Afternoon at the Smithsonian II

This announces the second CE tour of the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History developed and tailored for VMNs by FMN John Kelmelis.
Interpretive Tour of the Museum of Natural History for Virginia Master Naturalists
September 27, 2023 at 3:00pm
National Museum of Natural History in DC
Meet in the rotunda at the information desk beside Henry, the big elephant.
How long:
Approximately 2 hours.
Group limit.
6 individuals
To register:
1. Login to BI and click on your ‘Opportunities’ tab.
2. Select ‘Opportunity Calendar’ from the pull-down list.
3. Find event in the calendar and click on it to display event details.
4. To sign up, Click on the ‘Sign Up’ box in the lower right. This automatically signs you up and puts the event on your personal BI calendar.
5. To claim 2 CE hours: use All Continuing Education -> FMN All other Chapter Training

Once the tour fills, the event disappears from the Opportunity Calendar but remains on the Opportunity List and your personal BI calendar.
Feel free to take notes but no audio recordings please.

FMN Dr. Kelmelis will guide an interpretive tour of the Smithsonian Institution National Museum of Natural History relevant to Virginia Master Naturalists.  This tour will identify the relationship of some 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 will 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.

Dr. Kelmelis 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, and Founding Faculty of the School of International Affairs 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.

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.

Fairfax Master Naturalists Tour State of the Art Sewer Plant

Photo: Melissa Atwood

Article by FMN Mike Walker

A group of Fairfax Master Naturalists had a unique opportunity to visit the Noman M. Cole, Jr., Pollution Control Plant, located on Route 1 in southern Fairfax County recently.  The visit, organized by chapter president Marilyn Parks, was actually a continuing education “field trip” incident to the state-wide “on-line” annual meeting of Virginia Master Naturalists Chapters.

The Cole facility, located on 400 acres,  serves about 40 percent of Fairfax County and is among a handful of water or sewage treatment plants in  the United States operating at “state of the art” efficiency. With advanced wastewater treatment systems, the facility is able to remove or “digest” water pollutants, nutrients and contaminants at an exceptionally high level, earning recognition as being in the top tier of the 16,000 publicly owned treatment facilities in the United States, an important achievement for Fairfax County and our local rivers and the  Chesapeake Bay.  About 75% of sanitary  wastewater is treated by similar facilities. The remaining 25 % of waste winds up in private septic tanks.

Photo: Marilyn Parks; climbing to the MBBR site

The facility, which celebrated its 50 year anniversary in 2020, uses a four-stage process to treat south Fairfax County’s wastewater: primary, secondary, advanced treatment and final treatment. After the secondary phase, the effluent moves to three five-million gallon holding ponds. Wildlife thrives in these ponds and 89% of treatment facilities in our country stop their treatment here. The Cole facility, however, goes two stages beyond, which includes using Moving Bed Biologic Reactors (MBBR). This microbiologic process uses tiny, pasta-shaped plastic pieces on which to grow algae to feed “good “microbes that convert nitrates to nitrogen gas. (Nitrogen is the primary gas in our atmosphere.) By the time the effluent is released to Pohick Creek, it is cleaner than the water in the creek.

We were privileged that Cole’s superintendent Mike McGrath took time to personally escort our group on much of the tour, with operations manager Joshua and Melissa showing us the entire physical set up from the bar screen to the water sampling laboratory.

Sewage and sewage treatment is often a subject many choose not to think about: what is out of sight is out of mind. But the men and women of Fairfax County who work daily to run this amazing operation, from the 3,000 miles of collection sewers to the solid waste that is removed from the bar screen – including false plastic fingernails – this is a highly sophisticated, automated operation, that is a real success story that Fairfax residents can be proud of.