Reston, VA

In the 210 years since it was first built, the Colvin Run Mill has outlasted the industrial revolution, a civil war, and multiple pandemics. Now, it has the capacity to keep grinding grains for at least another 15 years, thanks to a new water wheel and flume.

The Fairfax County Park Authority completed its restoration in March — 45 days ahead of schedule — but the refurbished mill saw action for the first time Saturday morning (May 2), when the new wheel took its first turns to power the mill, which ground out some corn meal and grits to be sold at the nearby general store.

The parks officials and volunteers at the ribbon-cutting ceremony celebrated the installation of the 20-foot-wide water wheel as the culmination of restoration efforts that stretch back to the 1970s, when the park authority first purchased the Colvin Run Mill with the goal of preserving it as a historic site.

“This celebration may mark the completion of this project, but we would be remiss if we did not recognize today’s reopening of the flume as yet another step and progression in historic restoration and preservation,” Tim Hackman, who represents Dranesville District on the FCPA board of directors, said. “It is our mission and our duty, but it is also our privilege.”

Approved by the FCPA board in May 2020, the project involved the demolition and replacement of the existing wooden wheel and flume, which had started to deteriorate. It was funded by $382,000 in park bonds and is expected to cut down maintenance costs by about $6,000 per year.

Even with the need to follow COVID-19 health protocols and work around ongoing construction on Route 7, project manager Heather Lynch says the project turned out to be “very straightforward,” benefitting from a winter largely free of storms and fortuitous timing with the availability of the right wood for the job.

That luck with timing has continued through the project’s completion, which comes amid an ebb in the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We anticipate getting a lot more people out, because it’s a wonderful COVID-safe, family-safe activity,” Acting FCPA Executive Director Sara Baldwin said. “We take all the precautions here as well.”

The park authority is currently letting just one group into the mill at a time, and timed tickets will be sold in advance for grinding demonstrations, which take place on the first and third Sunday of every month.

However, the county is able to bring back a full slate of summer classes and programs to Colvin Run Mill and its other parks. Registration for all activities is now underway.

Gene Bacher, a Friends of Colvin Run Mill volunteer and board member, says he’s especially looking forward to the return of the site’s simple machines field trip program, which gives students the chance to learn about the engineering behind levers, pulleys, and other machines and to see a real-life example.

The program was canceled last year due to the pandemic, and school or mixed-group field trips remain suspended for now, though Colvin Run Mill is allowing some closed-group, private field trips.

“It’ll be reinstated as soon as the pandemic is done and kids get back into school, so having the mill work properly is important to that whole process of getting the kids in here to see what the simple machines are doing,” Bacher said. “…That program is one of the life bloods of the mill property.”

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Morning Notes

Reston Contractor to Develop National COVID-19 Hotline — “Reston-based government services company Maximus has received a potential $951 million contract to support the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 national surge support and vaccine assistance hotline.” [Virginia Business]

Reston Farmers Market Opens to Crowds — Reston Farmers Market opened for the spring on Saturday (May 2) “to brisk business” at Lake Anne Village Center. Even with most COVID-19 health protocols still in place, at least 1,900 customers attended, up from 809 customers on the first day of the 2020 season, according to founder John Lovaas. [Patch]

Local Band Teacher Dies — Coates Elementary School Principal Jesse Kraft announced yesterday (Monday) that Kelsey Burch, the school’s fifth and sixth-grade band teacher, had died after a year-long battle with cancer. Before joining Coates four years go, she led the band program at Sunrise Valley Elementary School in Reston for a decade. Sunrise Valley will name its band room in her honor. [Coates Elementary]

Fairfax County Parks Open Registration for Summer Classes — Registration for summer classes, events, and programs from the Fairfax County Park Authority, including at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, begins today. Online registration is available, and spaces in each program are limited. [Friends of Frying Pan/Twitter]

Reston Hospital Named Among Top 100 in U.S. — “Reston Hospital Center has been named to the Fortune/IBM Watson Health 100 Top Hospitals list. This is the first time Reston Hospital Center has been recognized with this honor as one of the top performing community hospitals in the U.S.” [Reston Hospital Center]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Monday, April 12 

  • Rock the Park (10-11:30 a.m.) — Find a new pet rock! Join NoVa Parks staff for a hike down to the stream at Potomac Overlook Regional Park to introduce yourself to a new rock friend. Then, paint it in whatever colors and designs you like. Afterward, search the nature center for more pet rocks hidden by staff.

Tuesday April 13 

  • Cicadas in Your Garden (7-8 p.m.) — Prepare your garden for Brood X. Adria Bordas, a horticulturalist with the Virginia Cooperative Extension, will help local gardeners prepare — and protect — their gardens from the millions of cicadas that are set to emerge in our area come May. This is a virtual event.

Wednesday, April 14

  • Fundamentals of Falling (6-7 p.m.) — Learn how to take a fall safely while exercising. This course from Fairfax County Public Library and the Virginia Spine Institute will help you learn movement patterns and techniques to reduce the risk of injury when you inevitably fall while exercising.

Thursday, April 15

  • Yoga with the Magnolias (5:30-6:30 p.m.) — Take a small, socially distant, in-person yoga class at Carlyle House Historic Park’s Magnolia Terrace in Alexandria. The class is limited to six students to ensure proper spacing. Find a gentle flow while peering into the beautiful scenery.

Friday, April 16

  • World of BBQ (6 p.m.) — Hear James Beard Award-winning chef Rodney Scott talk about the secrets of barbeque in this virtual event hosted by Barnes and Noble and accessible via the store in the Mosaic District.

Saturday, April 17

  • Pollinator Garden Dedication (10 a.m.) — Join in-person or virtually for the dedication ceremony of the new Margaret Kinder Education and Pollinator Garden at Lake Accotink Park. The pollinator garden has 800 plants of 14 varieties with a number of interpretive signs. Kinder, its namesake, is a county educator, naturalist, and a longtime volunteer at the park.
  • Nature Kayaking (2-4 p.m.) — Paddle Lake Fairfax in a kayak with a Fairfax County Parks Authority naturalist. Learn about all the flora and fauna in the lake and what might be swimming underneath your kayak. A single kayak rental is included in the cost.

Sunday, April 18

  • Bird Walk (7:30-10:30 a.m.) — Join fellow birders for an early morning walk around Bright Pond in Reston. A limited number of participants are allowed, and masks must be worn at all times.

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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Forget the Tidal Basin. Fairfax County has a few prime cherry blossom-viewing sites of its own.

This includes Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Reston’s Van Gogh Bridge, and along the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

The blooming, pink-tinged flowers have long served as a symbolic announcement of spring’s arrival in the D.C. area, but the sight might be especially welcome this year after a winter that proved challenging for reasons only partly related to the weather.

“It [always] gets quite busy here this time of the year,” Meadowlark park specialist Jeff Hill said. “But this year, there’s a slight edge of frenziness to it.”

Run by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NOVA Parks), Meadowlark is home to at least 60 to 80 cherry trees, a number of which are the same species as the ones at the Tidal Basin (Yoshino). The oldest ones were planted back in the late 1980s, while other cherry trees were planted more recently over the past several years.

Hill says that, particularly in the last four or five years, the trees have grown “exponentially in popularity.”

They are scattered throughout the 95-acre property, but mostly concentrated near the Visitor’s Center and down by the lakes.

According to Hill, the ones closer to the Visitor’s Center are already in bloom and are nearing their peak. The trees by the lakes just started to open earlier this week, so those blossoms should be nearing peak bloom as well by this weekend.

However, the recent cold weather could majorly impact them.

“Anything that’s in full bloom right now, will probably be affected the hardest,” Hill said. “Not only is it cold, they’ve been calling for pretty significant winds.”

However, he says that, since they haven’t fully opened up yet, the trees by the lakes “maybe able to skirt by” and remain on schedule to bloom come this weekend.

In terms of care, the staff at Meadowlark rarely interfere with the cherry trees aside from periodic pruning, monitoring for insects and fungi, and mulching.

“We try to leave things to be as natural as possible,” Hill says.

With the gardens expected to be very busy this weekend, Hill recommends visiting during the week if possible. Capacity limits are in effect, but since the grounds are so large, crowds should be minimized if people spread out.

“With the Tidal Basin so busy and popular, people are just looking for an alternative site,” Hill said. “[Meadowlark] is a great place because you have the water, you have the cherry trees…everything you need for a cherry blossom-style festival.”

As for the cherry trees near Van Gogh Bridge at Lake Anne in Reston, one is owned by the Waterview Cluster and the others by the Washington Plaza Cluster Organization.

Those trees date back to at least the early 1980s, according to the Reston Association, which does not own the trees, but occasionally prunes them to keep pathways clear.

The Van Gogh bridge was built in 1965 to link the Waterview and Washington Plaza clusters. It was designed by William Roehl, who also designed the nearby Swing.

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Morning Notes

Virginia to Get Its Own Voting Rights Act — Democrats in the state’s General Assembly have passed their own version of a voting rights act. The move creates broad new protections against voter discrimination. [Virginia Mercy]

COVID-19 Deaths Top 10,000 — The state has surpassed 10,000 deaths associated with COVID-19. This past Sunday was designed as a day of prayer and remembrance to honor Virginians who died from the novel coronavirus. [Reston Patch]

Reston Association Parks and Recreation Committee Under Reform — The advisory committee is seeking members for the association’s committee. Members will be selected by the Board of Directors. [RA]

County Launches Survey on Strategic Plan — After a year-long hiatus, the county is resuming work on its strategic plan. A survey on the proposal is online. [Fairfax County Government]

Photo via vantagehill/Flickr

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The cicadas are coming.

17 years after their last appearance, swarms of cicadas known collectively as periodical cicada Brood X are preparing to stage a sequel this spring, with the D.C. area as the epicenter of a natural phenomenon that will encompass 15 states across the eastern and midwestern U.S.

Tammy Schwab, a naturalist and education and outreach manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority, says the insects are expected to emerge in the county around the middle of May, when the ground temperature reaches about 64 degrees Fahrenheit.

Cicadas are special because of their extremely long life cycle,” Schwab told Tysons Reporter by email. “Cicadas spend 2-17 years as a larva underground feeding on the roots of trees.  Most other insects have much shorter life spans.”

According to the National Wildlife Federation, adult periodical cicadas are black with orange underneath. They are just over an inch in length and boast clear, “membranous,” black-veined wings that span three inches across.

These cicadas are different from annual cicadas, which live underground for two to five years before emerging as adults, typically between May and September. Because their life cycles aren’t as closely synchronized as periodical cicadas, some annual cicadas appear every year.

Fairfax County last saw Brood X — one of 15 periodical cicada broods in the U.S. — at the scale anticipated this spring in 2004, but a handful of the insects were spotted locally in 2017.

“As part of the cicada survival strategy some of each brood can emerge between 1 and 4 years early in case some catastrophe were to destroy all the cicadas in a given emergence,” Schwab explained.

In comparison, Schwab says “millions” of cicadas could blanket the D.C. region this year, though the numbers could vary across different areas depending on how much land development has occurred over the past 17 years.

Both adult and larval cicadas depend on trees for food, so they tend to be more prevalent in forested areas. However, people in more developed residential neighborhoods might notice them sooner, since the ground warms more quickly in open spaces than in the woods, according to Schwab.

She says the loss of tree cover to development “will definitely decrease populations,” but reforestation prior to an emergence could result in an increase. Fairfax County had stream bank stabilization projects at Snakeden Branch in Reston, Difficult Run in Oakton, Accotink Creek, and Cinnamon Creek in the Wolf Trap area in 2003, the year before Brood X’s last emergence.

“It would be very interesting to see if these project areas had any effect on the population,” Schwab said.

While the appearance of millions of loud, winged insects may sound alarming, cicadas are harmless for humans. The most notable impact will be on newly planted trees, which can be damaged by cicada egg laying.

Schwab advises residents to wait until the fall before planting new trees or utilize insect netting to protect their branches.

She also says people should watch what their pets are eating.

“A few are not likely to hurt pets but too many could cause digestive issues,” Schwab said. “They are edible by people if you’re are brave enough to try it.”

Photo courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority

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As temperatures climb this month, the Town of Herndon is encouraging residents to enjoy its parks and trails.

The town’s Parks and Recreation Department launched March Into Parks, an initiative that encourages residents to explore the town’s 11 parks and three trails.

‘Staff has put together physically distanced activities to help you explore and embrace our natural resources. A growing body of research points to the beneficial effects that exposure to the natural world has on health, reducing stress and promoting healing,’ the town wrote in a statement.

Town officials note that every home in the Town of Herndon is within a quarter-mile from a town park.  For each week in the month of March, town staff have suggested several ideas and challenges.

Through March 7, residents are encouraged to find the rock tree on Folly Lick Trail. Between March 8 and 14, residents are challenged to cross the creek using stepping stones at Runnymede Park. Other challenges and options are listed on the town’s website.

A map of the town’s parks and trails is also available online.

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The refurbishment of Colvin Run Mill in Great Falls is an ongoing project, but a major focus of the site will be ready to be unveiled in just a matter of a few months.

The mill’s 20-foot diameter water wheel and flume are currently being demolished and replaced. The project completion date is estimated to be the end of spring or in early summer.

The completion should be “just in time for the year’s first grind,” according to Heather Lynch, the county’s project manager.

Preregistered, socially distanced tours and classes are still available during the wheel and flume replacement.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s board originally approved this project on late May last year. The project was recommended to the board based on observed deterioration of the wooden wheel that operates the circa 1811 mill and the wooden flume that carries water to the wheel.

It comes on the heels of a restoration effort in 2014 and 2015 to “fully implement the original automated mill design the in accordance with the methods developed by Oliver Evans in his Young Mill-wright and Miller’s Guide,” according to the FCPA’s submitted agenda when the project was approved. A new shaft for the mill wheel was also installed during this restoration project.

The cost for the project was $382,000, while a staff member estimates the annual maintenance cost will be cut by $6,000 per year. The estimated lifespan of the new wheel is 15 years.

Photo courtesy Dan Dyke

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Reston has been ranked as the number one place to work from home.

According to a recent ranking from Money magazine, Reston came on the top of a national list, which considers the cost of living, safety, education quality the number of residents working from home, access to necessities like daycares and pharmacies, and sufficient internet connection.

The magazine states that Reston was “practically designed with the remote employee in mind.”

The ranking comes as Americans across the country make the transition to remote work, transforming living rooms into work stations and closets into virtual classrooms.

According to a recent survey by Redfin, roughly 72 pe recent of homebuyers expects to continue working remotely after the pandemic winds down.

Here’s what Money had to say about Reston.

Built from the ground up in the 1960s, Reston is a planned residential community created to be a green suburb where families could live, play and work without having to rely on a car.

The census-designated place has 55 miles of paved pedestrian pathways and trails that connect the various neighborhoods and a majority of residents live within a 10 minute-walk of one of Reston’s 73 parks. It’s home to two golf courses and four man-made lakes perfect for fishing, boating, or lakeside picnics.

The city has one main town center and five village centers — one for each neighborhood. Residents boast about the endless food options they offer. Like Cafesano in South Reston, where you can enjoy a $14 steak kabob seated on a deck that overlook Lake Thoreau.

The city is no stranger to work-from-home families so it’s well-equipped to take care of your remote needs. Pre-pandemic, about 6.3% of Reston residents worked from home, compared to the national rate of 4.5%.

Nearly all households have an adequate internet connection by the BroadbandNow definition. But if you need access to an office, Washington D.C. is only a 33-minute drive away (or 45 minutes and $8 via public transportation). In the opposite direction, Washington-Dulles International Airport is only 15 minutes by car (or 20 minutes and $2 on the Fairfax Connector).

The community has a median home price of $434,000 and roughly 88 percent of residents live within a 10-minute walk of a park. Overall, a little over 3 percent of residents were working from home before the pandemic.

Other areas that ranked high on Money’s list include Naperville, Illinois., Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Roseville, California.

Photo by Marjorie Copson

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The county is seeking to gauge the public’s support for pickleball, a new and rapidly expanding paddleball sport that combines elements of badminton, table tennis, and tennis.

The Fairfax County Park Authority has launched an online survey to gauge support for new pickleball activities. The survey is open through Jan. 24. County officials say they’ve received multiple requests to expand the number of pickleball facilities in its parks, recreation centers, and community centers.

The game was invented in 1965 by two dads in Washington who wanted to entertain their kids and use an old badminton court.

A feasibility study is underway on how to address the desire for the sport, identify sites for possible improvements or new facilities, and develop criteria and design guidance used for selecting and constructing pickleball amenities.

The parks at Stratton Woods and Stuart Road (12001 Lake Newport Road) have pickleball facilities. A map of other options available in the county is linked here. Reston Association’s tennis courts also offer some options for pickleball enthusiasts, who appear to be growing in number.

The county’s feasibility study will be completed by the spring of 2021. Currently, the county has 15 parks with either a tennis or basketball court lined for pickleball. Within these parks, there are 28 courts available to play the game.

Photo via Joan Azeka/Unsplash

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Reston Community Center has passed a major milestone for parks and recreation programs.

The center received its accreditation through the Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies and the National Recreation and Park Association.

The accreditation is specifically designed for park and recreation agencies and indicates the agency’s service quality and management.

RCC demonstrated compliance with 151 standards and documented policies and procedures to receive the accreditation.

“RCC has long pursued excellence in our programs and services,” said RCC Board Chair Beverly Cosham. “CAPRA accreditation validates our efforts and provides the people of Reston with confidence that their tax dollars are being wisely spent, they are part of our engagement processes, and that our work is conducted at the highest standards of accountability with the best practices established by the field.”

Here’s more RCC on the honor:

The process for accreditation involves a formal application, self-assessments, a site visit by a team of trained visitors that results in a written report, and a hearing with the commission to grant accreditation. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this year’s visitations were held virtually. Once accredited, the agency must uphold the standards by submitting an annual report and is reviewed again in five years 

“We look forward to maintaining our accreditation status and continuing to meet these standards in the years ahead,” notes RCC Executive Director Leila Gordon. “Achieving this milestone is important and maintaining accreditation is equally vital to our success. We were able to succeed in large measure as a function of Fairfax County Government excellence and with the support of our colleagues in the Fairfax County Park Authority.”

The Commission is comprised of representatives from NRPA, the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration, the National Association of County Park and Recreation Officials, the International City/County Management Association, the Academy for Leisure Sciences, the Armed Forces Recreation Network and the Council of State Executive Directors.

Photo via RCC/Facebook

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This year’s general election ballot will include a $112 million bond referendum requested by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Roughly $100 million of the bonds will be used to help finance land acquisition to finance parks, new park development, and the ownership of natural and cultural resources. The remaining $12 million funds the county’s share for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority‘s capital projects. Those projects include expanding public open space and trails, protecting resources, improving existing facilities, and expanding more recreational opportunities.

The latest request for general obligations bonds is the largest since 1959. In 2016, FCPS requested roughly $95 million.

The bond referendum follows a needs assessment in 2016 that called on county residents to identify areas of importance an unmet needs, according to the county. Following that review, a capital improvement framework was developed to guide future projects.

Plans include a new Riverbend Park Visitor Center in Great Falls, playground replacements, improvements and renovations at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston and the development of new trails and stream crossings across county parks.

Currently, roughly 60 percent of all park operating costs are covered by user fees, which do not cover capital costs.  The bond question will be on the Nov. 3 ballot.

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The Fairfax County Park Foundation (FCPF) will honor The Friends of Riverbend Park (FORB) with the 2020 Eakin Philanthropy Award at a virtual ceremony in November for its support of Riverbend Park programs and projects.

 FORB has donated more than $85,600 through the Park Foundation, according to a statement from the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).

The donations have funded forest restoration and environmental field trips to Riverbend Park for the education of Title I school students. FORB has also paid for multiple summer intern awards and unfunded needs of Riverbend Park staff, as well as equipment for the park, according to the statement. 

FORB was formalized in 2018 by ratifying a Fairfax County Park Authority Friends Group Memorandum of Understanding with the Park Authority Board.

The FCPF created the Eakin Philanthropy Award in 2009 to honor the Eakin family who donated the first parcels of the parkland to the Park Authority more than 50 years ago, according to the statement.

The award is given annually to recognize individuals and organizations whose financial or in-kind contributions have supported Fairfax County parks through the foundation.

Photo via the Fairfax County Park Authority

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A number of amenities are now open for public use at county parks as Northern Virginia enters phase two of the COVID-19 reopening plan today (Friday).

Athletic fields, basketball courts, picnic shelters, playgrounds, and other amenities will be open, but with the following restrictions in place:

Athletic Fields – Athletic fields will open for organized and permitted use based on the governor’s and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines pertaining to use of athletic fields.

Basketball Courts – Outdoor courts will open, but users must stay 10 feet apart.

Volleyball Courts – Outdoor courts will open, but users must stay 10 feet apart.

Dog Parks – Dog parks will open with users urged to maintain social distancing.

Marinas – Marinas will open for rentals at lakefront and riverfront parks.

Mini-golf – Miniature golf courses will open at all locations, except Jefferson District Park (due to construction).

Restrooms – Permanent outdoor restrooms and portable restrooms will open systemwide. We encourage visitors to bring hand sanitizer since these facilities are often without running water.

Picnic Shelters – Shelters within parks will open for permitted use with 50% capacity of regular occupancy limits, not to exceed 50 people.

Playgrounds – Playgrounds will open systemwide including Clemyjontri Park and Chessie’s Big Backyard at Lee District Park. There is no special cleaning; visitors should use at their own risk and must adhere to social distancing guidelines.

Currently, recreation centers and other Fairfax County Park Authority facilities remain closed, including nature centers, pools and historic sites. The county is expected to allow more openings when the state enters phase three.

FCPA staff have begun implementing the changes at several facilities. Implementation of the latest openings could take several weeks.

In the Town of Herndon, dogs and playgrounds opened today, but restrooms and basketball courts remain closed. No special cleaning will be conducted of any playgrounds in the town or the county.

File photo

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Fairfax County announced today that it is closing both its indoor and outdoor parks “until further notice” due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The health and wellbeing of our community, park visitors and staff remain our highest priority,” according to the county. “By limiting park usage to exercising on trails, we hope to reduce the largest crowd gatherings, thus improving the ability to social distance and prevent the spread of COVID-19.”

Earlier this month, the county closed indoor parks for two weeks starting Monday, March 16. Yesterday, the county announced the closure of its playgrounds, skate parks and restrooms.

Now, all of the Fairfax County Park Authority parks will be closed by tomorrow night.

“This change is in response to Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s order to close public access to recreational facilities,” according to the county.

The county’s full list of new closures include:

  • parking lots
  • athletic fields
  • sport courts
  • restrooms
  • nature centers
  • visitor centers
  • golf courses
  • historic sites
  • picnic areas
  • playgrounds
  • amusements
  • boat launches
  • skate parks
  • off-leash dog areas
  • outdoor fitness equipment
  • any areas for open recreation

Additionally, Park Authority programs and events through April 14 and programs at Fairfax County Public Schools through June 15 have been canceled.

People can still use the trails around Fairfax County as long as they keep 6 feet away from other people and don’t form groups.

“While all parks and amenities are closed, trails will remain open for individual use, but not group use,” the county said. “All social distancing recommendations are in effect.”

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