates may be highly deceptive.
Last year the Park Service quietly removed its two large steel trash cans at the Many Glacier Hotel which depicted “before and after” engravings of the Grinnell Glacier in 1910 and 2009. The steel carvings indicated that the Glacier had shrunk significantly between the two dates. But a viral video published on Wattsupwiththat.com showed that the Grinnell Glacier appears to be slightly larger than in 2009.
The ‘gone by 2020’ claims were repeated in the New York Times, National Geographic, and other international news sources. But no mainstream news outlet has done any meaningful reporting regarding the apparent stabilization and recovery of the glaciers in GNP over the past decade. Even local Montana news sources such as The Missoulian, Billings Gazette and Bozeman Daily Chronicle have remained utterly silent regarding this story.
Perhaps the lesson here is that while we should always be good and grateful stewards of our environment, we are really very small compared to nature. We have very little control over our planet and certainly not enough to be rolling back the rights of freedoms of individuals to “fix” a problem that we don’t even really understand.