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The renovated Hidden Oaks Nature Center in Annandale (courtesy of Hidden Oaks Nature Center)

Annandale’s Hidden Oaks Nature Center is reopening later this month after a months-long, nearly $2 million renovation and expansion.

The 53-year-old nature center, located on Royce Street and part of Annandale Community Park, closed its doors in February for a long-planned expansion and renovation.

The $1.7 million project gave Hidden Oaks a new classroom overlooking the woods, an updated outdoor play area with a safe, working water pump, a larger, remodeled pond, and ADA-compliant facilities, including restrooms. The funding came from the over $100 million 2016 Park Bond.

The facility is set to reopen to visitors on June 25 with a grand reopening celebration planned for July 16. The festivities will include entertainers from “American barbershop to Korean folk tunes to native Bolivian music and dance.” There will also be poems and thoughts from students on the “importance of environmental stewardship” as well as crafts and a puppet show.

When it opened in 1969, Hidden Oaks was the county’s first nature center. The last renovation in the early 1980s “fell woefully short of being able to meet the consumer demand and interest” even by the 1990s, when attendance was “dramatically rising,” Hidden Oaks staff tells FFXnow via email.

Prior to the pandemic, nearly 50,000 visitors and 7,000 school children per year were using the nature center.

With the new renovation, the center now has a glass-framed classroom “that overlooks a pond and the woods, inviting the outside in,” the Fairfax County Park Authority says.

The classroom includes a built-in kitchen that will be available for school groups as well as for private rentals. Additionally, there’s a new bilingual reading corner in honor of Hidden Oaks volunteer and retired county school teacher Jean Laub.

The updated Nature Playce, a wooded play area for young children, now has a workable water pump.

“Its non-pinch child-friendly features enable children of all ages to enjoy the wonders of water,” staff wrote.

There are also two new outdoor interpretive trails with signage in English, Spanish, and Korean.

The original small pond — popular with wood frogs, American toads, and spotted salamanders — was replaced with a pond nearly double its size to provide “more teaching area.”

Earlier this year, an Eagle Scout project created two temporary small pools in the front and rear of the nature center to create amphibian breeding areas so that they’d eventually migrate to the new pond.

“Between the two pools, the wood frogs returned in similar numbers while the American toads and the spotted salamanders balked at the substituted water source,” nature center staff said.

The project faced a number of minor challenges, including the placement of a beloved carved woodland sculpture.

Several years ago, a 130-year-old, 100-foot-tall tulip poplar behind the center was struck by two bolts of lightning, which severely damaged the tree but didn’t destroy its base. Instead of completely knocking the tree down, the county commissioned a chainsaw artist to turn it into a wood sculpture featuring native animals, like raccoons, a fox, an owl, and a turtle.

“Due to [the sculpture’s] prominent location in the rear of the nature center, the ability to bring construction vehicles to the far side of the center was limited,” staff said. “To alleviate tree loss, the vehicles entered in a relatively narrow space between the existing nature center and Nature Playce.”

Despite “multiple delays of material delivery,” the project was still completed roughly on time and within budget, staff noted. With Covid restrictions now gone and the renovations done, Hidden Oaks staff could move a number of programs back inside, but that isn’t the current plan.

“Due to the popularity of classes in the last few years, more of the center’s programming will continue to be focused outdoors,” staff said.

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Soccer players practice at Lewinsville Park in McLean (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Now that Holladay Field’s conversion to synthetic turf is complete, McLean Youth Soccer (MYS) has set its sights on a new project to bolster the area’s recreational amenities.

The nonprofit soccer club is collaborating with the Fairfax County Park Authority on plans to build a new, permanent restroom facility for Lewinsville Park, which currently only has port-a-potties.

“Lewinsville Park…offers a lot of parks, tennis courts, baseball fields, community garden, but it didn’t have those restrooms,” MYS Board Chair Susan Mrachek told FFXnow. “…For sanitary reasons, whether it’s changing a baby’s diaper or being able to wash your hands or even seeking shelter, we felt it was really important not just for McLean Youth Soccer players, but for the community at large.”

Encompassing 37.7 acres at 1659 Chain Bridge Road, Lewinsville Park is heavily used by everyone from tennis players and nearby McLean High School students to local sports teams like McLean Youth Soccer, which has approximately 2,800 players aged 4 to 22. It also hosts the annual McLean Day festival, which drew roughly 8,400 people this year.

However, the park has no running water and just three to four portable toilets by the parking lot to serve all those people, Mrachek says.

The permanent restroom project came out of discussions among MYS board and staff members after they celebrated the opening of the renovated Holladay Field last fall.

“We thought, ‘Okay, what’s the next thing that we could improve upon?'” Mrachek said. “And [Executive Director Louise Waxler] talked about the restrooms. We all felt that pain as we watched our kids playing soccer and having to go to a port-a-potty.”

The organization pitched the idea to the county park authority, which will introduce the project to the community with a virtual meeting at 7 p.m. next Thursday (June 16).

The proposed facility will be approximately 1,000 square feet in size, though the exact number of stalls or individuals it could accommodate won’t be clear until it reaches the design phase, according to FCPA spokesperson Judy Pederson.

The current estimated project cost is $670,000, but MYS has proposed funding all but $20,000, Pederson says.

According to the project page, the facility could be completed in late 2023, but Mrachek says a thorough review is still needed to see what will be required from an engineering standpoint.

Lewinsville Park is far from the only outdoor recreational facility in Fairfax County without bathrooms of its own.

According to Pederson, 24 of the park authority’s 46 “larger” parks lack a permanent restroom structure, though some like McLean Central Park have access to nearby public buildings. Just 10 out of 34 district parks have a restroom facility listed in the FCPA Park Register.

The deficit also extends to outdoor athletic facilities at more than half of Fairfax County’s high schools, an issue that the county and public school system are moving to address.

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A 7-acre property bordering Accotink Creek in Annandale was bought at auction (via Google Maps)

A local environmental nonprofit is concerned that a recent sale of a 7-acre forested property near Accotink Creek could lead to its development.

A public auction was held last week for seven lots near Woodburn Road and Accotink Creek in Annandale, the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) and the Fairfax County Parks Authority confirmed to FFXnow.

However, despite both organizations participating in the auction, neither were the winning bidder.

The property was owned by a small family foundation for years before “falling into tax delinquency,” which forced them to sell, according to NVCT. The property was initially set to be auctioned off in October, but it was canceled in hopes that another solution could be found. Ultimately, none was.

NVCT Executive Director Alan Rowsome says the foundation served as “good stewards” of the property and often worked with local organizations to preserve the forest, while also allowing appropriate public recreation.

The land is full of intact forest that buffers Accotink Creek and home to a segment of the county-managed Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail. The property is also in a floodplain and a county-designated resource protection area (RPA).

RPAs are environmentally important lands that “protect water quality, filter pollutants from stormwater runoff, reduce the volume of stormwater runoff, prevent erosion, and perform other important biological and ecological functions,” according to the county website.

Rowsome calls the property a “rarity” in the D.C. region for the density of the forest, its natural resources, and its importance to the ecosystem. NVCT was hoping to purchase it to keep it intact and work with the park authority on other preservation efforts.

The park authority was interested in the land for “natural habitat, possible cultural resources, possible trail connections,” FCPA spokesperson Judith Pedersen said in an email.

But neither were able to purchase the lots, leaving the future of this section of Annandale forest in doubt.

“We do not know who purchased the properties,” Pedersen wrote. “We do not know if the purchaser(s) intend on developing the properties.”

The buyer’s identity won’t be known publicly for several weeks, stirring anxiety about its intentions.

Since the land is designated an RPA, any development or “land disturbing activity” generally requires county approval. Removal of native vegetation is also not allowed, and the use of pesticides and fertilizer are “strongly discouraged.”

But Rowsome remains worried, since the bidder spent a lot of money on the property. He estimates it was three to four times the amount that NVCT and the Parks Authority were able to bid.

“These properties are not developable…but somebody still bid a very high amount on each lot anyway,” Rowsome says. “So, a developer still bought them, despite the county’s affirmation of them not being buildable and [could] try to work different angles to release some of those restrictions.”

Rowsome allows that the buyer “could be a do-gooder citizen” whose intentions are aligned with NVCT and the park authority and “thought they were being helpful.”

Since it could be weeks or even months before the fate of the property becomes clear, Rowsome says he’ll be patient and remain optimistic that rare county natural resources can be protected.

“The story of this property is not over yet. We’re still going to work diligently and with the assumption that [the property] will eventually be protected in some way or another,” he said. “And we will work in good faith with anybody who is willing to do that.”

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Annandale’s Wakefield Skate Park is getting some air with a $1.2 million facelift.

The nearly two-decade-old skate park off of Braddock Road is undergoing a major renovation that will add a competition-style bowl, multilevel jump line, mini ramp, spine, A-frame and ledges.

“The project goal is to create an updated design that incorporates newer styles of obstacles and features that are found in today’s typical skateparks,” the Fairfax County Park Authority says on the project page.

When completed, it will cater “to all skill levels of skateboarders, BMX riders and other wheeled athletes.”

Demolition is now underway on a large section of the park that was closed off to the public earlier this week, Fairfax County Park Authority spokesperson Judith Pedersen told FFXnow. However, the newer, concrete portion of the park will continue to remain open for skating for the duration of construction.

The hope is that the renovation will be completed by the fall, with a reopening to come shortly thereafter.

“Fingers crossed, we will have the grand opening this year,” Pedersen said.

The Wakefield Skate Park first opened in 2004 and expanded in 2012. As the county’s website notes, the average lifespan for a wooden skate park is about 15 years. After 18 years of use, it’s time for a full renovation and upgrade.

“The skate park has been repaired several times, but due to the age and makeup of the facility, it is no longer feasible or safe to prolong the use of the original equipment,” the FCPA website says.

Wakefield is one of two county-maintained skate parks. The other is Lake Fairfax Skate Park in Reston, which opened a decade ago.

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Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean is known for its creeks and streams (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

With summer on the horizon, visitors are expected to flock to Scott’s Run Nature Preserve in McLean, but the Fairfax County Park Authority is warning now: leave the coolers, alcohol, and swimming suits at home.

The park authority and Fairfax County Police Department will step up enforcement of the nature preserve’s rules starting this weekend (May 28-29), a move that has become routine in recent summers.

“The Fairfax County Park Authority will be working collaboratively with the Fairfax County Police Department to ensure only permitted activities take place in this natural area, that people can recreate safely, and that the rules as they apply to alcohol and use of the preserve are observed,” the FCPA said in an announcement on Wednesday (May 25).

Visitors might be ejected from the park and prohibited from returning in the future if they violate the following policies:

No coolers are allowed. No alcohol or glass bottles are permitted in Scott’s Run. Bags will be checked at parking lot trailheads. Enforcement will be stepped up at the waterfall area. The beauty of the falls masks its peril. This area is subject to dangerous currents, and submerged rocks can combine with those currents to make entering the water a deadly decision. Rain upstream can raise water levels astonishingly quickly.

No swimming, wading or boating allowed at Scott’s Run. Crowds in the water threaten the many invertebrates and the remarkable and rare plant species that call the preserve home. Parking is limited to 50 cars in the designated parking areas. No parking is permitted in adjacent neighborhoods or along the roadway leading to the park. Dogs must be on a leash while in the park.

Located at 7400 Georgetown Pike, Scott’s Run Nature Preserve encompasses 385 acres between Georgetown Pike and the Potomac River.

With its scenery and relative seclusion from traffic and other signs of development, the park draws approximately 600 visitors per day annually, but those numbers climb to about 1,000 people a day during the peak season, which is typically summer until early fall, according to FCPA spokesperson Judith Pedersen.

Scott’s Run — the river that bisects the park and feeds into the Potomac — gives the park “one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic,” the FCPA said in a 2017 blog post.

The park authority said a perception persists of the preserve as a “safe swimming hole,” despite people getting trapped in the past by high waters and the dangers swimming poses to the environment. The agency also bans alcohol and glass bottles to discourage revelers and littering.

“The park draws people because it is remote and beautiful, but some visitors take advantage of that to drink alcohol illegally and to leave the site trashed,” the FCPA said in the blog post. “Trash is a blight that ruins the next visitor’s park experience and that eventually floats downstream in the Potomac River into the Chesapeake Bay, causing pollution and impacting wildlife.”

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Morning Notes

Passing the pedestrian bridge over Route 50 in Seven Corners (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Victim of Bailey’s Crossroads Crash Identified — Gladis Suyapa Deras, 54, of Falls Church died in a two-vehicle crash outside Skyline Plaza on Tuesday (May 24), police confirmed. Investigators say the occupants of the other vehicle initially ran from the scene, and one of them was arrested for allegedly being drunk in public. [FCPD]

Herndon Man Arrested for Sexual Battery of Minor — “Town of Herndon Police arrested a 53-year-old Herndon man in connection with the aggravated sexual battery of a juvenile victim who was known to him, according to the weekly crime report. Police arrested Jenaro Alberto Hernandez Jovel on May 6 for an incident that occurred in the 500 block of Florida Avenue, according to police.” [Patch]

FCPS Releases Data on New TJ Class — Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s Class of 2026 will have 550 students as the second accepted under the revised admissions process. Asian students ticked up to 60%, as did low-income students (33%), while Hispanic students dropped slightly (8%) and white and Black students stayed level (21% and 6%). [The Washington Post]

Fairfax Senator Drops Support for Football Stadium — State Sen. Chap Petersen (D-34) doesn’t intend to vote for a $1 billion plan that he supported in January to bring a new Washington Commanders stadium to Virginia. He says he no longer believes the NFL team “will be good for business,” citing sexual harassment and financial misconduct allegations as well as its name change. [WUSA9]

Kingstowne Chick-fil-A Opens — “The Chick-fil-A in Kingstowne will be opening Thursday morning, the restaurant has announced…The restaurant is near the intersection of South Van Dorn and Kingstowne Boulevard, at 5808 Kingstowne Center. Hours will be 6:30 a.m.-10 p.m.” [Alexandria Living]

Firefighters Meet People Helped in Route 7 Crash — “On April 2, a serious two-car crash occurred on Leesburg Pike. 2 adults and a child were trapped in back of one car w/serious injuries. Recently, units who responded to the incident had the pleasure of hosting them. #FCFRD are happy they are doing well & were grateful for visit.” [FCFRD/Twitter]

Park Authority Summer Hiring Underway — The Fairfax County Park Authority will offer a few new benefits this year to summer employees, including $100 sign-up and retention bonuses and free access to all rec centers for the season. Hiring events are scheduled at The Water Mine in Reston and the Providence Rec Center in West Falls Church. [FCPA]

Dinosaur Encounter Opens in Centreville — “Dinosaurs are returning from extinction with The Jurassic Encounter in Northern Virginia. The outdoor walk-through dinosaur exhibit is the first of its kind at the Bull Run Events Center, home of the Annual Bull Run Festival of Lights, now through May 30 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m.” [WTOP]

It’s Thursday — Overcast throughout the day. High of 70 and low of 59. Sunrise at 5:50 am and sunset at 8:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

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One of the most heavily used trails in Fairfax County will undergo construction starting this summer to address recurring flooding issues.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is planning to upgrade a portion of the trail at Lake Accotink Park in Springfield. The $3 million project will add a 325-foot-long, elevated, concrete pedestrian crossing over the park’s dam outfall, along with approximately 300 feet of asphalt trail improvements.

“The contractor, Franco’s Liberty Bridge Inc, will be mobilizing on site with active construction activities beginning this summer,” the FCPA said in an announcement on Wednesday (May 4).

Parts of the Lake Accotink Loop Trail will be closed during construction. The FCPA says signs will be posted on the site and advises nearby residents to expect occasional construction traffic entering and exiting the park.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is planning improvements on the trail by the Lake Accotink dam in Springfield (via FCPA)

Despite the short-term inconveniences, the project will likely come as welcome news to visitors like Milo Nekvasil, who says he sometimes takes off his shoes and socks to walk through flooded areas on the trail during light rains. Heavy rains make it impassable for him.

Tree limbs, logs and other debris can clog along the path, causing backups where water would normally flow under the path.

Nekvasil’s experiences aren’t unique. Flooding is frequent and can be sudden, stranding trail users or leading them to wade through waters, according to the community group Friends of Lake Accotink Park.

“Excessive damage due to major storm events has required a total reconstruction of the trail twice in the last five years,” the Park Authority said. “This project will resolve these issues, enhancing safety and accessibility for park users.”

The project is scheduled to be completed in early 2023.

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Morning Notes

Cranes loom behind Wiehle-Reston East Metro station plaza (photo by Marjorie Copson)

Autopsies in Fairfax County Murders Still Pending — “Autopsies have been unable to determine how three victims of suspected ‘shopping cart killer’ Anthony Eugene Robinson died…Robinson is suspected of killing at least four people whose remains were found in Alexandria and Harrisonburg, Virginia, as well as the District.” [WTOP]

Spring Farm Day Canceled at Frying Pan — This year’s Spring Farm Day at Frying Pan Farm Park on Saturday (May 7) has been canceled due to rainy weather in the forecast. Anyone who registered in advance should receive an email with more information. [Fairfax County Park Authority/Twitter]

The Boro Restaurants Aim for July Openings — Despite a broker site plan that lists June 1 opening dates, the restaurants El Bebe, Circa, and Caliburger aren’t expected to be ready until mid-July, a spokesperson for the Tysons development recently told FFXnow. The Boro will, however, bring back its simultaneous chess tournament on May 21. [The Boro, Tysons Today]

Congress Members Urge Action on Ghaisar Case — “Seven members of Congress, including six from the D.C. area, are asking the Justice Department to revisit the case of Bijan Ghaisar, the Virginia motorist who was shot and killed by the U.S. Park Police in 2017.” [WTOP]

Herndon Police Find ATM Skimming Device — “Subjects will install a panel containing a pin-hole camera that records you entering your PIN number while another device reads your card number. Please be diligent when using ATM machines. Always use a hand to cover the pad when entering your PIN number; and if you notice a camera…please contact #HerndonPD immediately” [Herndon Police Department/Facebook]

Maximus Leaves Reston Station for Tysons — “The $4.5 billion federal contractor that specializes in the administration of government programs like Medicaid, Medicare, federal student loans and veterans services said Tuesday it formally made the move to Lerner Enterprises’ 1600 Tysons Blvd. The company said the new space is 90,000 square feet across five floors.” [Washington Business Journal]

Back Away From the Fawn, Police Say — “It is common for people to encounter white-tailed deer fawns motionless and without their mother, then mistakenly assume it is orphaned or abandoned. In almost all cases, fawns are only temporarily left by their mothers for protection and just need to be left alone.” [FCPD]

Great Falls ArtFest Returns This Weekend — “Great Falls Studios will hold its annual Spring ArtFest May 7 and 8 from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at four locations in Great Falls. Venues will include The Grange and Old Schoolhouse at 9818 Georgetown Pike, plus three art studios in the Village Center.” [Sun Gazette]

Tennis Court Repairs Restart Next Month — Contractor ATC will resume resurfacing tennis and pickleball courts at Linway Terrace in McLean and Wakefield Park in Annandale in early June. Work at both sites began in the fall but was suspended due to unfavorable weather conditions. [FCPA]

It’s Thursday — Possible light rain overnight. High of 66 and low of 55. Sunrise at 6:07 am and sunset at 8:06 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Bamboo (photo via Fairfax County)

Property owners and tenants in Fairfax County will soon be required to contain running bamboo, and the local park authority is no exception.

The Fairfax County Park Authority, which oversees 23,000 acres of land, says it has an estimated 204 acres or more of bamboo. The new ordinance, which will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2023, introduces the possibility of fines for people who get a complaint for letting running bamboo spread beyond their property.

“We’ll be working with code compliance as well as our neighboring properties to achieve compliance in the eyes of the ordinance,” John Burke, the park authority’s branch manager of natural resources, said Wednesday (April 27) during a park authority committee meeting.

Burke said the FCPA has been removing and monitoring bamboo over the years, but it could have more than estimated. The invasive plant can spread as much as 15 feet horizontally per year, according to the county.

The park authority has been removing two to three bamboo sites per year, but it can be expensive.

At Gilbert S. McCutcheon Park in Fort Hunt, FCPA removed about an acre of bamboo in two patches, and it cost about $35,000 — almost entirely due to herbicide treatment costs during 2021 and 2022.

Jim Zook, an at-large member of the park authority board, called for more education about not planting the species. Virginia gave municipalities the authority to ban it in 2017 but still lets customers purchase it.

Prior to adopting the running bamboo ordinance in March, Fairfax County supervisors said it isn’t perfect, but officials say they will try to work with property owners to help them meet requirements before imposing fines.

Ron Kendall, the park authority board’s Mason District representative, questioned where the park authority will find the money to support compliance.

According to Burke, the McCutcheon park example was atypical, but there could be other complications.

“Eradication countywide may not be possible or likely,” he said. “We may have to have some serious discussions with neighboring landowners about…eradicating bamboo versus trying to contain it.”

Burke estimated that the park authority receives around 10 to 20 bamboo complaints per year from neighboring homeowners, involving either problems spreading from park property to homes or concerns about bamboo adjacent to park property.

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Tennis player Lea Blinder practiced with a Slinger ball feeder machine yesterday (Wednesday) at Chalet Woods Park in Centreville, happy to hear that the courts there are slated for repairs.

The Arlington resident, who plays tennis at Chalet Woods a few times a week, was working on her swing before her lesson that afternoon. The three courts are surrounded by towering trees in a cul-de-sac by homes.

“It’s beautiful,” she said, noting that families also enjoy the park.

Expected to undergo repairs and get new color coating for its tennis courts and a basketball court, Chalet Woods is one of five parks across Fairfax County in line for court maintenance and renovations projects this year.

George Washington Park court demolition begins

One of the biggest scheduled overhauls will be at George Washington Park in Mount Vernon (8426 Old Mt. Vernon Road), where the Fairfax County Park Authority has proposed converting the four existing tennis courts into six dedicated pickleball courts and two shared-use courts with lines for both sports.

The county announced on Wednesday (April 27) that a vendor will begin preparing the GW Park courts this week for demolition. The courts are expected to be closed for four months for resurfacing process, depending on the weather.

“Once new asphalt is laid, the courts will sit undisturbed for a period of two to four weeks to allow the color coating to adhere properly,” the park authority said in its news release. “New fencing and nets will be installed once the color coatings have set and the courts are ready to open again.”

People can comment on the proposal through May 27 to 65533@PublicInput.com. The plan is expected to be finalized in early June.

Maintenance needs pave way for pickleball additions

As illustrated by the GW project and a similar renovation planned at Lewinsville Park in McLean, the park authority is using the schedule for repairing and resurfacing many tennis courts as an occasion to make upgrades and add new facilities, especially for pickleball.

“We’ll be nearly doubling the amount of pickleball courts that we have in the next two years,” FCPA Project Manager Adam Wynn said at a March 23 board meeting.

Building on a pickleball study from December, the county plans to create 37 to 42 additional pickleball courts, most of which could take place in coming months, the park authority reported at that meeting.

According to spokesperson Judy Pederson, the FCPA will undertake court maintenance and renovation projects this year and next at Chalet Woods, George Washington, Lewinsville, McLean Central Park, and Dowden Terrace Park near Bailey’s Crossroads.

“As always, [work is] weather dependent and contractor availability will determine how far we get,” she said in an email.

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