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A Lyon Village homeowner’s attempt to deter dogs from peeing on his prized bushes has prompted a major controversy on the local Nextdoor social network.

A post about the plastic “spikes” placed between the bushes and the sidewalk prompted outrage, hundreds of comments and even — reportedly — calls to police, despite the fact that it turned out to be a commonly-used product.

Eric Wang says he first became aware of the Nextdoor post when he noticed an ARLnow photographer taking photos of the blunt, somewhat bendy spikes, “as well as a number of people passing by and checking out the mats through the day.”

“I figured something was up, so I looked on Nextdoor and it was at the top of my feed,” he said in an interview over email. “I had stopped using Nextdoor for several months because of toxic content like this.”

The initial post alleged that the spikes — actually a product sometimes called a “scat mat” that’s advertised as an “gentle [way] to scare or irritate animals without harming them” — were “sharp” and could “do some damage to [dog] paws.”

Quickly, dozens of people piled on in condemning the homeowner, who Wang later identified as himself.

Among the comments that followed: “What a nut,” “what a sicko,” “clearly DGAF about anyone besides himself,” “just horrible,” “pure evil,” “pretty sick behavior,” “sociopathic behavior,” “what an ass.”

Wang’s modern home near the intersection of Key Boulevard and N. Adams Street, in the affluent neighborhood north of Clarendon and Courthouse, is distinctive. It has also caught the attention of local residents due to the prickly-worded signs Wang previously posted about dogs peeing on his bushes.

“Dear dog owners: your dog’s piss is killing these shrubs!” said the sign, a photo of which was posted in the Nextdoor thread. “Each of these shrubs costs $300. If you’ve been allowing your dog to piss on these shrubs, please kindly remit compensation for the damage you have caused.”

“After my first set of signs was not well-received, I relented and created a second set of signs (which nobody on Nextdoor bothered to post, which shows an intent to shade the facts here),” Wang told us, recounting how he finally decided to buy the mats.

“The second set of signs was meant to be humorous, and included a graphic of a smiling urinating dog with a red circle and slash through it and the words, ‘Please, no pissing on the shrubs.’ Neither set of signs was particularly effective, and they also weren’t very weatherproof,” Wang wrote. “So I went online and did some research and purchased the scat mats based on the product reviews I read — many of which were posted by pet owners.”

On Nextdoor, numerous people — who post using their verified full name and neighborhood — fretted that children, seniors and those with disabilities could fall and injure themselves on the spikes. They called for the mats to be reported to the authorities, for Wang to be sued, and for other forms of retribution.

  • “I called ACPD”
  • “Needs to be reported and the owners put on notice”
  • “The Animal Welfare League needs to pay this homeowner a visit”
  • “[An animal control officer] said he’ll check it out and make contact with the homeowner to inform them that there are concerns within the community.”
  • “If somebody sent pictures to this guy’s insurance company that might have faster results”
  • “I reported it to Arlington County. If more people do so, we would have a better chance if them doing something about it!”
  • “Has ‘sue me’ written all over it. Hope it happens!”
  • “We could all pee in bottles for a week and pour the contents on their bushes”

At least two people posted that they called police and were told nothing could be done. An Arlington County Police Department spokeswoman said she could find no record of calls regarding the spikes.

“The reaction is completely unhinged,” said Wang, an Ivy League-educated lawyer. (The person who started the thread is also an attorney, according to his LinkedIn profile.)

“The over-the-top… online pile-on represents the modern-day dangers of the Internet mobocracy,” continued Wang. “The knee-jerk reactions show a complete intolerance for facts and hatred for rational thinking. While this is a relatively minor example compared with phenomena like January 6, COVID denial, and anti-vaxxers, it is part of the same social pathology.”

Shortly after Wang started posting comments defending himself — “I’m sorry, but my property is not a public bathroom for the neighborhood dogs,” he said in one — many were removed and Wang was suspended from Nextdoor for not being “respectful to your neighbors,” according to screenshots reviewed by ARLnow.

Other comments that defended him were also removed, though accusations that those residents were somehow in cahoots with Wang, or were Wang using a false identity, remained. (Wang denied that he knows one particularly vehement defender, who posted dozens of comments before disappearing.)

The number of comments on the post were about 300 earlier today, down from 350 yesterday.

The criticism of Wang extended to commentary about his custom-built home.

“That house is an eyesore,” wrote one person.

“House as ugly as sin,” wrote another

“That house is heinous… our eyes are offended,” said a third.

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First SUV tire deflations by environmental activists, now newspaper thefts by omnivorous mammals.

The northern Arlington neighborhood of Rock Spring was the scene of the vulpine larceny over the weekend. As seen in video surveillance footage, a furtive fox dashes down the driveway, with a stolen Sunday edition of the Washington Post firmly secured in his or her snout.

The homeowner, Lynn Pollock, tells ARLnow that the pilfered paper was later found nearby.

“The fox took our paper to a neighbor’s yard behind our house on the other side of a stream and left it in their yard,” she said, noting that such wildlife thievery is new to her but apparently not uncommon in the area.

“We had a [fox] family with kits who grew up under our front porch for five years until we renovated last year. We never saw this activity then,” she said. “However, from responses to my [Nextdoor] post it is clear that newspapers, shoes, baseball mitts as well as dog toys are taken by foxes in the area quite often.”

On the social networking site, neighbors weighed in on the incident.

“The only piece of fox news I have enjoyed is this post,” quipped one local resident.

“Swiper, no swiping!” wrote another, referencing the sneaky antagonist on Dora the Explorer.

Jokes aside, another resident tried to provide a possible explanation for the behavior.

“In all seriousness, that newspaper has only one purpose for that fox and its kit(s),” the resident wrote, before word that the paper was found and recovered. “She will take it to the den and shred it, and it will make amazing, warm bedding material with great absorption, much like dried leaves. She’s done it before, and she knows what works. She was probably taught to do it by her mother. There’s a reason for the expression, ‘sly as a fox!'”

Video courtesy Lynn Pollock

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Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) is looking to rename the post office on N. George Mason Drive after Jesus Collazos, a beloved postal worker who died of the coronavirus.

Collazos left the poor neighborhood of his childhood, Barrio Obrero in Columbia, for the U.S. in the 1980s. He settled in Arlington with his wife, where he delivered mail for 25 years and they raised a family, the Washington Post reported last year. He was known for responding to letters to Santa Claus and for his friendly presence.

Collazos retired in 2019, and in 2020, was diagnosed with lymphoma. Before treatment could begin, he died of COVID-19 at 67.

“The Congressman found the story of Mr. Collazos’ career and tragic death during the pandemic extremely compelling, and given his service as a mail carrier it made natural sense to try to rename a postal facility in his honor,” said Aaron Fritschner, the communications director for Beyer’s office.

The post office at 2200 N. George Mason Drive serves the 22207 zip code. Beyer’s office is currently seeking local input, including discussions with Arlington County and nearby civic groups, Fritschner said. So far, the local feedback has been “very positive.”

Yorktown Civic Association President and County Board candidate Mike Cantwell said his community’s support for renaming the post office on Nextdoor was “overwhelming.”

“I personally didn’t know him and I just wanted to say after reading all those comments, I fully support renaming the post office for him,” Cantwell said. “It’s amazing to see one person so beloved by the community.”

On Nextdoor, residents remember Collazos for the way he went the extra mile to help elderly residents and always knew someone who could help with a home improvement project. They also were overwhelmingly supportive of the renaming.

“Jesus Collazos was a neighbor,” said one resident of the Leeway Overlee neighborhood. “We called him the ‘Mayor of 24th Street.’ Sorely missed and it would be such a great tribute to his contributions to our community to name a post office in honor of him.”

A Tara-Leeway Heights resident recalled how Collazos helped her mother later in life. He came up to the door, knocked and opened it, announcing himself and putting the mail on the TV stand.

“My mom thought so highly of him,” she said. “He just did stuff like that. He was a person who really ‘saw’ those around him.”

Another poster from Tara-Leeway Heights said Collazos was well-connected in Arlington.

“If we needed the name of someone to help with anything having to do with the house, he knew someone,” the poster said. “He made us all feel like we were his friends. We miss him terribly. He made such a positive impact on everyone he met.”

Another commenter recalled that when Collazos developed lymphoma, neighbors inscribed their well-wishes and prayers on a canvas, which “was carried and placed in front of his home.”

Some residents said the post office may not live up to Collazos’ legacy. The building has been plagued by undelivered and missing mail and packages, as well as some reported instances of stolen mail.

“I would hate to see a taint on his memory for ignored and continued issues at this particular [post office],” said a Yorktown poster.

But Cantwell said if the renaming goes through, there will be a big spotlight on the post office.

“Only good things happen when you have a big spotlight on something like this,” he said.

Collazos also delivered mail in the 22205 zip code, but that post office is already named for Preston King, a WWII fallen soldier, Cantwell said.

Renaming the N. George Mason Drive post office will require federal legislation.

“The renaming of federal buildings is a function of Congress, so the next step here would be legislation offered in Congress,” said Fritschner.

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After an eventful week of roaming North Arlington, Hannah the Australian Cattle Dog mix was recently returned to her foster human.

It took dozens of neighbors, Homeward Trails Animal Rescue and the Animal Welfare League of Arlington to bring her home. The two organizations canvassed neighborhoods, put up fliers and relied on sightings from community members to set humane traps.

Homeward Trails Animal Rescue Deputy Director Rebecca Goodhart credits Hannah’s safe return to vigilant neighbors and the hard work of animal control officers. The Aussie mix occupied the forefront of many neighbors’ minds, with Arlingtonians talking about Hannah everywhere Goodhart looked for her.

“The community was tremendous reporting sightings and asking how they could help, and spreading the word to friends,” Goodhart said. “It was awesome.”

A nervous dog, Hannah was likely stressed and scared after transitioning to living in a house in Arlington, Goodhart said.

Hannah had squeezed past her foster owner and bolted on Oct. 6, just a few days after she was placed in her new foster home, she said. Over the next week, she followed her water source — small streams — through neighborhoods and parks.

Many Arlingtonians kept tabs on the saga through Nextdoor, the private neighborhood networking platform. Users reported seeing her in Rivercrest, Bellevue Forest, Woodmont and Gulf Branch, posting updates and photos whenever they saw Hannah.

“Kids just saw her… 11:25 a.m.,” said one Cherrydale resident.

“Just seen passing through our yard at 12:30 heading in the direction of Windy Run,” said a subsequent Nextdoor post.

Goodhart said she spent 13 hours on Friday, Oct. 9, tracking Hannah from sighting to sighting — but the Aussie Cattle Dog mix stayed five minutes ahead of her all day.

Homeward Trails asks neighbors not to try and catch or feed lost dogs. Giving chase scares them and feeding them makes them less likely to go after the food in the traps. People with gates are asked to leave them open so that if dogs wander in, they can be closed inside.

Finally, on Wednesday, Oct. 14, Hannah took the food bait and was captured in another dog foster family’s yard. On Nextdoor, dozens rejoiced at the news that she was rescued.

Goodhart said Homeward Trails is grateful to animal control officers who were “completely tireless in helping us” and to the community, who helped bring Hannah back.

“We seriously could not have asked for a better place for this dog to be lost,” she said. “You never want a dog that’s lost, but the community was incredible.”

Homeward Trails places about 1,000 foster dogs in homes a year. The local organization works with under-resourced shelters in the area, particularly West Virginia.

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When it was founded, the Arlington Neighbors Helping Each Other Through COVID-19 Facebook group was an uplifting place where local residents could ask for help, share information, and connect with one another.

Now, as with just about any online forum of a certain size, the events of 2020 have darkened the skies over the formerly sunny space.

Contentious arguments break out, public shaming is a common occurrence, and at least one member had her employer contacted by someone upset at a post.

Granted, there are still plenty of heartwarming, helpful and innocuous posts. In fact, there are more posts than most people can keep track of — everything from school opening discussions to questions about car dealerships. But the darker side of online forums has nonetheless crept in.

“I think that there has been an increase in divisiveness,” conceded Kellen MacBeth, co-founder of the group, which now has more than 11,000 members. “It is likely driven by several factors — the increased size of the group and that the ‘coming together’ attitude that characterized March and much of April has been wearing off.”

“When the pandemic first hit, people were scared, searching for answers, and ready to help each other survive,” MacBeth continued. “Now that it’s become a somewhat ‘regular’ threat, people have settled back into routines less focused on getting through a crisis as a community and more so just trying to live life in this new normal. We also saw that as the size of the group increased, you inevitably get trolls and other people who join and don’t share the group’s values.”

The divisiveness isn’t just about the group’s size and the pandemic’s progression, though. It’s also about the many unknowns still surrounding COVID-19, leading to a cacophony of competing warnings and indignations, as well as the politicization of the virus. And it’s about those other big 2020 news stories: the Black Lives Matter movement and mass protests, and a heated presidential election.

Even though Arlington is a progressive stronghold, with social justice signs common even in the yards of the county’s more conservative neighborhoods, BLM-related posts in particular seem to frequently lead to online confrontation.

Last week Arlington Magazine published an essay by local resident Olamide Goke-Pariola, who recounted the vitriol she faced while “talking about racial justice and challenging my mostly white neighbors to think critically about their role in white supremacy” in the group.

“They consistently dismissed my lived experience,” she wrote. “One neighbor even told me my comments were ‘noise.'”

The “Arlington Neighbors” group is not alone in turning into a dumpster fire at times, however.

Things got so bad at the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society neighborhood Facebook group, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd, that its moderators shut it down for good. Before it closed, the group hosted battle royales on posts about social justice, with online shouting matches that were a digital counterpart to the battle over signs on a bridge playing out in the physical world nearby.

Even the usually chipper Mothers of North Arlington email listserv started to see moms turning on one another. The group faced accusations that it was dismissive of calls for social justice during the George Floyd protests and that it deleted a Black woman’s Facebook post on the subject.

ARLnow has seen its own share of added divisiveness. A half dozen commenters have been permanently banned for a pattern of racist comments over the past couple of months. Others have been placed on comment timeouts for engaging in extended flame wars. And there has been an uptick in criticism of our articles, with commenters on the site and Facebook questioning our coronavirus reporting and savaging our reporting about multiple COVID-19 cases at a private swim club.

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Morning Notes

Online Forums Devolve into Shouting Matches — Falls Church News-Press columnist Charlie Clark writes about how a Nextdoor post about kids not wearing masks during a baseball game erupted into a barrage of insults and debates among neighbors. Nextdoor is not alone in becoming a forum for heated local debates on hot button issues: last month the popular Fairlington Appreciation Society Facebook group shut down after flame wars broke out over issues related to the Black Lives Matter protests. [Falls Church News-Press]

Virtual ‘Arlington Cares’ Event Tomorrow — “This free, virtual event will recognize the 2020 Community Service Award Winners and remind us of the importance of serving others. A heartwarming opportunity for all ages that will celebrate the overwhelming goodness that is within our community.” [Event Calendar]

Reduction in Homelessness Prior to Pandemic — “For the 20th consecutive year, the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) Homeless Services Planning and Coordinating Committee has conducted a regional Point-in-Time (PIT) enumeration of the area’s residents experiencing homelessness and those who were formerly homeless. This year’s enumeration and survey occurred on January 22, 2020. Arlington saw a 7-percent reduction in overall homelessness, down from 215 persons in 2019 to 199 in 2020.” [Arlington County]

More Flood Damage in Waverly Hills — “After countless floods in Arlington’s Waverly Hills neighborhood soaked his basement, Tom Reich finally ordered a custom-made waterproof door to protect his home’s bottom level.
On Tuesday, the day before it was scheduled to arrive, yet another storm dumped buckets of rain on the region — and especially on 18th Street North. There, overwhelmed storm water mains sent three feet of water coursing down the street.” [Washington Post]

Beyer Furious at Response to Shooting Inquiry — “‘For nearly three years Bijan Ghaisar’s family and community have sought answers from federal authorities about why these officers killed Bijan and what consequences they will face. This response which tells us nothing after an eight-month delay is an insult to the people we represent,’ said [Rep. Don] Beyer. ‘The contempt such a pathetic answer shows for public transparency and accountability is unacceptable and will further damage the standing of the U.S. Park Police at a time when the region’s trust in them is already at an all-time low.'” [House of Representatives]

Report Businesses Flouting the Rules, Gov. Says — “As Virginia starts seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, Gov. Ralph Northam reiterated Friday what has become a familiar message about limiting crowds, washing hand frequently and wearing face coverings. But he added a new fourth point: Report businesses flouting the rules to the local health department.” [InsideNova]

Freddie’s Closes Temporarily — “Out of an abundance of caution, we have decided to close temporarily. One of our employees has tested positive for COVID-19. We are actively reaching out to customers and staff who may have been in contact since Wednesday July 8. We are beginning the process to have the restaurant fully sanitized so we may safely reopen as soon as possible.” [Facebook]

Nearby: MoCo Starting School Year Online — “Montgomery County students will begin the next academic year online, with a phased approach to bring them back to school buildings part-time by the end of November, according to the school district’s draft plan released Saturday.” [Bethesda Magazine]

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Morning Notes

Lopez’s Dream Act Passes House — “In a landmark session, the Virginia House of Delegates today voted for the first time to approve HB 1547, a bill which would expand in-state tuition eligibility to undocumented students at Virginia’s public colleges and universities. The bill, also known as the Virginia Dream Act, was introduced by Delegate Alfonso Lopez (D-Arlington) and passed after many years of advocacy and hard work.” [Press Release]

One-Time Arlington Startup Founder Convicted — “A jury convicted CommuniClique founder and former CEO Andy Powers of six out of eight counts Friday in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia. The jury found Powers guilty on three counts of wire fraud and one count of mail fraud, according to court documents… Powers was based for years in Reston and Arlington before moving to Los Angeles in August 2018 as the head of what he billed as a communications and tech platform.” [Washington Business Journal]

New Funding for Local Startup — “The Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) today announced that CIT GAP Funds has invested in Arlington, VA-based HyperQube, a cyber range as a service offering that enables enterprises to quickly and easily build an exact copy of any IT infrastructure.” [Globe Newswire via Potomac Tech Wire]

FYI Tipsters: We Can’t Open Nextdoor Links — Here at ARLnow, we appreciate everyone who emails us or sends us anonymous tips about possible stories. Recently, tipsters have started frequently sending us anonymous tips that link to a post on Nextdoor. The problem is: Nextdoor is a private, neighborhood-based social network and we can’t open the links. Please send us screenshots of posts instead.

Nearby: Falls Church Fire Cause — “Yesterday’s house fire at 400 S. Oak Street was accidental. ‘It’s not confirmed, but the cause could be a space heater plugged into an electrical power strip,’ said [fire official Henry] Lane. ‘If so, this is part of a bad national trend. Power strips cannot handle the demands of a space heater. People should plug them directly into an outlet.’ The damage to the property is valued at $150,000.” [City of Falls Church]

Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley

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The Arlington County Police Department has a new social media platform over which it can share information directly with residents.

The department is partnering which Nextdoor, a neighborhood-oriented social networking site built to connect residents in specific communities across the country.

“I believe this particular program offers unique opportunities we haven’t had in the past,” Arlington Police Chief Jay Farr said in a press conference Wednesday. “This is going to allow us to focus specifically on neighborhoods and concerns in those neighborhoods that are of interest to that particular community.”

However, Nextdoor is not new to Arlington County. According to the company, 73 of Arlington’s civic associations — about 88 percent of neighborhoods — are already represented on the network, and many have been for a few years.

For example, Marcia Burgos-Stone started a Nextdoor page for Columbia Forest shortly after she moved there.

“I wanted to know who my neighbors were, but I moved in and I didn’t really see, talk to or meet any of them,” she said. “It’s a way to help people out, plan social activities and share information. It brings people together.”

ACPD’s district teams will use Nextdoor to share crime and safety information with residents in specific neighborhoods. The department already does that by communicating with civic associations, condo associations and local email listservs, and Nextdoor is seen as another tool for getting information out to the public.

According to Nextdoor Senior City Strategist Joseph Porcelli, the department will operate on Nextdoor for Public Agencies, an interface specifically for government agencies that is also free.

“The interface allows the department to post messages to one, many or all of the neighborhoods in the county, and they can use that to inform residents about things that are happening in those neighborhoods,” Porcelli said. “There can also be a dialogue and conversation around that because it’s individual members of the departments who will be posting.”

Chief Farr emphasized Nextdoor will not be monitored 24/7 and it should not replace calling the police non-emergency line (703-558-2222) to report suspicious activity or 911 in case of an emergency.

Since residents must verify their address in order to join a neighborhood’s page, police officers and officials will not be able to see what residents post on the site — unless they’re specifically replying to a police post or including ACPD in a post.

The “neighborhood watch” functionality of Nextdoor — discussing crime and suspicious activity — is one of its most-touted features, but it has also subjected the company to criticism. Concerns about racial profiling on the site have bubbled up over the past year, in places like Oakland, California and Seattle, Washington. The phenomenon is not exclusive to Nextdoor — around the same time, some businesses in Georgetown were also accused of racial profiling on a different sharing app.

Chief Farr said the department will deal with such issues, if any arise, the same way it does on its other information-sharing platforms.

“Just like in the way you can post anything you want on our Facebook page or on our Twitter page, we don’t erase the negative comments, but we don’t engage in the negative commenting,” he said.

Porcelli said Nextdoor is aware of the issue and is working to combat it.

“We consider any kind of profiling absolutely unacceptable, and we take actions to address that with members who choose to participate in that way,” he said. “We’re working with our product to experiment with new ways to help people make sure what they’re communicating on the platform is neighborly, respectful and constructive.”

Porcelli noted that Nextdoor employees don’t monitor neighborhood activity, but said all members have the ability to flag messages they think are inappropriate. “Nextdoor leads” –neighborhood page founders and power users — also have the opportunity to remove such conversations.

At least in the case of Columbia Forest, Burgos-Stone said she hasn’t seen that kind of activity on the site.

“People are people, and people behave in certain ways, but I don’t think that has anything to do with the website,” she said. “I think it’s more important that people will feel safer and have accurate information when it comes to any kind of police activity in our area. Accurate information is the best information.”

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Morning Notes

Arlington House at dawn (Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf)

County Apologizes for Political Facebook Post — Arlington County has taken down and apologized for a Facebook post that some called inappropriate. “No support or endorsement was intended” the county said of the post, which linked to an article about an Arlington County Democratic Committee resolution calling for a change to the Washington Redskins team name. [Facebook]

Arlington to Partner with Nextdoor — The Arlington County Police Department will be holding a press conference Wednesday afternoon to announce a partnership with Nextdoor, a private social network for neighborhoods. The partnership will help “build stronger, safer communities with the help of Arlington residents.” Nextdoor has been criticized recently for becoming “a bastion of racial profiling.”

Bluemont Residents Concerned About Big Ballston Development — The Bluemont Civic Association is expressing concern over a massive proposed development on the western side of the intersection of N. Glebe Road and Wilson Blvd. The development proposal calls for 483 apartments in a building with a grocery store and other ground floor retail. [Curbed]

Arlington-Built Satellite Blasts Off to Space Station — A tiny satellite built by elementary students at St. Thomas More Cathedral School in Arlington is part of the cargo of a rocket that launched into orbit Sunday, bound for the International Space Station. [CBS News, Space.com]

‘Arlington Tech’ School Proposal — The Arlington School Board has signaled that it’s ready to move forward with the establishment of “Arlington Tech,” a high-technology coursework initiative to be located at the Arlington Career Center. [InsideNova]

Anti-Hunger Effort Draws Big Crowd — More than 1,000 people gathered at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center gym over the weekend to put together 100,000 meals for starving children around the world. [NBC Washington]

Arlington’s Official Song Turns 45 — “Arlington,” the official song of Arlington County, recently turned 45 years old. The song was written by a local clergyman and adopted as the county’s official song in 1970 with the encouragement of the Arlington Chamber of Commerce. [Arlington County]

Flickr pool photo by Kevin Wolf

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