Press Club

Morning Notes

“Bike route sign at the intersection of 15th Street N. & Taylor Street directing bikes onto Taylor Street, which is a dead end” (Flickr pool photo by Cyrus W.)

‘Conservation’ Nixed in New Name — “The Neighborhood Conservation Program has a new name: Arlington Neighborhoods Program. [Three county departments] announced the new name for the interdepartmental program after almost a yearlong renaming process… The Neighborhood Conservation Program Review (NCPR) Final Report recommended changing the program name because the word ‘conservation’ often evokes a negative connotation and suggests exclusivity.” [Arlington County]

Big Scholarship Match for WHS Grads — “A newly announced dollar-for-dollar match could net the Wakefield High School Educational Foundation’s scholarship fund as much as $2 million over the coming year. It was announced June 2 that Henry ‘Ric’ Duques, a 1961 graduate of the high school, and his wife Dawn had made an up-to-$1 million pledge to the foundation, which will match funds raised by the organization for the year ending June 30, 2023.” [Sun Gazette]

Remembering Local Desegregation Efforts — “Our racial history commemorators have thoroughly marked the 1959 integration of Stratford Junior High School, a first for long-segregated Virginia. But those four African American student pioneers stood on the shoulders of a select group of older peers, whose legal efforts have gone relatively unsung.” [Falls Church News-Press]

New Monument at Arlington Nat’l Cemetery — “A monument now stands in memory of the first astronauts to die in their spacecraft, 55 years after a fire on the launchpad claimed their lives. Family members of the fallen Apollo 1 crew came together with NASA officials, space industry leaders and members of the space community to dedicate the new monument during a ceremony(opens in new tab) held Thursday (June 2) at Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The memorial is located… in Section 3 of the cemetery.” [Space.com]

ARLnow Cartoonist’s Work Highlighted — “But the father of two has long been a fan of the art form and in the past year, he has become a community cartoonist. [Mike Mount] creates weekly cartoons for an online news outlet in his Northern Virginia county, capturing within those scribbled squares the weird, comical and relatable parts of living in one of Washington’s suburbs.” [Washington Post]

Nature Center Advocate Keeps Advocating — “Look up ‘indefatigable’ in an online dictionary, and a photo of Duke Banks might pop up. Recently given the brushoff – politely but for the second time – by the County Board, Banks is not stopping in his efforts to restore hours that were cut at Arlington’s two local nature centers during the pandemic. Banks pressed his case at the May 24 meeting of the Arlington Park and Recreation Commission.” [Sun Gazette]

It’s Monday — Clear throughout the day. High of 80 and low of 61. Sunrise at 5:45 am and sunset at 8:32 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Gulf Branch Nature Center (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Supporters of Gulf Branch Nature Center are pushing to expand the hours of Arlington nature centers, as the 2023 county budget proposes to keep hours at pandemic levels.

In a letter to the community last week, Friends of Gulf Branch Nature Center president Duke Banks took issue with the County Manager’s proposed budget, which would keep the county’s two nature centers open only three days a week. That’s in contrast with the centers’ six day a week schedule prior to the pandemic.

The reasons for the cuts are due to safety and practicality.

A new Department of Parks and Recreation directive, as director Jane Rudolph noted in a budget work session earlier this month, is that two staff members are now required to open a county facility when previously only one was needed. That policy was put in place in response to a sexual assault that occurred at the Barcroft Recreation Center in 2019.

The other is that with more virtual programs — and school field trips still restricted, in part due to a bus driver shortage — nature center staff are more often going into schools instead of students coming to the facilities themselves.

Banks says that his organization understands the challenges, but believes it’s important to hire a few extra employees to keep the nature centers open as often as possible.

“Friends of GBNC understands the need for safety, and we laud nature center staff members on their flexibility in continuing to provide programs during COVID — both to the public and schools. However, these emergency initiatives don’t justify closing Arlington’s remaining nature centers three days a week,” Banks says in the letter. “Our nature centers anchor the creative new programming, providing essential facilities like exhibits, restrooms and shelter (during storms) and serving as a physical focal point that makes nature accessible to everyone, young or old, rich or poor.”

As Rudolph brought up at the work session, staffing and hiring remains a challenge across the department (as well as in the county as a whole). She noted that the department is making an effort to “meet people where they are” by taking nature center programming out of the facilities and into community centers, as well as schools.

“There is nature center programming happening, it just isn’t always happening in the nature center,” Rudolph said at the work session.

Banks and Friends of the Gulf Branch Nature Center disagreed with the approach, saying that structured programming shouldn’t be a driver of when the nature centers should be open.

“Many folks visit nature centers without attending a program and thus would be denied access to the nature centers at a time when the public’s visits to our parks have significantly increased during COVID,” Banks said in the letter. “With our highly urbanized environment and the pandemic-related fallout, children need the respite of enjoying nature now more than ever.”

The two county-run nature centers, Gulf Branch and Long Branch, averaged about 21,000 visitors annually in 2018 and 2019, according to a county report.

Rudolph made a point to say that the operational changes may not be permanent. The department is currently evaluating not just how many days the nature centers should be open, but their hours as well.

The centers are currently open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., with no evening hours, but Rudolph said that there’s a possibility of using some money to keep the centers open later this year, after kids are out of school and parents return from work. This could make centers more accessible without opening on additional days, officials said.

Friends of the Gulf Branch Nature Center is not the only organization advocating for bring nature centers hours back to pre-pandemic levels. During the work session, representatives from the county’s Park and Recreation and Forestry and Natural Resources commissions also expressed a desire to have the nature centers open longer.

Supporters of Gulf Branch Nature Center are asking those who agree with them to send an email to the County Board and County Manager expressing “how important it is to keep our nature centers accessible to the public and how disappointed you are by the proposed cuts to the nature centers’ public hours.”

The full letter from the organization is below.

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It’s a beautiful November morning among the trees outside of Long Branch Nature Center and Melody Mobley is at peace. She’s remembering how her mom used to take her and her siblings to creeks and collect leaves on weekends.

“To this day, I feel like I’m in more than church any time I’m out in the forest,” Mobley says, sitting on a bench in front of a pond. “This is my sacred space.”

In 1977, Mobley was hired to work at the United States Forest Service, after being recruited at her university’s career day. She was the first Black female professional forester in the agency’s history.

For decades, her life was in forests across the country, including in Washington, California, and Florida. In the late 1980s, she made the move to the D.C. area to help manage state forestry resource plans as well as watershed restoration. She’s lived in Arlington ever since, near N. Carlin Springs Road.

When Mobley started at the Forest Service as a forester, she loved the job.

“Just being in those beautiful, beautiful situations every day, picking your berries and greens from nature,” she tells ARLnow. “Just physically being in that place was wonderful. And seeing bears, porcupines, and everything we would see out there was just a real treat.”

It was the humans that made Mobley’s life hard. In fact, she hadn’t realized that she was the only woman of color at the Forest Service until a year into her job.

“I wasn’t into it,” she says. “When I found out I was the one and only, no one would ever let me forget it.”

As a young woman living in a small town, she felt isolated and constantly the focus all at the same time. It was like living in a fishbowl, Mobley says. Even things that one might think of as small were not available to her.

“I couldn’t get my hair done. I couldn’t find the products,” she says.

There were also far worse situations. She was sexually harassed, the target of racist remarks, and sexually assaulted by a work colleague when she was 20-years-old.

She thought about quitting, but did not want to give others the satisfaction that she was giving up. Plus, it was a full-time job that could help provide for her grandmother, who had cancer.

“I don’t want it to sound all doom and gloom because it wasn’t,” Mobley says.”But it sure was challenging.”

Even during her time working at the U.S. Forest Service headquarters in D.C. in the 1990s, Mobley says she constantly faced gender discrimination, harassment, and was even physically assaulted.

Later, as a leader, she hoped her speaking out would end this for herself as well as others facing similar mistreatment in the agency.

“I really put myself on the line speaking out,” she says. But in 2005 she retired, saying she had “no choice.”

To this day, she still fields calls from others in the Forest Service who are facing circumstances similar to her own. She provides advice, a sounding board, and sometimes even reaches out to leadership on their behalf.

“The Forest Service isn’t very happy with me, but that’s all right,” she says.

Mobley, however, has found her next calling, spending her days inspiring the younger generation by volunteering at Carlin Springs and Barrett Elementary schools. This includes taking students on nature walks, helping with their science assignments, and answering questions about the environment.

“I love, love, love kids so much,” she says. “I want them to see someone who looks like them. That’s so important.”

She helps to lead Black and Latin/Hispanic Birder and Naturalist series in partnership with Nova Parks and the NAACP’s Arlington Branch.

Mobley says those hikes are wonderful, but few people of color actually come on them. She’s not totally sure why, but this challenge isn’t unique to this program.

“Many of the programs around here don’t get people of color coming,” she says. “We really need to open that door and really make sure that they feel welcome… we need to make sure people know there’ll be people of color actually there.”

This is her mission, she says, to show that nature and forest are for all.

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Morning Notes

Feds: Comfort Inn Hosted Gun Cache — “Members of the Oath Keepers paramilitary group likely stored weapons at a hotel in Arlington, Virginia, as part of their plan to have an armed rapid-response force during the January 6 insurrection, federal prosecutors said. The new details flesh out previous accusations from prosecutors that members of the Oath Keepers assembled a ‘quick reaction force,’ or QRF, in Virginia that could deploy into the nation’s capital if needed.” [CNN, Politico]

Nature Centers Reopen — “Another sign things are returning to a semblance of normalcy, albeit slowly (this is Arlington, after all): The Gulf Branch and Long Branch nature centers, operated by the county government, have reopened. Hours and exhibitions are limited, but this marks the first time in nearly 13 months that Arlington residents have had consistent access to the nature centers.” [Sun Gazette]

Shirlington’s Past and Present — “This pet-friendly community five miles southwest of the District and adjacent to Highway 395 started off as a 27-acre former shopping center. Shirlington was one of the first strip malls in the country when it opened in 1944. For a while, it had the largest shopping center in the area and originally was named Chernerville, after automobile dealer Joseph Cherner, but the name didn’t stick. Instead, it was renamed Shirlington, a blending of Shirley Highway (395) and Arlington.” [Washington Post]

Amazon Not Abandoning Office Work — “As vaccines become more available, most companies may start to expect their workers back in the office and allow for just one or two days of teleworking a week — and Amazon is likely to be among them… That’s good news for many of the businesses and jurisdictions expected to benefit from the 25,000 to 37,850 employees Amazon has said it will bring to the D.C. region as it continues to build out its HQ2 campus in Arlington.” [Washington Business Journal]

Local Company Donates to African School — “Washington Workplace, an award-winning commercial office furniture dealer in Arlington, teamed up with Business Furniture Installations and a nonprofit alumni association to donate unused office furniture to Pioneer Middle School in Senegal, in West Africa.” [Press Release]

Letter Writer: Don’t Hate on the Cicadas — “The message of the havoc wreaked on young trees and shrubs, and the month of constant shrill buzzing has sent home an idea of impending doom… Although the ominous message of cicada arrival is likely still in your head – and I can’t argue that cicadas aren’t a nuisance – I ask you to remember that they do have a role in our ecosystem and a purpose on our planet.” [Sun Gazette]

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Arlington’s Department of Parks and Recreation is hosting a campfire series for families, staring this week.

The series starts this Saturday, September 7, at Gulf Branch Nature Center (3608 Military Road) from 6-7 p.m. and offers attendees campfire stories, games, and s’mores.

The theme of this Saturday’s fire is “Nice Mice,” followed by an “Insect Chorus” event next Saturday 14 at the Long Branch Nature Center (625 S. Carlin Springs Road) from 7-8 p.m.

“The whole family is invited to join in our campfires, for lots of old fashioned fun,” wrote organizers on the event’s website. “You’ll hear campfire stories, may meet some animal guests, play games, sing songs and, of course, enjoy s’mores! Each campfire has a nature theme and promises to entertain.”

The series alternates on Saturdays between Gulf Branch and Long Branch until November 23, and each event costs $5 per person.

The county has hosted single-event campfires before, celebrating the Solstice in 2016, New Year’s Eve in 2011, and Memorial Day in 2010.

Image via Flickr/Kevin Smith

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Families looking to enjoy the spectacle of bioluminescent beetles can check out the Firefly Festival next month at Fort C.F. Smith Park (2411 24th Street N.) in Arlington.

The annual event is being held Sunday, June 30 from 7:30-9:30 p.m. and will include games, bug hunts, crafts, nature walks and talks about fireflies.

Families with children ages 3 and up are encouraged to bring a blanket and dinner, as they wait for the fireflies to make their appearance at sunset. All children must be accompanied by an adult.

Registration is required and a $7 fee will be collected upon registration, according to the county’s website. Interested residents can contact Long Branch Nature Center or call 703-228-6535 for more information.

Photo by Bruce Marlin, via Wikimedia Commons

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Why did the salamander cross the road? To get to the vernal pool breeding grounds, of course.

Most people wouldn’t laugh at that, but the joke might have killed at Thursday’s salamander patrol training session at Arlington’s Long Branch Nature Center.

The nature center holds yearly salamander training sessions to educate volunteers on the dangers that salamanders and other vernal-pool-dwelling amphibians face during the annual migration.

Amphibians generally live in ponds but some, like the spotted salamander or wood frog, only live in vernal pools — watering holes that dry up in the fall. These are ideal spots for the critters to thrive in, because predators like fish and other amphibians prefer year-round pools.

But because only two or three vernal pools remain in the increasingly urbanized county, hundreds of salamanders and wood frogs have no choice but to cross the pool-adjacent driveways and sidewalks, according to Jennifer Soles, an Arlington County naturalist and long-time Arlington resident.

Soles began the salamander squad program in 2013 after attending a master naturalist training the year prior. As Long Branch Nature Center volunteers were leaving the class, salamanders and frogs began their breeding ground migration — across the parking lot, and under a lot of car tires.

“They’re all there because they love nature and it’s their master naturalist training,” said Soles. “And everyone is running over the frogs and salamanders.”

Soles grabbed a flashlight and began escorting the unhurried salamanders off of the pavement, joined by other horrified naturalists.

Arlington’s naturalists have since tried to prevent further amphibian annihilation through the salamander training sessions. At the Feb. 8 training session, at least 16 community members learned how to protect their local croakers from another Arlington County naturalist, Rachael Tolman.

The session focused on frog and salamander biology and breeding habits, and taught volunteers safe handling practices. Tolman walked volunteers through filling out scientific forms that allow on-site naturalists to predict travel patterns.

“If it’s a little squish, it’s a [spring] peeper, if it’s a medium squish, it’s a wood frog,” said Tolman, explaining how to fill out the alive-or-dead count portion of the form for the rundown animals. “If it’s kind of a spotted, long squish, it’s probably a spotted salamander.”

A salamander patrolman is nothing without his or her tool kit, which includes a reflective vest, headlamps, pens — and a garden spade for scraping squished salamanders off of the road.

While the event was intended to be for ages 13 or older, few teenagers were in attendance. Most volunteers were much older with a more developed environmental interest.

Peter Hansen, a Federal Reserve Board researcher, is a 24-year-old Arlington resident and one of the county’s master naturalists.

“I saw the email blast about the salamander patrol, and it sounded really hype,” said Hansen, noting that several of his friends are nature enthusiasts that he admires for their vast knowledge of the environment.

“I can add a lot of color to my experience in nature,” said Hansen. Most likely, he’ll be returning to serve on the salamander squad.

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