AHS – Projects and Partnerships

Article by FMN Susan Farmer

Fairfax Master Naturalists  chapter is partnering with the American Horticultural Society (AHS) at their River Farm location in Fairfax County. River Farm is a beautiful 27-acre property located along the George Washington Parkway overlooking the Potomac River that has been AHS headquarters since 1973. The River Farm location is one of George Washington’s original five farms.

AHS headquarters – photo Jerry Nissley

Members of Virginia Master Naturalists, Fairfax Chapter (FMN) will provide volunteers in support of AHS activities as well as promote awareness of AHS educational opportunities inline with the FMN mission.

To help celebrate their 50th year at River Farm, AHS initiated several new projects in 2023. With the help of volunteers, River Farm is replacing the old azalea garden with 2400 native plants, converting a large lawn into a native meadow, renewing all the bluebird boxes, building a greenhouse, and creating an accessible path through the wooded area to the riverfront. FMN will be working with other AHS volunteers and staff to fulfill their vision.

AHS Border garden – photo Jerry Nissley

FMN created three project codes to cover AHS Stewardship projects, Educational programs, and Citizen Science opportunities.

S275: Stewardship Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm
S275: Educational Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm
S275: Citizen Science Projects at American Horticultural Society River Farm

AHS formal garden – photo Jerry Nissley

Two opportunities on the top of their list for FMN are the removal of invasive vines to prep for native plantings and to re-establish their bluebird trail. The Invasive Vine Removal Program will be on consecutive Saturday mornings beginning October 7th. Help restructuring the bluebird trail and then subsequently monitoring the boxes will start very soon. FMN Susan Farmer has volunteered to be the FMN liaison for all projects at River Farm.

If you would like to get involved at this national showcase for gardening and horticultural practices along gorgeous river front property, please contact Susan at [email protected]

AHS HQ view from River side – photo Jerry Nissley

FMN Project Codes Explained

Cover photo: Marilyn Schroeder

Looking for a Project Code?
With 2023 entering the final quarter, this is a good time to review FMN Projects Codes, how to find them, and how to use them in Better Impact (BI).

All VMN chapters are required to develop and maintain a project catalogue in accordance with VMN guidelines. The FMN catalogue taxonomically lists all FMN approved projects. The FMN Project code structure varies in some ways when compared to other Chapters and FMN project codes have a unique format that helps with annual reporting.

The FMN Project Catalog in BI is an up to date, on-line, searchable list of FMN volunteer opportunities organized by areas of interest. A viable resource at your fingertips that lists approved projects for volunteering as an FMN. The full catalog of Project Codes may be viewed from your initial BI screen by clicking on the Opportunities tab and selecting Opportunity List.

The organizing construct is based on VMN Operating Manual guidelines. FMN has nine project categories and one CE component:
1. Admin
2. Birds
3. Community Outreach
4. Habitat creation and restoration
5. Native plants and invasive removal
6. Parks
7. School Engagements
8. Water and wetlands
9. Wildlife Surveys
CE = All Continuing Education (All CE hours are recorded under this)

FMN Project Codes beginning with C = Citizen Science; codes beginning with E = Education/Outreach; and codes beginning with S = Stewardship. C, E, and S codes are distributed throughout the 9 FMN Categories depending on the project description and purpose.

The four-part Project Code format was developed by the FMN IT team when VMN rolled out BI state wide. This format allows the organization of Project Codes to facilitate automated analysis of data for annual reporting requirements. The 4 parts are:
1. FMN category – | 2. Project Code: | 3. Project Title – – | 4. Project Org

Following are 4 examples to illustrate format and usage:

1. Birds – C034: Bluebird Trails – – VA Bluebird Society

Project code C034 covers monitoring bluebird boxes exclusively along the Bluebird Trail as prescribed by the Virginia Bluebird Society (VBS). Activities must be organized by VBS and data reported to VBS. The Project Org is VBS. However, Fairfax county parks also provide bluebird box monitoring opportunities. So for activities on park property, hours would be charged to Parks code C106 with data reported to FCPA. Understanding the Project Org is important.

2. Parks – C106: FCPA Citizen Science Programs — Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA)
Project code C106 covers most citizen science projects on FCPA park property as identified in the project description. Monitoring vernal pools, duck boxes, and bluebird boxes are examples. Data is reported to FCPA by the volunteer. The Project Organization is FCPA. Reading Project description is helpful in choosing the correct code to use.

3. Community Outreach – E543: Education and Outreach — FMN
Project Code E543 is for educational, community outreach projects (tabling, teaching, instructing) as defined in the project description. The Project Organization is FMN.

4. Parks – S179: Virginia State Park Stewardship Projects — Department of Conservation & Recreation (VDCR)
Project code S179 is used for Stewardship projects on State park property. For example, the physical planting of native plants, the removal of invasive plants, or shoreline cleanup. VDCR is the sponsor Project Org for the code.

Project Org (part 4 of a code) is the value entered into the Project Organization field in the BI template when recording your service hours. Just copy that value into the Project Organization field. No need to guess. Project Organization entry should always match part 4 of a Project Code; never needs to be ‘n/a’.

Photo: Jerry Nissley

There are multiple Project Codes under each category and admittedly, some appear duplicative between categories. We are working to improve that so if in doubt please ask.

Generally though, a Project Code can be found by understanding what category a project falls under, determining if the project is Citizen Science, Stewardship, or Educational outreach, and then reading the project title and description.

Of course, the Projects/Hours Committee will continue to be at your service to answer future questions at [email protected].

For additional insight into Project codes:

The VMN Policy Handbook may be read here: VMN Manual 

The FMN Operating Handbook may be read here: FMN Handbook

Click on the video link to view a BI Video and push ahead to 9:05 mark to see how VMN explains using the Opportunities List and Calendar to view Projects or Activities. Take note that FMN historically uses ‘unscheduled’ Project Opportunities. We only use the Calendar function to schedule CE events.

FMN Joe Gorney Environmental Excellence 2023

On September 13th, the Fairfax County Office of Environmental and Energy Coordination (OEEC) announced the recipients of the 2023 Environmental Excellence Awards. The September Board of Supervisor’s newsletter referenced that since 2000, Fairfax County has issued the Environmental Excellence Awards to recognize county residents, county employees, businesses, and organizations who demonstrate extraordinary leadership within the community and exceptional dedication to the preservation and enhancement of the county’s natural resources. This year’s winners include a high school senior working on environmental stewardship, a small business reducing waste, a condo association safeguarding green spaces for its residents, and three county employees advancing sustainability practices.

“We are fortunate to have these leaders working tirelessly in our community to preserve and protect the natural world we all share,” said Jeffrey C. McKay, Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “Their contributions make a significant impact and inspire others to join in the effort to build a more sustainable future.” Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck, chair of the Board’s Environmental Committee added, “We applaud them for leading by example and helping to ensure that our county residents and visitors can enjoy a healthy and beautiful Fairfax County for decades to come.”

FMN Joe Gorney was one of the three winners in the County Employee Category.

 Joe’s award profile stated that he is a Planner with the Department of Planning and Development, Environment and Development Review Branch. He works collaboratively with other county agencies on a diverse range of environmental review topics, working to create a sustainable future for residents and employees. He was the staff lead for the Environmental Plan guidance update for the Reston planning study, designating Reston as “biophilic” community.

With FMN Joe is a past President and currently teaches the “Personal Stewardship for the Land” module for FMN Basic Training Cohorts. He was part of a team that monitored 36 bluebird boxes at Twin Lakes for several years. He also helped establish the golf course as an Invasive Management Area (IMA) site and has now transitioned to IMA site leadership duties.

Joe Gorney and colleague Carley Aubrey working at Herrity Center – photo courtesy of Joe Gorney

In 2023 he has already volunteered over 40 hours in several categories on various Projects. In addition to the IMA site leadership role at Twin Lakes, he has been busy designing a couple of native plantings (see cover photo) at the Fairfax County Government Center (GC). He said, “We’ve already removed invasives around the GC Memorial area, which is an ongoing management process, and planted the area with natives. We’re also investigating planting 48 native trees around the GC Ellipse, which may happen in mid-October. I’m also inventorying landscape invasives around the GC, which are to be removed and replaced with natives, and designing other native tree plantings to the east of the GC. In addition to invasive pulls at the GC Memorial area, I’ve helped organize and participate in invasive pulls at the Herrity Building.” Joe also found time to be active on Audubon Home Ambassador projects and support FMN board with occasional admin duties.

Please join us in congratulating Joe on his well earned 2023 Environmental Excellence Award.

Photo: By Jo Doumbia, FMN Culmore Teens Summer Program 2023

Fairfax Master Naturalists in the Summer – Culmore Teens Summer Nature Program

Article and photos by FMN Jo Doumbia, FMN Outreach Committee Chair

As the warmth of summer fades, I find myself reflecting on the amazing journey 20 teens from the disadvantaged area of Culmore went through this summer as they participated in the Teens Summer Nature Camp. The camp itself was made possible via the combined energies and commitment of many sponsors with several dedicated Fairfax Master Naturalist (FMN) volunteers providing program support and guidance.

With hands-on support by FCPA, the Second Story Program at the Culmore Community Center, and the assistance FMN volunteers, we conducted nature related activities at Colvin Run, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, and Riverbend Park. We helped this youth group establish lasting positive connections with nature through activities such as orienteering, geocaching, reptile feeding, green careers discussion, and kayaking.

It was truly delightful to witness the high level of engagement on the part of the teens across the different summer activities. Their questions, comments, and concerns were right-on and not much different than those of many FMNers when first introduced to new or unknown concepts. The Culmore teens, along with the Second Story leadership, extend heartfelt gratitude and appreciation to the FMN volunteers.

Photo: By Jo Doumbia, FMN Culmore Teens Summer Program 2023

Photo: By Jo Doumbia, FMN Culmore Teens Summer Program 2023

It is very rewarding just to realize the possibilities for volunteer programs like FMN, to share their enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge with those communities that have limited or no access to natural resource educational opportunities. For the Culmore teens and the FMN volunteers, this summer’s successful outreach experience just may be the beginning of more enriching educational experiences.

The continued success of programs like this, which I hope to be the first of many, depends on the sustained interest and willingness of knowledgeable volunteers. With a solid volunteer base we can help establish and support educational outreach experiences for natural resource stewardship in underserved and disadvantage communities. One of the most important connections these young people made was to realize the relationship between themselves and nature. They found enjoyment and strength through their summer journeys and experiences which may help them become better stewards of the planet.

As a follow up, and per request of the teens, we look forward to possibly offering a once-a-month nature outing. Be on the lookout for invitations to volunteer.

In closing, I want to express profound gratitude for our volunteers’ incredible support. In particular to Kim Munshower, JaneEllen Saums, Rob Warren, Jerry Nissley, and Whitney Redding, as well as to Suzanne Holland from the Hidden Oaks Nature Center.

FCPA Is Hiring Roving Naturalists for Fall and Spring Programs


Photo: By FMN Jerry Nissley, Hidden Oaks Nature Center

FCPA is hiring Roving Naturalists for fall and spring programs. See the job details below and send a resume to [email protected]

If you would rather volunteer than work for FCPA we have opportunities to support this program as a volunteer as well.  Click this link to sign up as a volunteer https://volunteer.fairfaxcounty.gov/custom/1380/#/opp_details/188975


Position Title: Roving Park Naturalist

ROVING PARK Naturalist is responsible for teaching children Environmental Education and historical programs. Rovers work with Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) and the general public. Position is under the general direction of the Manager of Education and Outreach and the specific program directors at work sites. Some program research, planning, and development may be required.

Job Description: Roving Park Naturalist (Rovers) teach a wide variety of education programs. Main duties include Meaningful Watershed Education Experience (MWEE) for 7th grade FCPS. Other duties include 4th grade MWEE offered at various elementary schools which focuses on invasive plants. Rovers will also lead programs, teach camps, work events and other activities with scout groups and the general public. Uniform shirts and name tags provided.

Location: Work will require travel to various Fairfax County Park Authority sites/schools. Occasionally attend outreach events and staff a booth as a representative of FCPA and interact with the public to inform them of FCPA resources and programs.

Qualifications: Applicants should have some course work in nature/history, education, interpretation, or outdoor recreation. These would be beneficial but are not required. Applicants should have the ability to work with all age groups. Communicate effectively both orally and in writing. Be able to walk long distances over various types of terrain and stand for long periods of time.
Starting at $14 to $18 hr. based on experience, no benefits. This position cannot exceed 980 hours per calendar year.

Hours: Weekday mornings (8:30m-1:30pm) Sept-Oct and April-May is required. Training offered in spring and fall semesters. After the 7th grade MWEE program is completed, additional work may be available afternoons, weekends and evenings.

To Apply: Applicants should send a current resume and cover letter to: [email protected] OR

Fairfax County Park Authority Suite 936
12055 Government Center Parkway Fairfax, VA. 22035
Resource Management Division Education & Outreach

Necessary Special Requirements: 

  • The appointee to this position will be required to complete a criminal background check to the satisfaction of the employer.

If you have any questions, please email [email protected] or visit us online.

Reasonable accommodations are available to persons with disabilities during application and/or interview processes per the Americans with Disabilities Act. Contact 703-324-4900 for assistance. TTY 703-222-7314. EEO/AA/TTY. 

Fairfax County Park Authority prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, pregnancy, childbirth or related medical conditions, age, marital status, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetics, political affiliation, or military status in the recruitment, selection, and hiring of its workforce.  



Tammy Schwab
Manager, Education & Outreach
Resource Management Division
Fairfax County Park Authority
12055 Government Center Parkway
Phone (703) 324-8750

What’s For Dinner? Reconnecting Our Food With Our Climate

Photo: SERC

Tuesday, October 24, 2023
7 pm
Zoom, hosted by Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC)
Register here.

Our food systems have become increasingly fragile in the face of climate change, ongoing conflicts and the long-tail of the COVID-19 pandemic. More frequent—and more intense—extreme events challenge food production, storage and transportation. At the same time, how we grow, process, package and transport our food often harms the environment, further accelerating climate change and biodiversity loss. Fixing this requires bridging the gap between food policies and climate policies. Join Dr. Jessica Fanzo for a look at sustainable food practices for a hotter, more turbulent world. Fanzo directs the Food for Humanity Initiative at the Columbia University Climate School. In this talk, she’ll reveal the must-do actions to nourish 9.7 billion people by 2050.

The Mysterious Migrations of Cownose Rays, webinar September 19th

Photo: SERC

Tuesday, September 19, 2023
7 pm
Zoom, hosted by SERC

Register here.

Cownose rays are enigmatic, and sometimes controversial, summertime inhabitants of Chesapeake Bay. Smithsonian Environmental Research Center’s Fisheries Conservation Lab has been tagging cownose rays and tracking their long-distance migrations since 2014. On Sept. 19 Dr. Matt Ogburn, head of the Fisheries Conservation Lab, will reveal some of the discoveries from this 9-year tracking effort. Their studies have uncovered the rays’ overwintering habitat, documented the different migration patterns of males and females, and revealed the environmental cues that help rays know when to start migrating. These findings are helping support conservation and management of this often misunderstood and overlooked stingray.

This webinar will be recorded! Closed captioning will be available during the live event and on the recording. By signing up on Zoom, you’ll be able to join live and receive a link to the recording approximately one week after it airs.

National Public Lands Day, September 23rd

For 30 years, National Public Lands Day has mobilized volunteers of all ages to engage in a celebration of service and stewardship of America’s public lands. The event is the largest single-day national volunteer effort to preserve, restore, improve and enjoy America’s public lands.

Fairfax County Park Authority invites you to be a part of their celebration of National Public Lands Day by taking part in any of a wide selection of service activities to protect the natural, cultural and recreational resources of our treasured park system!

Check out their list of service opportunities by location that day.

Science in Your Watershed

Feature photo: The Mighty Potomac on June 2, 2018

Article, photo and images provided by FMN Stephen Tzikas

A watershed is a common geographic area that drains all streams and rivers into a common outlet, like a bay.  The Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District has a macroinvertebrate stream monitoring program that helps protect our watersheds:


Getting to know your watershed is like getting to know your neighborhood.  Our local Potomac Watershed is part of the Chesapeake Watershed, which is part of the Mid-Atlantic Watershed, and which is part of the Eastern Watershed.  A principal river of a basin is a river that drains directly into the ocean.  Our Atlantic Seaboard Basin includes the Hudson River, Delaware River, Susquehanna River, our local Potomac River, and the Savannah River.  Your watershed’s information can be found at this USGS website which contains many USGS links:


You can visit the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) website, type in your zip code, and get a local map of your watershed: https://www.epa.gov/waterdata/hows-my-waterwayFor example, my Reston home location is part of the local Difficult Run watershed.

Illustration by author:  Local Watershed Generated by the EPA website per input of the 20191 zip code. Notice the drainage pattern. Depending on a location’s geology, drainage patterns can be dendritic, trellis-like, rectangular, or radial.

The website provides physical, chemical and biological water quality factors from its monitoring locations.  In Fairfax County, drinking water comes from two major sources: the Occoquan Reservoir and Potomac River.  Fairfax Water operates both the Corbalis and Griffith treatment plants, where water undergoes a series of treatments.  In recent years, new emerging contaminants have become a concern in drinking water. You can help protect the drinking water quality in Fairfax County by preventing water pollution and reducing runoff.  For example, don’t flush expired pharmaceuticals in the toilet, and keep car wash suds out of the storm drains.

By visiting the USGS water data website, more interesting data can be gleaned: https://waterdata.usgs.gov. I used this site to compare historical information to an unusually high level of water in the Potomac River following a large rain event.  The unusual event took place on June 2, 2018, the day I took a geological excursion to Great Falls Park with Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC).

The flux of the Potomac River on June 2, 2018 was 25,000 cubic feet per second as recorded at Little Falls dam and pumping station. River flux is controlled both by precipitation and the size of the watershed. Flux affects erosion rates. When a path of a river narrows the velocity rises, and there is more erosion by 3 types of stream loads. Dissolved load is comprised of invisible minerals carried to the ocean, where through evaporation and concentration, the ocean receives its high salt content. The suspended load carries the coarser sands and requires a faster velocity.  The competence of a river is the maximum particle size that it can transport, and the thalweg is the line of lowest elevation within a watercourse. As one walks toward a thalweg, the brushing of sand particles upon the leg will be stronger. The bed load rolls along a river bottom, and these carry the largest and heaviest materials. The Appalachian Mountains feed these three loads through erosion.

The mountains now average about 3,500 feet in height, but were up to 20,000 feet at peak height some 200-300+ million years (Myr) ago. These higher mountains had a steeper gradient 100 Myr ago. The velocity was higher, as well as cut down, and so too the erosion. As a river cuts down, mass wasting can fill in through rock falls on the sides. In 100 Myr the Potomac River will be flatter and wider with a lower gradient. This is compounded by rising sea levels by melting polar region ice.  During the entire time of our NVCC geologic hike through Great Falls Park we did not change elevation.  But there was a cut down from upstream (where we stood on the shoreline) to downstream of the river (where it was a gorge). Another type of river dynamic is headward erosion. Downstream waterfalls push rocks off causing the waterfall to slowly move upstream. In floods the competency goes down and larger particles settle as the river covers a wider area.

Pro Illustration extracted by author:  Gage Height Potomac on June 2, 2018.  This illustration shows the gage height during the heavy water flows on June 2, 2018. Date marked by blue square.

Also visit the National Water Dashboard link at https://waterdata.usgs.gov and go to Potomac River near Washington, DC Little

Falls Pump Station, by zooming in on the map.  Select that pump station and click the site page link on that new page.  Find the legacy real-time page link and select it.  At this link location one can search on specific parameters, such as gage height, for a date rage.  Gage height is the height of the water in the stream above a reference point. Notice how large Gage Height was on June 2, 2018 during my geological excursion.

2022 Report Updates Status of Reston’s Environmental Attributes

Photo: Provided by Northern Virginia Aerials, Reston

Article provided by Master Gardener intern/Master Naturalist Robin Duska

Ever wonder about how to measure the effects of development on the environment?
In 2017, Reston’s Environmental Advisory Committee set out to establish one approach: A baseline against which the desirability and effect of changes resulting from development or other causes could be assessed. Today, as Reston, like much of Fairfax County, accommodates ever higher population densities, it strives to maintain elements of its natural areas, water features, woodlands, and open spaces that give its residents a sense of well-being, benefit the economy, and provide a host of critically important ecological services.

The 2022 Reston Association State of the Environment Report (RASER) addresses 23 specific natural resources or environmental topics, to include many that may be of particular interest to Master Naturalists such as Streams, Stormwater, Urban Forests, Landscaping & Urban Agriculture, Birds, Wildlife Management Issues, and Light Pollution. Although Reston-focused, many of the data apply more generally to Fairfax County.

For each topic, Background information on the subject is provided, followed by a description of Existing Conditions in Reston. Conclusions are then drawn using colored traffic light icons to indicate whether the overall condition of the topic is considered good (green), fair (yellow), poor (red), or undetermined (black). RASER’s separate 2022 Report Card & Recommendations document provides a list of recommendations to better protect or improve upon Reston’s environmental conditions. It also annually
tracks the progress made on implementing previous RASER recommendations and is briefed each year to Reston’s Board of Directors. Given Reston is a census-designated area rather than a town, the Board is Reston’s decision-making body.

RASER is designed to complement the information Fairfax County’s Environmental Quality Advisory Council reports in its Annual Report on the Environment. Master Naturalists can access RASER here to read the lengthy full report, an executive summary of its conclusions, or individual chapters such as those listed above as well as the Report Card & Recommendations. Other Reston-produced environmental information is available here, including a 2021 report on best management practices for
invasive plants and Reston’s Biophilic Pledge.

The RASER project team co-led by Master Naturalist Doug Britt and Master Gardener intern/Master Naturalist Robin Duska, will welcome additional volunteers to produce the 2024 edition of RASER. Reston residents can also volunteer to serve on Reston’s Environmental Advisory Committee (EAC). To volunteer for either or both, please contact EAC’s Doug Britt at [email protected] or Surekha Sridhar at [email protected].