Party Time on the Disc Golf Course

Photo courtesy of Plant NOVA Natives

We don’t usually associate the native plant movement or a tree campaign with sports, but players at the Giles Run Disc Golf Course see it as a natural connection. Their course, about a third the size of a regular golf course, was created in 2008-2009 by the Fairfax County Park Authority on land that was formerly mowed grass around the Lorton Prison. Unfortunately, disturbed land with a lot of edge habitat is an invitation to invasive non-natives plants to move in, and move in they did with a vengeance after the prison closed in 2000. The Oriental Bittersweet vine has been particularly problematic, turning the areas next to the fairways into a tangled mess and swallowing up the native trees and shrubs as well as the players’ discs.

Most people would probably just expect someone else to fix the problem, but disc golfers turn out to be a different sort. Organizers Tommy Donelson and Kemper Pogue started recruiting players to participate in invasive removal parties, complete with music from a portable speaker. Forty or fifty club members have joined in this fun and free way to build upper body strength, clearing out large swathes of invasives. They have also recruited other volunteers to help, starting the sessions with half an hour of education before tackling the job. Altogether, they have been putting in a hundred hours in nine sessions every month, year round.

Oriental Bittersweet is a particularly troublesome plant when taken out of its native habitat in East Asia and imported elsewhere, as it was for its pretty red and yellow berries which are used for decorations. It twines around trees, strangling them and bringing them down. It curls itself into impenetrable thickets. When cut down, it simply regrows stems that can reach high up into trees to latch onto the branches and keep going up from there. Eliminating it requires either pulling it up by its roots, some of which can be several inches thick, or using herbicides.

It did not take long for the disc golfers to understand that the invasives issue on their course is just one example of a much greater threat to our ecosystem in Fairfax County and the world in general. They are planning to eventually replant with native plants and have been spreading the word about how important it is for residents to take out invasive ornamentals from their own yards and use more natives to support the struggling ecosystem. Information about garden-friendly native plants can be found on the Plant NOVA Natives website. Meanwhile, they would be happy to invite others to their work parties. They can be contacted at There are plenty of opportunities in other parks as well to help with invasive removal. Cold weather (within reason) is no obstacle, since this is warm work.

Winter Volunteer Opportunities at Fairfax County Parks

Photo: Suzanne Holland

Volunteering is a year-round adventure at Fairfax County Parks!  Here is a selection of exciting opportunities at Ellanor C. Lawrence Park, Hidden Oaks Nature Center, and Riverbend Park.  Have fun!

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park
5040 Walney Rd. Chantilly VA

Projects that volunteers could be working on in the winter:
1. Removal of Japanese bush honeysuckle using weed wrenches from the historic loop area and beyond.
2. Removal of autumn olive trees using hand saws from the corner of the park near the intersection of Walney Rd and Poplar Tree Rd.
To volunteer, contact Gabby Hrycyshyn, Natural Resource Manager,
Receive a 1 hour training on identifying and removing Japanese bush honeysuckle and/or autumn olive. Then come in on your own schedule with 1-2 days advance notice so that tools can be made available.

(Master Naturalists:  Record hours as S108: Invasive Plant Removal)

Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce St., Annandale VA

Variety of nature programs

Contact Suzanne Holland, to volunteer.
Be at site 30 min. prior if assisting, 1 hr. prior if leading.

Salute the Bald Eagle Fr. 1/14 from 7-8 p.m.

Full Moon Nature Hike and Campfire Monday Jan. 17 from 7-8 p.m.

Skiing Penguins and Snowman Fun  Th. Jan. 20 3-4 p.m. or Feb. 17 from 10-11 a.m. or 4-5 pm
Build Your Own Birdfeeder (Pinecone) F Jan. 21 from 10:30-11:30 a.m. or 1-2 p.m. or 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Owl Walk & Talk (ages 2 yr. +) Sa. Feb. 12 5-6 p.m.

(Master Naturalists:  Record hours as E110:  FCPA Nature Programs.  In the Description, include Hidden Oaks and the name of the program.  In Direct Contacts, write the number of people you spoke to or who attended the program.)

Riverbend Park
8700 Potomac Hills St., Great Falls, VA

Natural Resources Projects, every other Wednesday, 9am – 12pm or 1pm – 3pm
Help maintain and protect native plants through plantings, pullings, and projects.
To volunteer, contact Rita Peralta at
(Master Naturalists:  Record hours as S109: FCPA Habitat and Parkland Management)

Adopt-a-Spot, every other Wednesday, 9am-12pm or 1-3pm
Adopt an area at Riverbend Park to maintain and care for.
To volunteer, contact Rita Peralta at
(Master Naturalists:  Record hours as S109: FCPA Habitat and Parkland Management)

Animal Care, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays
Help us care for our turtles and snakes, must complete training before solo care, schedule flexible.
To volunteer, contact Mo Swirnsky at
(Master Naturalists:  Record hours as S182: FCPA Nature Center Animal Care)

Forest Friends, Monday-Friday
Chaperone, craft, organize, accompany on trips/hikes, mentor and teach young children
To volunteer, contact Amy Cullen at
(Master Naturalists:  Record hours as E110:  FCPA Nature Programs.  In the Description, include Hidden Oaks and the name of the program.  In Direct Contacts, write the number of people you spoke to or who attended the program.)

Fairfax Master Naturalists’ Donation Making a Difference!

Article by FMN Steve Wright

Plant NOVA Trees is a new, five-year drive by the Plant NOVA Natives campaign to increase the native tree canopy in Northern Virginia by promoting planting and preservation of native trees. The drive kicked off with a bang on 1 September 2021 with over 50 local organizations executing more than 100 events throughout the fall to celebrate trees. Events included tree plantings; tree rescues; conferences; webinars; tree walks; library displays; story time and art classes with youth; and many others.

Fairfax Master Naturalists was approached to support the new campaign and made a generous donation of $2,500, one of the largest donations received. Plant NOVA Trees is using the contribution to create Plant NOVA Trees promotional materials including brochures, stickers and native tree hang tags that have been used during the kick-off events and distributed to organizations, businesses and nurseries across the region.

Following a presentation about Plant NOVA Trees, the members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors agreed in October to have their Office of Public Affairs help support the Plant NOVA Trees campaign outreach efforts. The office will develop a communications strategy to include social media, sharing Plant NOVA Trees information and content, and encouraging all residents to consider participating by planting native trees.

As all Master Naturalists know, native trees are an essential part of our local ecosystem, supporting our butterflies, songbirds, and all other wildlife. The social, economic, community and environmental benefits of trees are massive, and thanks to our chapter’s “seed money,” the Plant NOVA Trees campaign is off to a rousing start.

You can find Celebration of Trees events and information about the campaign and how to protect and plant native trees on the Plant NOVA Trees website. There are many ways to help, including joining the Tree Rescuers program to survey your community for trees at risk from invasive vines, participating in the speakers’ bureau, organizing community tree plantings, and planting trees yourselves. Volunteers are also needed to approach corporations to ask them to participate in the campaign.

Lake Braddock HS Science Fair Needs Judges, January 29th

Photo by Mika Baumeister on Unsplash

Lake Braddock High School
9200 Burke Lake Rd., Burke VA
Saturday, January 29, 2022 (snow date Saturday, February 5, 2022)
8am – Noon

Their in-person science fair is back this year! They anticipate 40 – 50 projects.

Judges are needed to evaluate the projects done by our own Fairfax County high school students, and to give them an opportunity to practice their presentation skills. This is an opportunity to get to know a younger generation and to hear and challenge their thinking.

If you are able to judge this year, please fill out this form.

Visitor Desk Opportunity at Huntley Meadows Park

Photo courtesy of Halley Johnson

Huntley Meadows Park with its beautiful wetlands and boardwalk is a great place to volunteer!

The staff is seeking volunteers to serve as Volunteer-on-Duty (VOD) at the visitor information desk. There are opportunities on weekday afternoons and weekends.

The VOD is the face of the park, the first and last chance to make an impression on visitors. Assist them in enjoying the park and understanding its resources.  Communicate and interact with people of all ages.  Seeking a commitment of two four-hour shifts per month for one year.

Detailed project description attached here.

Contact Halley Johnson, Volunteer Coordinator,

FMNs, record hours as E111: FCPA Nature Center Visitor Information Desk

Earth Sangha Needs Fall Volunteers

Earth Sangha Wild Plant Nursery
6100 Cloud Drive, Springfield
Sundays, Mondays and Tuesdays
9am – 1pm
Must register here.

Fall is upon us! Join the Earth Sangha team at the Wild Plant Nursery for a morning of repotting, divisions, weeding, watering, sowing seed, and more! Please wear shoes that can get muddy, bring your own water and gloves, and wear a mask.

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy seeks Eagle Cam Volunteers

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir

Loudoun Wildlife Conservancy (LWC) is excited about partnering with Dulles Greenway, the American Eagle Foundation, and HDOnTap to bring livestream action to your home from a Bald Eagle nest in the Dulles Greenway Wetlands. Read more about it in a recent article.

LWC will play an important role in helping to educate the public on the habits and behaviors of Bald Eagles through remotely operating the two high-quality livestream cameras and by moderating the website chat function. The camera is now available to view through a link on the Dulles Greenway website.

LWC is currently seeking volunteers to assist with this project. Stay tuned for more information on what will be involved with being a Remote Camera Operator or Chat Moderator. Training will take place in November.

Please contact Loudoun Wildlife Volunteer Coordinator Kim Strader at if you are interested in volunteering for either of these unique opportunities to work with the Dulles Greenway Wetlands Eagle Cam.

Clifton Institute Work Days, October 23rd & 30th

Clifton Institute
6712 Blantyre Road, Warrenton, VA

Saturday, October 23, 2021
9 am – 12:30 pm

Invasive plant species crowd out native plants and provide little to no food for native animals. Every winter Clifton Institute works to remove invasive Autumn Olive from around their property and over the last few years they have made a lot of progress, thanks to all of their amazing volunteers! Join them on October 23 to start the 2021-2022 Autumn Olive removal season.

Registration is REQUIRED so that they can communicate with you in case of changes.

Saturday, October 30, 2021
9 am – 12:30 pm

In the spring Clifton Institute planted 975 tree seedlings along the stream in their native grassland. They need your help finishing the planting with a few more trees.

Registration is REQUIRED so that they can communicate with you in case of changes.

A World of Bugs

Feature photo by J. Quinn

Photos and article by FMN Steve Tzikas

Upon following an approved sampling protocol,
a net is ready for examination, collection, and identification of the macroinvertebrates captured on it.

As kids, we all had a fascination with bugs. If we owned a microscope, inevitably a few bugs would be examined close-up. We would be fascinated by the insects at natural history museums, even as an adult. Some of us would decide to make a career around bugs. With a vocational education leading to certification and licensing, one can become a pesticide applicator to protect homes and properties against harmful insects. With a little more education one can get a 4-year entomology BS degree. Personally I went into engineering, but it would not be the last time I encountered insects in some other than ordinary fashion. When I was Chief of the US Army’s Environmental Office in Japan, I had a program to control pine beetles on forested property overseen by the Army. There too were those pesticide applicators and any issues that I may have had to address with environmental and safety concerns. At another point in my career, with Ports-of-Entry programs, I was one of many who occasionally offered support to ensure our Agricultural Specialists had the resources they needed to secure America from deadly pests that could enter the country. In fact, there are many opportunities for aspiring students when it comes to insects. For those aspiring students, and for that matter curious adults, there are opportunities to get up close to insects, but in a more friendly manner, because these insects help us monitor the health of streams.

I just entered the Fairfax Chapter of the Virginia Master Naturalist (VMN) course program, and one of the classes covers entomology and invertebrates. The VMN program is a great way to offer community service, get some exercise, and learn something that might be beneficial for a future goal. When I retire I would like to take some graduate level courses in GMU’s environmental science program, which has a biology/ecology component.

A large Hellgramite found by one of the sampling teams.

One of those local volunteer opportunities is with the popular stream monitoring program managed by the Northern Virginia Soil and Conservation District. It’s a chance to learn about watersheds, the basics of stream ecology and monitoring, the sampling and identifying of benthic macroinvertebrates, and the recording of that data for use by researchers and professional decision makers. For more information about this program, visit

If this is something that appeals to your inner scientist, certifications are also offered once you accumulate some field experience. Part of that certification journey begins with this weblink:

This biological stream monitoring is great fun. People of all ages attend, not just teenagers. Like myself, there are also a lot of professionals – university graduates seeking new experiences, retired professors, and others who have an interest in life-long learning. Why not discover a whole new world of bugs? I hope to see you at one of the streams monitored in Fairfax County.

Shoreline Cleanup, Mason Neck State Park, September 25th

Photo: Jerry Nissley

Mason Neck State Park
7301 High Point Rd., Lorton, VA 22079
(Meet at the Visitor’s Center)
Saturday, September 25, 2021
9 am

Can you help keep Mason Neck State Park looking good? The Potomac and Occoquan Rivers bring trash of all kinds to the shores of the Park. The Friends of Mason Neck State Park will lead a cleanup of the shoreline on National Public Lands Day (Saturday, September 25). They’ll have gloves, trash bags and a few “grabbers” to help you pick up the smaller stuff. Please bring waterproof shoes or boots. The tide will be high that morning, and you are almost certain to get wet.

For those who are experienced paddlers, they’ll have canoes, paddles and life vests available so you can collect trash that is not acessible from the shore. Thanks to the generosity of Prince William Marina, we’ll have snacks available to keep your energy levels high while you clean up the park.