Rendering Accessibility to Hidden Oaks

Hidden Oaks Nature Center (HONC), which is set within Annandale Community Park, has never had assigned maintenance nor natural resource management staff. With the reduction of Area 2 maintenance personnel, Hidden Oaks receives only limited support with trash and snow removal, plus emergency tree-fall cleanup. HONC is nestled within 52 acres of the community park and includes 2 miles of wooded trails. Yet no trail or garden maintenance is provided by the county. Fortunately, Hidden Oaks has Bob Dinse.

In nominating Bob for a 2020 Elly Doyle Park Service Award, park Managers Michael McDonald and Suzanne Holland praised Bob’s work at Hidden Oaks and enumerated many of his volunteer accomplishments. They wrote, “Bob demonstrates the responsible use and protection of natural resources through his conservation efforts. In addition to routine upkeep of existing trails, Bob alleviates erosion and stream bank deterioration, instructs and leads hundreds of seventh graders annually in hands-on trail stewardship activities, creates and enhances gardens, recruits and leads FMN volunteers for onsite projects, donates hundreds of dollars of native ferns and birdseed and, in doing so, effectively serves as a FCPA ambassador.”

Bob Dinse At Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Bob has been serving at HONC for approximately 11 years. He previously received an Elly Doyle Park Service award in 2014; and a Presidential Silver Service Award presented by AmeriCorps in large part for his over 350 hours of service and for preparation of Hidden Oak’s 50th anniversary in 2019.

After speaking with Bob it is readily apparent that his real reward is in caring for Hidden Oaks. His primary FMN service hours are at Hidden Oaks but he does contribute at other parks as well. At Hidden Oaks he not only maintains the trails, native plant gardens, and maintains stream crossings he is also the first friendly face most morning visitors see.

I recently met with Bob at HONC and he graciously took time from his day to give me an overview of his park maintenance responsibilities. His weekly plan for taking care of the park starts out at 6:00 in the morning to walk and clear, as required, over 2 miles of trails of fallen trees and hazardous debris to ensure trail user safety. He then executes his maintenance plan that is mercurial at best based on changing priorities. He always breaks around mid-day to meet with park staff and present his boots-on-the-ground report. I find it impressive that Bob is able to apply a variety of learned and innovative skills at the park. He has planted native plant gardens, created signage for trails, was instrumental in building fair-weather crossings on stream trails to repair flood damage, and enhanced the recently added ADA (American Disabilities Act) accessible path with ferns gardens and by repurposing deadfall logs as boundaries for the gardens and trail.

In addition to maintenance activities, Bob takes time to interact in community outreach. At various times, he leads interpretive programs for school groups, helps with Eagle Scout programs, and even collaborates with neighbor parks. For example, he recently cut, painted, and installed sixteen sign posts to expand an Eagle Scout interpretive trail project identifying animal tracks. Over time, he has built several wood duck nesting boxes in or near Holmes Run Stream as it flows into Roundtree Park.

Bob certainly leads and serves by example and should be congratulated for his 2020 Elly Doyle Award. Given his spirit of volunteerism it is not unexpected that for holidays he and his wife regularly lead Sierra Club volunteer mission trips overseas. In establishing the Sierra Club, John Muir wrote that he wanted to, “Explore, enjoy, and render assessable the mountains of the Pacific Coast …”. Please join FMN in thanking Bob for continuing Muir’s mission of conservation as he “renders accessible” the trails and grounds of Hidden Oaks.


Hidden Oaks nature Center is actively looking for immediate and long-term help with nature programs. If you are able to help please contact Kim Young,

Recent FMN graduate receives Outstanding Volunteer Award

Hank Dahlstrom, a member of the Fall 2019 Fairfax Master Naturalist basic training class, received the 2019 Hidden Oaks Outstanding Volunteer award on November 22, 2019 for her outstanding naturalist contributions.

Hank provides a welcoming face to visitors and a helping hand to anyone who needs it. Having been with Hidden Oaks for three years, she is able to answer visitors’ questions about programs and natural resources.  She has a wealth of knowledge about native species. Hank contributes many hours to behind-the-scenes preparation of crafts for the nature programs. She is very creative and offers her sewing and quilting skills to create numerous things that brighten up the exhibit space. Hank also has a calm demeanor and is able to help when children are rambunctious.   Hidden Oaks would not be as well prepared for our programs without the help of willing volunteers like Hank.award

Celebrate Hidden Oaks’ 50th anniversary, Oct 19

Join Hidden Oaks staff on Saturday, October 19, 11 am-4 pm to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the county’s first nature center. The event is free to the public and features musical groups as well as activities and learning stations.

The kick-off for the day is the unveiling of a carved tree at 11 am. Here’s the story:

Two electric bolts during a storm turned a 100-foot tulip poplar just outside the picture window at Hidden Oaks Nature center into an imminent danger to the building. The tree had been the focal point of the woodland view from the center. It was a feeding station for flying squirrels and many species of birds. Its loss was keenly felt by staff, park visitors, and the nature center’s wildlife neighbors.

But the lightning assault did not damage the tree’s base. That was the knock of opportunity. Staff arranged for a ten-foot stump to remain for chainsaw artist Andrew Mallon, who created a sculpture of critters that enjoyed the tree’s gifts over its 128-year life. The urban art will be the centerpiece of a learning station on natural woodland shelters, and the carving means the tree can be enjoyed for the next 20 years. Because it is near the nature center, the artwork is easily accessible to all visitors. Join the community as the tree is unveiled at the opening ceremonies at 11 a.m. on Oct. 19, 2019.


Volunteer needed to staff Hidden Oaks table at family festival, June 15

Hidden Oaks seeks a volunteer to staff the Hidden Oaks table at a family festival featuring local environmental and nature groups and displays. 

When? June 15, 11:30am – 2:15 pm

Where? First Christian Church of Alexandria, 2723 King Street Alexandria

What? Parents and children stop by the Hidden Oaks table to see insects, toad, and tadpoles. Hidden Oaks provides all materials. The church offers a child development center for disadvantaged preschoolers and their families who would be participating in this event.  

To volunteer:  Contact Fiona Davies at

Lake Barcroft Earth Day volunteers needed, April 28

Earth Day weekend provides the opportunity to promote nature and the environment!

Hidden Oaks especially needs nature table hosts for Lake Barcroft Earth Day on Sunday April 28, 2:00pm – 5:00 pm at Lake Barcroft Beach 5.

Host the table for Hidden Oaks Nature Center with all training, materials and displays provided. Shorter hours are ok, if needed. In past years have shown tadpoles, benthic macroinvertebrates, toad, turtle, variety of backyard bugs. Flexible to volunteer’s interest. Always a warm reception. Outdoor free activity for all ages. Typically 200-300 attend. 

To volunteer, contact Suzanne Holland, Hidden Oaks, at or call 703-941-1065.  Record service hours as E110: FCPA Nature Programs.

SpringFest Fairfax nature volunteers needed, April 27

SpringFest Fairfax

Saturday, April 27, 10 am – 3pm

Sully Historic Site, Chantilly

Assist Hidden Oaks naturalists at backyard bugs nature table and distribute live ladybugs for release. Typically many hundreds attend this free outdoor Earth Day celebration for all ages. Training provided. Parking pass provided.  

To volunteer, contact Suzanne Holland, Hidden Oaks, at or call 703-941-1065.  Fairfax Master Naturalists can record their service hours as E110: FCPA Nature Programs.


Help out at Culmore Multicultural Day, April 27

Hidden Oaks urgently needs nature table volunteers for Culmore Multicultural Day on Saturday April 27, 9:30am – 2:30 pm at Woodrow Wilson Library, Falls Church.

Culmore Multicultural Day promotes Healthy Environment and Healthy Community.  Children’s activities, live music and folklore dancers are featured. See attached flyer.

Naturalists needed to host or assist at Hidden Oaks Nature Center table with live animals- your choice back yard bugs or amphibians, possibly a turtle. All training, materials and supplies provided. Ideal for multi-lingual volunteer. 

To volunteer, contact Suzanne Holland, Hidden Oaks, at or call 703-941-1065.  

Record service hours as E110: FCPA Nature Programs.


New spring projects at Hidden Oaks

Each of these projects is on the FMN Service Project Calendar and count toward your FMN hours.  

Friday, March 1, 9am-11:15 pm or Saturday, March 2,  Dr. Seuss Celebrations  

Assist a naturalist with a salute to native animals that have real adaptations that rival the author’s fanciful creations.  Contact Fiona Davies, or 703-941-1065.

Saturday, March 9, 8am – 1pm, Office for Children, Reptiles and Amphibians

Assist a naturalist at Hidden Oaks with the professional child caretaker three hour workshop on reptiles and amphibians to include leading crafts, walks, games and, if desired, part of of the presentation to 50 adults who care from 5-25 preschool children. Class is half outdoors or more depending on the weather. Please contact with interest and questions to

Monday, March 11, 3:00pm – 4:15 pm, Centreville Library Outreach (Spring Changes)

Lead or assist a spring changes program for families at Centreville Library based on Hidden Oaks’ proram. Materials, animals, craft etc. provided. Can carpool from Hidden Oaks or meet there if assisting. If leaving from Hidden Oaks, start time is 1:45. Contact Fiona Davies at or call 703-941-1065 


Fall/winter service opportunities at Hidden Oaks Nature Center

Photo by Barbara J. Saffir (c)

Hidden Oaks Nature Center

7701 Royce Street, Annandale VA

Flying Squirrels Gliding in Tonight

Saturday, 8 December 2018

6:30-8:30 pm

Assist a naturalist in calling in these amazing night gliders and looking for flying squirrels at roosting boxes near the nature center. Teach families how to encourage flying squirrels to visit their yards. Contact Fiona Davies, Record hours as E110: FCPA Nature Programs. In the contacts field, record the number of people attending the program.

Office for Children Outdoor Play in Fall/Winter

Saturday, 15 December 2018


Assist naturalists in educating up to 50 child care professionals in sharing nature with preschoolers and outdoor play during fall and winter. Contact Suzanne Holland, Record hours as E110: FCPA Nature Programs. In the contacts field, record the number of people attending the program.

Visitor Information Desk

First and third Saturdays of the month, 12-5 pm

Greet visitors and orient them to the exhibits, park and programs. Answer natural history questions for the public.  Contact Fiona Davies,  Record hours as E111: FCPA Nature Center Visitor Information Desk. In the contacts field, record the number of people you talk to.

Ongoing Needs
Assist naturalists in leading scout merit badge classes.  Scout programs are typically held on weekends.  Programs are generally held inside the nature center and frequently include a trail walk.  Sample topics include Environmental Science, Mammal Study, Reptile & Amphibian, Sustainability.

Hidden Oaks thanks Fairfax Master Naturalist chapter

On 29 September 2018, Visitor Services Manager Suzanne Holland thanked Fairfax Master Naturalists for their many contributions to the Park Authority and Hidden Oaks.  The 10th anniversary celebration of FMN stewardship highlighted the chapter’s work on behalf of the limited impact development parking lot, the native gardens, and Nature Playce, the children’s playground. More than 125 visitors attended the festivities.