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.

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.

Afternoon at the Smithsonian – Time Well Spent

Cover photo: Susan Martel

The first ‘Afternoon at the Smithsonian’ CE tour was a big success.

Ocean Hall. Photo – Sarah Miller

This tour identifies the relationship of some Natural History Museum exhibits to the natural environment of Virginia including the geologic history, mineralogy, entomology, osteology, evolution, mammalogy, and many other topics.  Some of the take-aways include an introduction of how the NMNH’s display collection can be used to enrich the naturalist’s understanding of science, the scientific method, and some techniques that are applicable to naturalists’ domain of interests; as well as some facts related to the natural condition and history of Virginia.

Photo – Sarah Miller

The CE tour was developed and led by FMN Dr. John Kelmelis. He is former Chief Scientist for Geography for the U.S. Geological Survey, Senior Counselor for Earth Science at the U.S. Department of State, former Professor of Science, Technology and International Policy at Pennsylvania State University.  He holds a BA in Earth Science; MS in Engineering; and Ph.D. in Geography.  He is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and has held positions in many national and international scientific organizations.  He is a volunteer and docent at the Smithsonian Institution and a Virginia Master Naturalist in the Fairfax County chapter.

Talking bones. Photo – Susan Martel

While the tour inevitably talked ‘big picture’ natural science concepts, the attendees mentioned they appreciated how John tailored his discussions towards the Virginia area and even specific FMN course material when appropriate.
In general, tour topics covered and Halls visited include:
1. Geology Gems and Minerals Hall
2. Butterfly Pavilion (in passing) and Insect Zoo
3. Bones
4. Ocean Hall
5. Deep time
6. Mammals
7. Ornithology

Geology. Photo – Sarah Miller

Everyone walked away from the program feeling it was two hours very well spent. FMNs on the tour were: Susan Martel, Peter Mecca, Margaret Coffey, Ramona Bourgeois, Sarah Miller, and Liz Nalle. Thank you to Susan and Sarah for sharing photos of the event.

John will schedule more tours over the course of the next several months as his schedule permits.

Our world is a creation of inordinate complexity, richness, and strangeness that is absolutely fascinating. Come – see for yourself.

Keep an eye on upcoming FMN newsletters for CE announcements.

Plan Pollination

Cover photo Jerry Nissley

The pollinator garden redux at the Potomac River Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge is certainly not a complete success story yet but the story behind how it got started and kicked off is a complement to success.

FMN table at Eagle Festival (Photo Jerry Nissley)

Let’s rewind … FMN set up an outreach table the Mason Neck Eagle Festival a few months ago. Near day’s end Gabby Youngken, Visitor Services Specialist at Potomac River NWRC, stopped by to see if FMN could advise them on how to refurbish their on-site pollinator garden. As circumstances would have it Sarah Mayhew had recently established an FMN Chapter Project (CP179) at Mason Neck to do their gardens. With FMN Steph Johnson as technical advisor, Sarah and other FMN members, along with Friends of Mason Neck, developed a phased work and maintenance plan/schedule and were in the midst of working it.

‘Before’ picture (Photo Jerry Nissley)

Fast forward … Because everything was documented the Mason Neck plan was easily extensible to NRWC. Surely since NWRC is directly across Belmont Bay from MNSP it stands to reason they would have the same weeds. Right? FMN sent MNSP plans to NWRC for review; followed up with a site visit to NRWC; met the staff; toured the property; and then tailored the plan for them. We then had to gather a volunteer base to execute the plan. FMN contacted Merrimac Chapter, since they operate in Prince William county. FMN has a frequent volunteer in the NWRC visitor center – he was in. Master Gardeners was interested in helping. NWRC has a few volunteer groups they tap and of course several hard working interns from the American

‘After’ picture. Invasives destined for proper disposal. Phase one done. (Photo Jerry Nissley)

Conservation Experience, EPIC Program. With the team set, Gabby picked 8 Aug to kickoff the project. Many hands make short work! Phase one done!

The team was able to save several native plants for reuse, turn the soil to remove roots, and then cover with black plastic (to smother roots) until the scheduled fall planting.

So the ‘success’ to date is really credit to how the group came together as a result of outreach to cooperate and collaborate on a project that benefits our park systems. Stay tuned for more on this effort when it completes.

Bonus factoid: The Potomac River National Wildlife Refuge Complex is a complex of three National Wildlife Refuges in Virginia located along the Potomac River.
The three refuges are:
* Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge
* Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge
* Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge
The first two are administered jointly for planning, while the third is currently treated separately.
The pollinator garden is at the Occoquan Bay site.

Kayak Adventure

Rafting up to start the float. (Photo Jerry Nissley)

On 30 July, 2023 FMN offered its first of (hopefully) several CE Kayak Adventures. Everything worked out to a T and what a nice evening it was too. Perfect weather, full moon, eagles, herons, frogs in our boats, high tide, and Tom (the lead guide) managed to navigate the group through the hydrilla to observe an active eagle nest.

The evening tour at Mason Neck State Park (MNSP) consisted of a 2 hour tour into Belmont Bay and the back waters of Kane’s Creek. The round trip is a leisurely 4.5 mile paddle through islands of spatterdock to where MNSP borders the Elizabeth Hartwell Wildlife Refuge. The turn around point is at an eagle nest that has been reused for many years by the same mated pair.

Frogs in our boats! (Photo Jerry Nissley)

We saw two mature eagles and at least one of this year’s fledglings. The group discussed the local wetland plants, birds, geography, Native American culture, and colonial history of Mason Neck Peninsula. Mason Neck supports a large rookery of great blue herons and many migratory species such as white egrets, osprey, various water fowl, and song birds. Wetland plants identified and discussed included spatterdock, pickerel weed, arrow arum, wild rice, and swamp mallow (hibiscus).

We started the float around dusk atop glass smooth water with a cool summer breeze at our backs. While deep in the gut of Kane’s Creek we stopped to admire the eagle nest and discuss the eagle’s importance to the conservation of the peninsula. Our return leg was gently accompanied by an ebbing tide, the serenade of frogs, and the sibilant song of insects. We finished the evening gliding in under the shine of a full moon.

Paddling through spatterdock into the sunset (Photo Jerry Nissley)

The paddle adventure adhered to Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) regulations, so the tour was limited to 12 boaters and two certified guides. FMN provided the guides who have been trained and skill certified by DCR. Both guides (along with 5 other FMN) are currently registered with Mason Neck State Park and provided introductory paddling and safety tips to the group prior to the float. Not a single paddler was lost!

To the moon. (Photo Pete Thiringer)

A big thank you to FMN Program Chair Laura Anderko for arranging the event with MNSP and one of our new chapter advisors, MNSP ranger Jamie Leeuwrik.
Participants were Deb Hammer, Kathyrn Pasternak, Marilyn Schroeder, Pam Alexander, Margaret Coffey, Cyndi Perry, John Kelmelis, Meg Oakley, Pete Thiringer, Julie Shaw, and Kristin Bauersfeld; with Tom Blackburn and Jerry Nissley as the guides.

Thanks, Thanks, Thanks – One More Successful Tabling Event

Photo taken by FMN Member, Donna Stauffer

The Friends of Mason Neck State Park held their 25th Annual Eagle Festival on Saturday, May 13.  The Fairfax Master Naturalists participated by hosting a table.  Once again, a group of committed FMN volunteers came together to share their enthusiasm, experience, and knowledge as nature stewards.  Attendees were drawn to their table to learn about the FMN training program, invasive plants, native plants, and the numerous nature-related volunteer programs available in the county.  FMN Outreach Committee Chair Jo Doumbia had a really thoughtful way of summing up the tabling event, ” In my view that is what it is all about, spreading and sharing our accumulated nature knowledge with society.”

For Jo and the other volunteers, this tabling event was a wonderful opportunity to connect and reconnect with one another. This special camaraderie develops whenever FMN volunteers come together to support outreach events.

Below are some great photos of the FMN volunteers at Eagle Fest 2023: 

Photo taken by FMN Member, Jo

Photo taken by FMN Member, Donna Stauffer

Photo taken by FMN Member, Jo



FMN CE Event Recap: Wandering through the Wildflowers at Riverbend Park with Alonso Abugattas

Photo of Alonso Abugattas by FMN Laura Anderko

On April 23, 2023, Fairfax Master Naturalists spent a cool, sunny Sunday hiking with native plant expert Alonso Abugattas to learn more about native and invasive wildflowers. FMN members in attendance learned to identify many native plants such as Canada Waterleaf, Star Chickweed, Wild Blue Phlox, Smooth Solomon’s Seal, False Solomon’s Seal, Spring Beauty, Ramps/Wild Leeks, Sweet Cicely, Virginia Bluebells, Blue and Cream Violets, Clustered Snakeroot, Sessile Trillium, and Kidney Leafed Buttercup. Non-natives included Gill over the Ground, Garlic Mustard, Bulbous Buttercup and Star of Bethlehem. Participants also heard stories about the folklore and uses of a variety of wildflowers. One example, the Spring Beauty plant is also known as fairy spuds for its small potato-like edible roots. See photos below for more.

Photo by Laura Anderko, Canada Waterleaf (Hydrophyllum canadense)

Photo by FMN Laura Anderko, Spring Beauty (Claytonia virginica)

Tool Under Development for Amateur Naturalists – Created by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

 Article and photo by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

Tool under development for amateur naturalists – created by FMN Margaret E. Fisher

For those of you who enjoy learning the names of the plants and animals that surround us, we are working on a spreadsheet to make it a little easier to identify Northern Virginia organisms. This tool is for people who have enough experience to take a reasonable guess at the identification of a plant, insect, or other organism but not enough to distinguish it from its lookalikes. Using iNaturalist can sometimes help, but only if you photograph the right part. The idea is to create a cheat sheet – one that can be referenced in the field – that highlights one or two features that can readily make the distinction.


For example, you might know enough about flowers to identify the two pictured here as Monkeyflower. One is Sharpwing Monkeyflower (Mimulus alatus) and the other is Allegheny Monkeyflower (Mimulus ringens). At first glance, they look very much alike, but the distinction becomes easy once you know that the former has a short flower stem and long leaf stem, and the latter has a long flower stem and no leaf stem at all. Similarly, you may already know that the terms Painted Lady and American Lady refer to butterflies, but you could use a reminder that the former has a band of small eyespots as opposed to the latter which has two large eyespots on the underside of the hindwing.


We are only just getting started on collecting information to fill in the blanks as people submit the results of their research. The spreadsheet will never be complete, but it will be fun to watch it grow as our familiarity with our non-human neighbors increases. To contribute your tips (or corrections, which are welcome and needed), email [email protected].

You can view the Google spreadsheet here.



Landscaping With A Conscience

Photos courtesy of Steph Johnson

I do not recall ever writing a success story about an FMN volunteer before their training class even graduates but there always seems to be a first time for everything.

VMN trainee (Fairfax Chapter) Stephanie Johnson was recently featured in a newsletter article published by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. Steph is in the current Spring 2023 FMN class and is also a Master Gardener, a member of the Native Plant Society, a small business owner, conservationist, and landscape designer.

I know from speaking with her that she has a positive conviction for native landscaping and life in general, so her journey makes for a compelling story. I asked Steph if FMN could publish the link to her story and she replied, “I dont mind. It’s nice when the community unites to support the fight against invasives and the promotion of native habitat. It’s a tough fight solo.”


Nature’s Ephemeral Oases

Cover photo: Ana Ka’ahanui (Capital Nature)

By definition vernal ponds are ephemeral; how we endeavor to sustain their wellbeing does not need to be.

The idea to create an educational outreach film that would emphasize the importance of vernal ponds and enhance our understanding of them originated with FMN Beverley Rivera, FACC Philip Latasa, and their colleagues at Friends of Accotink Creek (FACC). The finished product beautifully illustrates the concerted efforts of concerned citizens and passionate master naturalists to learn more about vernal pools in Fairfax County and to communicate knowledge gained to educate our communities – of all ages.

The ‘cast’ of characters for filming at Eakin Park – Photo: Sarah Glassco

Friends of Accotink Creek are committed to protecting, promoting and restoring the water quality, natural habitat, and ecological well-being of the Accotink Creek watershed. To that end, back in spring 2021, spurred on by a grant from Virginia Lakes and Watersheds Association, FACC put out a call for FMN volunteers to help film on a weekend when FACC was to bring in Mike Hayslett to consult on a potential restoration of a vernal pool and evaluate some existing pools in Fairfax County. Three FMNs responded with a willingness to film: Sarah Glassco, Ashley Zywusko (now in Central Rappahannock chapter), and Kathryn Pasternak. At the time, Ashley and Kathryn were in their FMN training class, so this would be their first volunteer project. By the time production began FMNs Kim Schauer, Ana Ka’ahanui, and Tammy Schwab, along with additional FACC people, were involved and they would all make major contributions to the project.

Mike at a Nottaway pool – Photo: Sarah Glassco

In addition to the consultations, FACC objectives were to make a couple of videos for Fairfax County Elementary Schools. To make these films more compelling to kids they gathered some parents and their children to accompany Mike at Eakin Park. The organized ‘cast’ included a girl scout troop and some other interested youth. The first day Mike toured various wetlands in Fairfax County with the FMN/FACC team and Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) officials Tammy Schwab – Manager Education and Outreach, John Burke – Natural Resources Branch Manager, and Dan Grulke – Manager of Lake Accotink Park. Sarah, Ashley, and Kathryn filmed the events over Mike’s three-day visit, including an extensive interview at Eakin Park. Sarah provided subject matter for filming and provided help transcribing the interview. At the end of the weekend Kathryn collected all film footage, notes, and field data, proceeded to her studio and went into production mode. Future spin-off films will target elementary school level audience and will be distributed accordingly.

Mike Hayslett – Photo: Sarah Glassco

So why vernal ponds? Vernal ponds are so called because they are often, though not necessarily, at their maximum depth in the spring due to snow melt and heavier seasonal rains. Vernal meaning – ‘of, relating to, or occurring in the spring’. There are many local names for such ponds, depending upon where in the country they occur – sinks, wallows, kettles. But one term most people have not typically attached to them is ‘important’ – enter Mike Hayslett, Principal of Virginia Vernal Pools, LLC. The problem, Hayslett has said, is that many people view the pools as soggy nuisances, “so there’s a real disparity in the public’s understanding of their biological significance.”
Mr. Hayslett is a former biology and environmental instructor at Sweet Briar College and other Virginia schools, plus a member of the Allegheny Highlands chapter of VMN. He has spent his career pursuing the study, awareness, and conservation of freshwater wetlands known as vernal pools in and around his native Virginia. The film clearly illuminates Mike’s passion for vernal pools … his raison d’etre.

Evaluating area for restoration at Lake Accotink – Photo: Tammy Schwab

Because of his in-depth expertise, Friends of Accotink Creek (FACC) asked him to consult on one site identified for potential restoration at Lake Accotink. Accotink Creek watershed runs 25 miles through one of the finest wildlife corridors in Fairfax County. The creek meanders through the county parks of Eakin, Americana, Wakefield, Lake Accotink, and Accotink Stream Valley. It continues south through Ft. Belvoir and the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, converges with the waters of Pohick Bay (which is fed by the Pohick Creek watershed), and drains into the Potomac River as the mouth of Gunston Cove, therefore contributing to the water that constitutes the Chesapeake Bay.

Marbled Salamander in search of a vernal pool – Photo: Jerry Nissley

Kathryn Pasternak became an FMN in 2021 but she is also a veteran of wildlife, conservation, and cultural films and recipient of two National Emmy Awards for ‘Best Science and Nature Program’. She spent 15+ years at National Geographic Television working on high-end television programs for international distribution. Since 2007, she’s been producing media independently both as a freelancer and small business owner. Therefore, she was adequately prepared to do the additional research into the lifecycle of vernal pools and to get additional film footage over the next two vernal mating seasons required to complete a visually compelling and scientifically accurate story. Through the collective efforts of the FMN ‘film crew’ and the FACC ‘production contributors’, FCPA officials, and an enthralled ‘cast’, Kathryn (Pasternak Media) produced an exemplary product that illustrates the value of educating the public on the vital ecological benefits of vernal ponds.

For example, vernal ponds favor native species because many non-native species cannot tolerate the extreme seasonal changes in environmental conditions for the local area in which the pond exists. With an inevitable end and an unstoppable beginning, these ephemeral oases may not look like much, but they shelter many imperiled species and play a pivotal role in the ecologically networked-webs of many forests and open depression wetlands.

Wood frogs mating – Photo: Kathryn Pasternak

Wood frog tadpoles – Photo: Kathryn Pasternak

Despite being dry at times, vernal pools teem with life when filled, serving as critical breeding grounds for many amphibian and invertebrate species. The most obvious inhabitants are various species of breeding frogs and toads. Some salamanders also utilize vernal pools for reproduction, but the adults may visit the pool only briefly. Other highly specialized inhabitants are daphnia and fairy shrimp. The latter are often used as an indicator species to decisively define a vernal pool. Other indicator species, at least in parts of NoVA, are the wood frog, the spade foot toad, and a few species of mole salamanders (spotted, tiger, and marbled). The tiny Pea Clams discovered in one pool were thought to be a first encounter in Fairfax County and

Spotted salamander – Photo: Krista Melville

Pea clams – Photo: Sarah Glassco

evidence was sent to a lab in Ontario, Canada for verification.







To me, one of the most fascinating single phenomena of vernal pools is simply the explosive appearance of life in the just recently thawed waters of an emergent spring pool.

The film elicited a foundational precept instilled in me during my FMN-101 training that is worth repeating, ‘an awareness of nature (or a thing of nature) leads to understanding; understanding leads to appreciation; appreciation leads to caring; and caring leads to conservation’.

Without further ado, and just in time for the 2023 vernal pool season, here is their film journey through some vernal pools of Fairfax County – Fairfax Vernal Pools with Mike Hayslett