Five Things To Know About The Plastic Bag Tax

                                                                                                                                                Image courtesy of Fairfax County Government

A new five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags went into effect at certain retailers across Fairfax County on Jan. 1, 2022. Here are five things you need to know about this new tax. You can learn more at: 5 Things To Know About The Plastic Bag Tax | News Center (


The tax is only on disposable plastic bags from grocery stores, convenience stores and drug stores. Some bigger box stores, like Walmart, are also included.


If you bring your own reusable shopping bag and use it at the register, you can avoid paying this tax.


Unlike some other taxes, this tax does not exist for the purpose of collecting revenue. The entire goal of the tax is to help encourage change behavior and to reduce the use of disposable plastic bags.


The Virginia Department of Taxation will administer and collect the tax. Any revenue collected will be provided to Fairfax County periodically and will be used to help stand up environmental programs and services to curb litter and pollution, and to provide reusable bags to those eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) benefits.


The region is moving collectively to address plastic pollution. Both Arlington and Alexandria have implemented a five-cent tax on disposable plastic bags as of Jan. 1, 2022.

Plastic Bag Tax Frequently Asked Questions

For questions about administration or enforcement, please contact Virginia Tax at 804-367-8031.

Help Restore the Health of the Potomac and Chesapeake, Grow Underwater Grass

Photo courtesy of Friends of Mason Neck State Park

Mason Neck State Park Visitor Center
7301 High Point Rd., Lorton VA
Various dates for orientation.
Register by calling (703) 339-2380 or email

Orientations on:
January 15, 1 PM
January 22, 11 AM
January 30 1 PM
February 5, 11 AM
February 6, 11 AM
February 12, 1 PM
February 13, 1 PM

You can help restore the health of the Potomac River and the Chesapeake Bay by participating in Mason Neck State Park’s Grasses for the Masses program. Volunteers in the program grow wild celery, an important underwater grass, in their homes and then plant it at the park to help bolster aquatic grass populations. Underwater grasses are a vital part of the health of the
Potomac and the Chesapeake. They provide food for waterfowl, oxygenate the water, filter pollution, reduce erosion and provide safe spaces for newly-hatched fish.

To participate in the program, all you need to do is attend an orientation session at the park and pick up your supplies. There is a $25 charge for each Grasses Kit. You’ll grow your grasses at home, then plant them at the park on Planting Day, May 22. All supplies must be returned to the park on May 22.

Registration for the orientation programs is required, and there is a maximum of 10 persons for each orientation.

Restoration of the American Shad in the Potomac River, February 12th

Photo:  Courtesy of Friends of Mason Neck State Park

Friends of Mason Neck State Park’s Annual Meeting
Saturday, February 12, 2022
2 pm
Online. Free.
Register here.

The Friends of Mason Neck State Park will hold their Annual Meeting via Zoom. They’ll have a brief business meeting at which they summarize their activities for the year and elect a Board of Directors. Following the business meeting, they’ll have a presentation by Jim Cummins, a biologist and river ecologist who has played a key role in the efforts to restore the Potomac River’s shad population.

The American shad was once one of the East Coast’s most abundant and economically important fish. Unfortunately, by the 1970s water pollution, over-harvesting, and the blocking of spawning habitat by dams led to their decline. In 1983 a harvest moratorium on American shad was put into effect on the Potomac River but over a decade later, even with a much cleaner river, the shad population was still showing no signs of recovery. In 1995, the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin (ICPRB) began an 8-year American shad restoration program, with the assistance of local watermen from Mason Neck and the involvement and support of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services.

Jim Cummins’ talk will cover the success of that effort, the current status, how the Potomac contributed to subsequent and ongoing shad restorations in many other rivers in the midAtlantic, the involvement of regional schools, and a special description of the historic importance of Mason Neck to the Potomac’s remarkable shad fishery.


Birds and Words with Bill Young, February 15th, 17th, and 22nd

Photo:  William Young

Tuesday, February 15, Thursday February 17, and Tuesday February 22, 2022,
7-8 pm
Register here.

How have bird words infiltrated the English language? What is the basis for the common and scientific names of birds?

These and many other questions will be answered in this three-part workshop. Bill Young will address these and many other questions in Birds and Words. Bill is the author of the book The Fascination of Birds: From the Albatross to the Yellowthroat. He also is the co-creator of the website, which is a comprehensive resource for people who visit Monticello Park in Alexandria, Va.

Great Backyard Bird Count Workshop and Kahoot!, February 3rd

Thursday, February 3, 2022
7 – 8:30 pm
Register here.

Save the date! The next GBBC is February 18 – 21. Bird enthusiasts of all ages count birds to create a real-time snapshot of where birds are ranging. Launched in 1998 by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and National Audubon Society, the Great Backyard Bird Count was the first online citizen-science project to collect data on wild birds and to display results in near real-time.

Now, hundreds of thousands of people, all ages and walks of life worldwide, join the four-day count each February to create an annual snapshot of the distribution and abundance of birds.

This FREE workshop will cover the history of GBBC, its purpose, tips for identifying birds, and the protocols to be followed while counting.

After the presentation, theyll test your identification skills with a Kahoot!

ASNV Workshop for Winter Waterfowl Count, January 27th

Photo: William Pohley

Thursday, January 27, 2022
7-8:30 pm
Online, free!
Register here.

Join Greg Butcher, Audubon Society of Northern Virginia board member and migratory species coordinator for US Forest Service International Programs, for an introduction to waterfowl identification. Get to know many of the species that winter in the open waters of our region. You’ll learn how to tell a Bufflehead from a Hooded Merganser, and, with luck, you will see the beautiful Tundra Swans that winter in our area. Strategies will include identification by shape and color pattern.

They’ll review protocol to ensure that participants understand the ASNV pandemic restrictions which include wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and carpooling. After the presentation we’ll test your identification skills with a Kahoot!

This workshop will include an outdoor field trip and bird walk on Saturday, January 29—details will be given in class. After the workshop and field trip, you’ll be ready to rally for a tally during our 13th Annual Waterfowl Count, Saturday, February 5, and Sunday, February 6

Scholarship application to Hog Island Educator’s Week now open!

Photo:  Gretchen Linton

Each year Audubon Society of Northern Virginia offers a full scholarship to Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week at Hog Island Audubon Camp in coastal Maine. Hog Island Audubon Camp has offered environmental education programs for adults, teens, families, and conservation leaders since 1936. While there, educators learn interdisciplinary hands-on methods and approaches to environmental education while immersed in the natural world.

Applicants must be public classroom teachers, specialists, or school administrators in the ASNV chapter territory: Arlington, Fairfax, Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, Rappahannock, and Stafford counties and the Independent cities of Alexandria, Fairfax, Falls Church, Fredericksburg, Leesburg, Manassas, and Manassas Park.)

Sharing Nature: An Educator’s Week will be July 17 – 22, 2022.To apply, please complete the online application and submit two letters of recommendation no later than February 28, 2022. Please see the application for additional details, including post-camp requirements.

What’s in Your Knapsack?

Photo by Jerry Nissley

By: Mary Jane Poulter, Central Piedmont Chapter and
Marilyn Parks, Fairfax Chapter

At the annual Virginia Master Naturalist conference this year, a favorite activity was the chat room. The chat room was a sub-area of the conference where attendees could start discussions on topics of interest. Since the conference was virtual, discussions could occur in real time or asynchronously.

Mary Jane had already been thinking about possibly writing an article for Central Piedmont about a naturalist’s toolkit – “What do you carry when you go out into the field?” Marilyn Parks reached out to Mary Jane via the chat room and said she had been collecting information and was also thinking of writing a “What’s in your backpack” article for the Fairfax Chapter!

The two shared emails and decided going forward with an article that should be less of a story and more of a list.

Here is the list that they developed. The items that you decide to pack in your knapsack will vary with the focus of the activity, with the environment where the activity is occurring, with the time of the year, and with the planned length of the activity. Sometimes you may only need a light knapsack and other times you may want a backpack. Whatever the plan is for the activity, you should always plan for the unexpected!

So, what’s in your knapsack? Did we forget anything? Feel free to send additions and comments to

Possibilities for Your Toolkit

  • Appropriate clothing – long/short pants, long sleeved shirts, shoes that can get wet, hat, gloves, good walking shoes/water shoes
  • Bug, tick spray
  • Sunscreen
  • Tissues
  • Zip lock bags to keep knapsack items dry and organized
  • Plastic bags for picking up litter
  • Large plastic or “dry bag” if needed for protecting backpack from wet ground or rain
  • Water
  • Food bars


Safety Equipment

  • Smartphone, optionally with portable charger or extra battery
  • Map and compass and/or GPS if out of cell range
  • Basic first aid kit (band-aids, antiseptic, etc.)
  • Emergency reflective blanket
  • Flashlight
  • Few pieces of hard candy if needed for diabetic need
  • For Master Naturalists – Virginia Master Naturalist emergency contact card and incident report form

Observational Equipment

  • Journal and pencils/pen
  • Field Guide
  • Hand lens
  • Binoculars
  • Flashlight
  • Poker/ chop stick for poking into a crevasse

Apps for Identification

  • Seek
  • Leaf
  • INaturalist
  • eBird
  • Merlin
  • Flora of Virginia

Apps for geography/navigation

  • Apple Maps
  • Google Maps
  • Google Earth
  • Hiking or map app for offline use

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.)