Press Club
Firefly (photo by Bruce Marlin, via Wikimedia Commons)

The Arlington Firefly Festival is returning to Fort C.F. Smith Park next month.

On Sunday, June 19, the festival celebrating insects that light up summer nights is back for the first time since 2019. Last year, a smaller firefly “prowl” (essentially, a nature walk) was held due to the pandemic.

This year there will be firefly arts and crafts, bug bingo, storytelling, a nature walk, and flashlight games. All are encouraged to go on a firefly hunt, catching and releasing the twinkling bugs.

Naturalists will also be on hand to explain how to best attract fireflies and ways to maintain backyard habitats to encourage insect visitors.

“Fireflies are fascinating and inspire a sense of nostalgia for many adults,” saud the press release. “The festival is an opportunity to introduce the next generation of citizens to the wonders of the night sky and the value of natural spaces.”

The event is sponsored by the Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation. Registration began last week.

In general, fireflies are not lighting up the night sky as they used to.

“There are fewer, like a lot of insects,” says Rita Peralta, Outreach Manager at the Long Branch Nature Center and in charge of putting on the festival. “It’s largely referred to as an insect apocalypse. Like a lot of animals, it’s due to, mostly, habitat loss.”

But on warm Arlington summer nights, fireflies can be found across the county. The best place to see their nightly light show is near undistributed mature trees, in areas that have little light pollution.

That’s why Fort C.F. Smith Park in the Woodmont neighborhood is a great spot for the festival, says Peralta, because of its tree canopy and open meadows.

There are about 2,000 different firefly species in the world, with anywhere from 24 to 36 species calling our region home. Their ability to light up is part of their mating process, but one local species uses the light as a way to attract a meal.

“One local firefly species — the Femme Fatale or Photuris genus — is predatory,” noted the release. “The female will send a false signal to a male of another species to attract him and will then eat him when he arrives to mate.”

The festival starts at 7:30 p.m. and runs for two hours. Admission is $7 and tickets can also be purchased at the event, in addition to online. Heavy rains will cancel the event and there’s no rain date.

As of today, more than 100 people have already registered online, according to the county’s website.

Photo by Bruce Marlin via Wikimedia Commons

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The $15 million newly renovated Jennie Dean Park is reopening to the public this weekend, complete with a motorcycle parade, live music, and a celebration of local baseball history.

The opening festivities are set to take place this Saturday from noon-3 p.m. at 3630 27th Street S. in Green Valley, down the street from Shirlington.

It will begin with a “mini-parade” featuring the Crossroads Riders Motorcycle Club and the Young Divas Dance Team, who recently performed at the opening of the John Robinson Jr. Town Square. The program will include remarks from Arlington County Board members and the Green Valley Civic Association, as well as a recognition of the park’s baseball history.

A number of the former semi-pro and amateur players who took their swings at Jennie Dean Park during the mid-20th Century will gather as well.

There will also be a ribbon cutting, a snow cone stand, food, music from JoGo Project, and a basketball tournament for teenagers, a county spokesperson tells ARLnow.

“Due to the projected weather forecast on Saturday with high temperatures in the mid-90s, a water fill station will be set up at the event with cold, filtered water,” the spokesperson noted.

The Shirlington Dog Park parking lot on the 2700 block of S. Oakland Street will be closed during the event, but the dog park itself will remain open.

A lengthy design and construction process resulted in a major renovation of the park, which first opened to the public in 1944. Approximately $15.5 million was spent to completely redo the park.

More than two acres were added along with an updated, ADA-accessible playground that now has age-separated areas. The new restrooms are all-gender, in keeping with a county ordinance, and moved to the front of the park. The picnic shelter has a sustainable, green roof, which is next to renovated basketball and tennis courts.

The two baseball diamonds were moved out of the Four Mile Run floodplain and have new efficient LED lights. The fields are also now named after two long-time community stalwarts, Ernest Johnson and Robert Winkler.

The diamonds will also display pennants of historic Green Valley teams, designed in collaboration with the civic association, that played at the park over the last 70 years.

Along the sidewalks near the diamonds is a history walk, embedded with plaques marking significant moments in the park’s and neighborhood’s history.

There’s a new site-specific work of public art in the western portion of the park. Wheelhouse is a stainless steel multi-sectioned pavilion that “​explores the industrial history of the Jennie Dean Park site through the lens of the great American pastime — baseball.”

The park is named after Jennie Serepta Dean, a formerly enslaved woman who opened the Manassas Industrial School for Colored Youth in the late 19th century.

It was initially set to reopen late last year, but permitting delays pushed it back a few months.

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The cover of the summer ENJOY Arlington program guide (via Arlington County)

Perhaps virtual waiting rooms will solve the woes of the parks department’s registration meltdowns.

Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation has tried it all before — staggering registration times, limiting user search capabilities, increasing transaction throughput and closely monitoring its registration site’s performance. But none have yet met the demand of Arlingtonians’ determination to snag a spot for its programming.

When registration for the Arlington summer recreation programs opens May 17, online users will be put into a virtual waiting room, which the department hopes will help prevent the timeouts experienced in the past and provide a more equitable overall experience for registrants, a press release said. It is also staggering the registration schedule, separating signups by class type, over a few days.

“Additionally, [the department’s software vendor] Vermont Systems has conducted a series of tests and improvements for its registration software,” county spokesman Ryan Hudson told ARLnow.

On registration day, login to the site as usual — all users logged in will automatically enter a virtual waiting room where they will receive a spot in line. You will keep your place in the waiting room line even if your phone goes to sleep, you lose your internet connection or you close the virtual waiting room page, provided you log back in on the same device using the same browser.

Once it’s your turn to register, you will be redirected to the registration site where you can browse the site and complete your transactions at your own speed.

This past February, when summer camp registration opened, parents again experienced slow registration and site crashes, if they got through at all, despite the department’s efforts to beef up its systems after repeated issues over the years. The spring program registration was a repeat of timeouts and frustrated residents.

The department committed to a full review of the registration process amid calls from residents for a lottery system. Parks and Rec projected at the time that they’d be able to complete and implement changes by next year’s summer camp registration.

The timeline for DPR’s review of registration (via Arlington County)

Parks and Rec offers programs, which range from gymnastics to woodworking, over the summer. Registration will open on a rolling basis each day May 17 through May 19 starting at noon. Residents can also call 703-228-4747 (voice) or 711 (TTY) to register. The registration schedule is:

  • Tuesday, May 17 — Nature, History and General classes
  • Wednesday, May 18 — Aquatics
  • Thursday, May 19 — Gymnastics

Walk-in registration will begin on Friday, May 20, at noon, at Lubber Run Community Center (300 N. Park Drive). Registration for non-Arlington residents will open on Wednesday, May 25, at noon.

The department noted on its website that its programming is not immune to staffing shortages felt across the country, so offerings reflect reduced staffing levels.

“We share your disappointment and are committed to returning to full staffing — and class offerings — in the future,” the website says.

The department shared some tips for residents hoping to snag a slot in one of the summer classes and programs.

Tips for Successfully Registering
Single Household Login

Your Household account can only have one active session at a time. Multiple Household account “logins” (i.e. logging in via multiple devices) will slow the system and cause items to drop from your cart if attempting to register at the same time.

Additionally, some devices work better than others (i.e. desktop with wired internet is better than phone on Wi-Fi).

Login Early

If possible, login before the 12:00 p.m. registration time. If you arrive early, you will receive a random spot in the virtual waiting room line when the registration event begins. If you arrive at the site after registration begins, you will receive the next available spot in line.

Need a tutorial on how to register? Check out the How to Register Online guide.

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(Updated at 5:15 p.m.) The loud pop sound produced by a pickleball hitting a paddle has led to the closing of a popular court at Glebe Road Park.

A new pilot program that began last month at the North Arlington park is temporarily closing a stand-alone outdoor pickleball court through the majority of the spring and summer.

As a replacement, the tennis court next to it is now striped to create two additional pickleball courts. With the change, there are now two lighted multi-purpose tennis/pickleball courts and one lighted tennis court at Glebe Road Park. The park’s hours also have been adjusted, with the lights now shutting off at 10 p.m. instead of 11 p.m.

The reason for these changes is that the pop of pickleball — an increasingly popular sport — is bothersome some nearby neighbors in the Old Glebe community.

“One of the issues with pickleball is complaints of the popping noise the paddle makes when it hits the ball,” Martha Holland, a spokesperson for the Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation, tells ARLnow. “These concerns are not unique to Arlington but are prevalent in many communities nationwide. Many jurisdictions are grappling with finding the balance [given] the growth in pickleball.”

“These concerns were present before the COVID-19 pandemic,” Holland added. “However, the increase in play on the dedicated pickleball court at Glebe Road Park during COVID-19 has exacerbated the situation.”

The pilot program is set to run until September 6 and, at that point, the county will determine next steps.

“We will be checking in with the community (neighbors and court users) a couple times during the pilot to get feedback,” Holland wrote. “We hope to mitigate the sound issues by moving pickleball to the tennis courts.”

It’s no secret that pickleball’s popularity has surged over the last two years, due in part to it being a relatively low-impact social sport that allows players to stay within a relatively safe distance from one another.

This has, in turn led Arlington County to increase the number of courts available for pickleball.

But it also has caused some challenges. For one, there’s a limited number of available court space in the county. Back in November, county officials expressed some frustration that pickleball players were going rogue and unilaterally marking off pickleball boundaries on existing tennis and basketball courts.

At Glebe Road Park, the re-striping of a tennis court for pickleball hasn’t sat well with everyone vying for a share of that prime concrete real estate.

Helen White, part of the Arlington Pickleball Club‘s leadership team, says she’s heard from members that they’ve been “bullied” by tennis players when using the courts.

There is a county-run reservation system, allowing residents to book one of the tennis courts in 60 or 90 minute increments at $10 an hour. However, with many spots open, it’s unclear how much the system is actually utilized.

Then, there’s the noise of ball meeting paddle.

It was a single household that first brought a noise concerns to the county’s attention in August 2020, Arlington’s Director of Constituent Services Ben Aiken confirms to ARLnow. As time went on, though, more households complained to the county about the popping noise, Aiken says.

There was even talk of a petition, supposedly signed by about 20 households all living near the park on N. Old Glebe Road, though Aiken tells ARLnow that he has yet to receive a formal petition and is not aware of one circulating in the community.

ARLnow attempted to reach out to the homeowner who initially complained to the county, but they declined to speak for this story.

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Jennie Dean Park is expected to open to the public in May following renovations (staff photo by Matt Blitz)

Arlington County’s park system has leveled up.

The county just ranked No. 3 in the U.S. on the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore index, after several years of being stuck at No. 4. D.C., meanwhile, ranked No. 1 in the nation this year.

In announcing the higher ranking, the county touted that 99% of Arlington residents live within a 10-minute walk to the park.

“Our parks and recreation opportunities are a key contributor to quality of life in Arlington County,” Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said in a statement. “From livability, bikeability, fitness, health and more, our community benefits from our parks.”

In a press release, the county also noted that the ParkScore index just started factoring equity — a key county priority — into its rankings. The county received top marks for accessibility to park space among people of color, but received some demerits for people of color and lower income residents having less total nearby park space compared to white residents.

More from the county press release, below.

Arlington County’s Park system is ranked third in the nation by the Trust for Public Land’s ParkScore® index.

With 99% of Arlington residents living within a 10-minute walk to a park, the importance of the County’s parks was acutely felt during the COVID-19 pandemic. Arlington’s more than 150 parks served as places to connect and exercise, and they were integral in strengthening our community’s mental and physical well-being. The past several years, Arlington has ranked fourth in the country.

“Our parks and recreation opportunities are a key contributor to quality of life in Arlington County. From livabilitybikeabilityfitnesshealth and more, our community benefits from our parks,” said Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol. “And during the challenging recent pandemic years, our Department of Parks and Recreation proved that recreation is a core service by delivering food to those in need, providing and coordinating facilities to administer COVID-19 tests and vaccines, and offering all of us respite and connection to community.”

Arlington scored 79.1 points out of 100 in the ParkScore® index. The calculation is based on an average of five categories reflective of an excellent city park system: access, investment, amenities, acreage and equity. Arlington scores near the top in the community’s investment (both dollars and volunteerism) and access. The County scored about average on the percentage of the city’s overall area that is dedicated to parkland and below average on park size.

“Our community’s commitment to its parks makes a difference,” said Parks and Recreation Director Jane Rudolph. “They have supported us by voting for park bonds. They steward our parks as volunteers. They provide great input as we develop new programs and facilities.”

Arlington’s park amenities score indicates the relative abundance of six park activities popular among a diverse selection of user groups (kids, teenagers, adults and seniors). Overall for this category, Arlington scores among the highest in the nation for its availability of basketball hoops, dog parks, playgrounds, recreation and senior centers, permanent restrooms and spraygrounds.

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A view of the Long Bridge Park Aquatics & Fitness Center (courtesy of Susan Kalish/Parks Department)

The Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center closed early yesterday (Thursday) due to an electrical emergency.

“At approximately noon on Thursday, the incoming voltage to the building began spiking beyond what was safe for our equipment,” Arlington Department of Parks and Recreation spokeswoman Susan Kalish tells ARLnow.

DPR closed the facility so that power could be shut down, and Dominion Energy responded yesterday afternoon to make repairs.

“The spiking stopped and contractors replaced or repaired damaged equipment,” she said. “We are happy to report the community could dive in once again by 8 a.m.”

Typically, the center opens at 5 a.m. on Friday for early risers to get in their morning swims and dives.

Members were notified of the closure “due to emergency maintenance” in an email time-stamped at 12:55 p.m., according to a copy shared with ARLnow.

This is the first reported emergency repair resulting in the temporary closure of the Long Bridge Aquatics and Fitness Center since it opened in August of last year.

The facility will next be closed on Sunday, April 17 for Easter Sunday.

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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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Morning Notes

Cherry blossoms and Amazon’s HQ2 construction in Pentagon City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

County Prepping New Tree Study — “Arlington leaders may take their next crack at guesstimating the number of trees in the county – a topic not without political as well as environmental ramifications – early in 2023, if all goes according to plan… estimating the cost at $100,000 to $150,000.” [Sun Gazette]

New Name for GMU Arlington Campus — “George Mason University announced today that its Arlington Campus will be renamed Mason Square as the new centerpiece of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor for multi-disciplinary talent and business development, as well as a civic and cultural destination. Also being announced is Fuse at Mason Square, the name of the new technology-forward building that is the heart of Mason’s commitment to growing Northern Virginia’s next-generation workforce. A groundbreaking ceremony for Fuse at Mason Square will take place April 6.” [Press Release]

FBI Warns of ‘Sextortion’ of Boys — “The FBI Washington Field Office is warning parents and caregivers about an increase in incidents involving sextortion of young children. The FBI is receiving an increasing number of reports of adults posing as young girls coercing young boys through social media to produce sexual images and videos and then extorting money from them.” [FBI]

Nature Center Staffing Slowly Returning — “Don’t expect hours of operation at Arlington’s two county-government natures centers to return to pre-pandemic levels in the coming year, or maybe ever, but local leaders say that doesn’t mean nature programs won’t have priority in coming years… [the] hope for the coming year was to use funding for temporary workers to increase hours at the nature center, including perhaps evening hours.” [Sun Gazette]

Church Wins Climate Award — “Rock Spring Congregational United Church of Christ’s commitment to fighting climate change over the past 15 years landed it a top award in the 2022 Cool Congregations Challenge. Rock Spring, on Little Falls Road in Arlington, was named the 2022 winner of the Energy Saver category in the challenge, sponsored by Interfaith Power & Light, a nonprofit group that seeks to motivate people of faith to take steps to address climate change.” [Patch]

Alexandria Schools Propose SRO Extension — “Alexandria City Public Schools is requesting an extension of its controversial school resource officer (SRO) program through the end of the 2022-2023 school year. School Board Chair Meagan Alderton says that the extension is part of the reimagining of the $800,000 program.” [ALXnow]

It’s Friday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 58 and low of 47. Sunrise at 7:05 am and sunset at 7:26 pm. [Weather.gov]

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The Enjoy Arlington 2022 spring catalogue (via Arlington County)

Waitlists, error messages and a call line 90 people deep thwarted Arlington residents’ attempts to enroll in spring classes through the parks department this morning (Wednesday).

The Department of Parks and Recreation offers a variety of classes in the spring, fall and winter that range from gymnastics and swimming to ceramics and jewelry making. The classes for kids are particularly popular with local parents. And registration day system failures — like those from opening day of summer camp registration — are not new for these classes, either.

Some compared the registration process to “getting front row Bruce Springsteen tickets” — to wit, “stressful and horrible.” Others likened it to the summer camp sign-up drama three weeks ago.

After summer camp registration crashed immediately upon opening the morning of Feb. 23 — despite attempts to beef up the platform in advance — parks department spokeswoman Susan Kalish said the platform vendor conducted “tests and improvements that should have resulted in a smooth registration” on Wednesday morning.

That did not happen.

“This morning, Arlington County’s Department of Parks and Recreation saw slower than desired response times for the spring ENJOY Arlington class registration,” she said. “Even though we staggered class registration start times and limited user search capabilities, our vendor’s registration system could not handle the high registration volume.”

While the number of people competing for spots was high, it was still on par with prior first-day enrollments, she said.

Registration opened for gymnastics classes at 7 a.m., aquatics classes at 7:30 a.m., and all other classes at 8 a.m. Residents reported struggling to get their preferences despite having their fingers poised over their keyboards ahead of time.

DPR encouraged people to call the office for assistance with registration. The line was quickly swamped with callers, and while they waited, the online platform timed people out.

Those looking to enroll in just one class said even that was impossible.

Following today’s issues, some repeated their calls on the parks department to fix the system, or change it to a lottery process. Under that system, parents would not have to wake up early and register at lightning speed, but it would add uncertainty to their kids’ schedules.

An unscientific ARLnow poll found 41% of respondents support a lottery system, while 58% said DPR ought to keep the current process but get better technology or a new vendor. At least one resident suggested Arlington look to the tech giant Amazon, currently building its second headquarters in Pentagon City.

Last month, Board Chair Katie Cristol issued a statement responding to and echoing parent frustrations with the process for getting into camp. She said the Board told County Manager Mark Schwartz and department leaders it expects a “full reform of registration.”

She reiterated those sentiments in a statement to ARLnow Wednesday morning.

“We’re disappointed and frustrated, and this highlights the need for the total redesign of the registration process to which DPR has committed,” she said of today’s issues.

DPR will start reviewing its processes and solutions this spring, Kalish said.

A plan for improvements to next year’s registration process could be ready by September, DPR’s Director Jane Rudolph told the County Board yesterday (Tuesday) during a work session on the upcoming 2022-23 budget.

She told the Board that preventing future breakdowns “is our highest department-wide priority.”

The timeline for DPR’s review of registration (via Arlington County)

“As we know, the issue goes beyond just a technology solution,” she said. “We have a high demand and not enough supply for certain camps and for certain age groups.”

DPR is looking into increasing slots where demand is greatest: options for older toddlers and elementary school-aged kids, as well as sports and robotics programs, Rudolph said.

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A new series of county-sponsored walking tours will distill the history of Arlington’s bootleggers, rum runners, and whiskey raids during Prohibition.

The “Bootlegger’s Guide to the Parks” trains its focus on the era of Prohibition, a 13-year period when the manufacturing and sale of alcohol was illegal in the U.S. The walking tours begin at a county park before ending at a local brewery, bar, or distillery.

The first tour, which will meet up at Penrose Park, is scheduled for Friday, March 25. Another is scheduled in April, at Rocky Run Park, while a tour in May will meet at Benjamin Banneker Park. Registration opens on Wednesday (March 16) for all three.

In the public’s mind, Prohibition has always conjured images of gangsters and criminal activity, making it a historical period ripe for movies and other popular entertainment. John McNair, a county park historian who is leading the tours, says that while we may associate the exploits that came with Prohibition with large metropolitan cities, Arlington had its fair share of dealings with illegal alcohol activity.

“We might consider these images of, say, Chicago or New York, but Prohibition was very real and very much on the table for people in Arlington County as well,” he says.

Even prior to Prohibition, several Arlington neighborhoods, like near the Key Bridge in Rosslyn, had earned reputations for attracting District residents who wanted to engage in vice. The reputation was well-earned, says McNair, with Arlington becoming a favorite place to grab a drink and play cards for many in the region.

While he doesn’t want to spoil too much about what the tours will cover, McNair says the March 25 event will focus upon the famed Thanksgiving whiskey raid of 1921.

On that day, federal agents joined up with police from across Virginia to raid four illegal distilling sites in Arlington.

“It took the eternity of the day. And at the end of which, they set state records for highest yield of [confiscated] whiskey products in Virginia,” says McNair. “While it made massive headlines at the time, the record would not stand for very long.”

Beyond the scandalous stories, McNair says the hope is that the programs bring in new audiences who want to learn about local history, parks, and public places. Telling stories about Prohibition in Arlington also opens up a window into what life was like here a century ago, during a very important time in America’s development.

“There were issues of suffrage, civil rights, the growing industry of war production that all became factors in how Prohibition plays out in Arlington,” McNair says.

Spots are limited on the walking tours and are open only to those 21 and over, due to a planned visit to a local bar. After all, how would be a Prohibition walking tour be complete without its own “raid” of a serving establishment?

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A man clicks a mouse (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class William Tracy)

Yet another year of summer camp registration drama is prompting action by the Arlington County Board.

The online registration system used by Arlington’s Dept. of Parks and Recreation again melted down as camp registration opened at 7 a.m. on Wednesday, despite efforts to beef up the systems this year.

Camp registration is competitive in Arlington, with parents jockeying for position to claim some of the prime camp slots the second registration opens. That makes it tough to keep up with demand, amid hundreds or even thousands of people trying to register at the same time.

At stake is not only enrichment opportunities for kids, but affordable de facto childcare for parents.

After another year of stories of frustrated parents spending an hour or more trying to get the registration pages to load, Arlington County Board Chair Katie Cristol said the Board has “been in touch with the County Manager and department leadership about expectations for a full reform of registration.”

DPR will be “designing a new process” and the Board has “asked for details… including a timeline for implementation,” Cristol said in a statement she posted on social media.

What’s unclear is what a new registration system might entail.

One possibility is that the process remains competitive, with more robust technology preventing server crashes and those with quick clicking fingers continuing to get an advantage.

Another possibility, as suggested by some parents in the wake of last week’s fiasco, is a lottery system that would remove the need for parents to wake up early and try to register as quickly as possible, but would add some additional uncertainty to parents’ summer childcare plans.

In a lottery system, one might have to try to register for multiple camps in order to increase the odds of getting a given time slot. Then, they would have to cancel the registration for any duplicate entries. But if everyone adopted that strategy, it might lead to a chaotic registration process and make it hard for DPR to predict the true demand for a given camp.

Which do you think the parks department should choose?

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