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The Quest for the Perfect Summer Camp

By Sarah McGowan

Boy fishing at Sherando LakeIt’s hard to believe, but those long, lazy days of summer are just around the corner!  While the summer months can conjure up nostalgic memories of relaxed, school-free days, they can also be a challenge for parents who work, or who are looking for ways to keep their kids engaged and active as the summer wears on.

Luckily, in the DC-metro area, there are a variety of camps available that range in price and cater to different interests. With so many available options, keeping a few things in mind can help you find the perfect camp for your child:

What interests your child?

This is probably the most important question to answer. With so many themed camps to choose from, it helps to think about the types of topics and activities that interest your child.  Some camps are very focused. Would your child be happy playing soccer or basketball every day? Is your child happier playing indoors or outdoors? As a camp instructor, I witnessed more than one unfortunate mismatch between camp and child. Picture a kid who is fearful of worms and finds fishing boring at a camp where that was the activity all day, everyday – this actually happened.  The camp, aptly named “Fishing Camp,” was a dream come true for most of the kids, but perhaps the parents of this young man didn’t realize to what extent the kids would be fishing, or thought he would “warm-up” to the sport.


Do your homework. If you can, talk to someone who has had a child who has previously attended the camp. If you have any questions or uncertainties,call the camp director.  And, by all means make sure your child is part of the camp decision process.  By the way, STEM camps are all the rage right now, so if that is something that interests your child, be sure to sign up early!

Sleep-Away Camp?

Most overnight camps are offered to children starting at about seven years old. Camps range from high-adventure (think ziplines, white water rafting and horseback riding) to performing arts-focused to traditional camps that touch on a little bit of everything. Once again, think about what interests your child.  You might also want to consider accommodations – is the camp single sex or co-ed? How many kids attend the camp? Do campers spend the night in tents or cabins? These types of details can make or break a camper’s experience.

Day Camp?

When we hear “camp,” many of us think of the traditional “sleep-away” camp, but there are also many exciting day camps to look at too. Day camps are typically offered to children beginning at four years old. Similar to overnight camps, think about the theme and camp size.  While many day camps offer a variety of activities, there are a number of specialty camps focusing on sports, the arts, nature, etc. Additionally, you want to think about transportation – is busing an option, or will you need to drive your child each day?  Do camp hours coincide with work hours, or do they have an aftercare program?  You may also want to inquire about lunch options for your child.


The following are more resources to help you and your child make some decisions about how to spend a week (or eight weeks!) of their next summer.

Week-long day camps are offered through the Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William County Parks and Recreation Departments. With zoology, soccer, fishing, gymnastics and chess camps (to name a few), there truly is something to fit every child’s interests.


Fairfax County:


Loudoun County:


Prince William County:


For a comprehensive listing of private day and overnight camps, check out Washington Parent’s 2017 summer camp guide:

The American Camp Association has guides on how to choose and prepare for camp, as well as comprehensive information on topics like camp accreditation, the value of camps and camps as an


Celebrate 2017 Historic Garden Week!

Colonial Williamsburg. Alexander Craig House.

By Karen Cauthen Ellsworth

From its inception nearly a century ago, the Garden Club of Virginia has highlighted policy issues directed at the environment and sustainability.  Its 47 member clubs are comprised of more than 3,300 volunteers.  They have long advocated to conserve natural resources, plant trees and
promote environmentally sustainable gardening.  The Garden Club of Virginia encourages the use of native plants.  Gardeners everywhere know that setting plants in the proper location reduces maintenance and watering requirements, and eliminates or reduces the need for and use of commercial
pesticides and fertilizers.

A native landscape does not need to be mowed like a conventional lawn, reducing the demand for non-renewable resources and improving
water and air quality. Landscaping with wildflowers and grasses improves the ecosystem. Birds, butterflies, bees and other plants are attracted to these plants, enhancing biodiversity. “One has only to drive by a Kudzu infested roadside to understand how invasive plants rob native plants of their natural habitat,” notes Tuckie Westfall, Conservation Chairman of this statewide organization.

Renowned for its popular Historic Garden Week, the nation’s only statewide house and garden tour, the Garden Club of Virginia celebrates the beauty of the land, conserves the gifts of nature and challenges future generations to build on this heritage. This fundraiser began when a flower show organized by Garden Club of Virginia volunteers raised funds to save trees planted by Thomas Jefferson at Monticello. More than 80 years later, proceeds from local Historic Garden Week tours continue to fund the restoration and preservation of nearly 40 of the Commonwealth’s significant historic public gardens, two annual research fellowships, as well as a new initiative with Virginia’s state parks.

This spring, there are four tours involving seven clubs in the Northern Virginia area alone.


Old Town Alexandria  Saturday, April 22 10am to 4pm

Overlooking the Potomac River and within minutes of our Nation’s Capital, Alexandria was established in 1749.  Rich in history,
Alexandria was a major seaport prior to the Revolutionary War, occupied by Union troops during the Civil War, and a torpedo production site during World War II.  In 1946, Old Town Alexandria was the third city in the
country to create a historic district to preserve its downtown.  It has more than 4,000 buildings with a historic designation. This walking tour includes five houses with gardens within the historic district and refreshments at a private home.  A Marketplace at the Athenaeum, boutique shopping, and fine dining are just steps away.  In addition, the tour ticket allows access to two Garden Club of Virginia restoration projects, George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens and Green Spring Gardens, in addition to other local properties of historic interest.  To help plan your visit to
Alexandria, please visit: for ideas on where to stay, shop and eat.  Cost: $45 in
advance, $55 day of event.

Leesburg  Sunday, April 23 and Monday, April 24  10am to 5pm

Visitors will travel along the Potomac River to six beautiful estates in Leesburg on this tour that includes access to five notable homes, some with spectacular river views, and remarkable historic structures. Journey along the old north-south Carolina Road (now Route 15) and
enjoy the scenic landscape.  Stone, brick and stucco mansions and restored barns provide the backdrop to picturesque gardens. Tour headquarters is located at Morven Park in celebration of Marguerite Westmoreland Davis’s centennial membership with Leesburg Garden Club, the hosting club.
Explore the Garden Club of Virginia’s recent garden restoration project at
Oatlands Plantation on the south end of this driving tour. Cost: $35 in advanced, $50 day of event.


Warrenton  Wednesday, April 26 and Thursday, April 27  10am to 5pm

The bucolic countryside includes one of the first houses in the newly established county as well as a very recent house built in the style of the Tidewater plantations. Three impressive manor houses attest to the gracious lifestyle of the area in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. The county seat of Warrenton is the fulcrum between the rolling Piedmont hills with lush agricultural land to the west and the bustling urban centers to its east. Admire the county courthouse as you stroll down the streets of Warrenton for lunch and shopping as well a visit to the Old Jail Museum on this two-day tour. Cost: $35, available at any of the houses open for the tour. Credit card only accepted at Headquarters. Advance Tickets: $25. By mail before April 12, send a self addressed, stamped envelope and check payable to The Warrenton Garden Club, PO BOX 1073, Warrenton, VA 20188. Tickets available locally, until April 19 at Christine Fox, the Town Duck and Carter & Spence.

Winchester  Saturday, April 29  10am to 5pm

Going out of town, this rural tour showcases four estates dating from 1782 to 1993. “Visitors might not realize that their ticket purchase helps to preserve and restore historic gardens in the immediate area. Take a side trip to the State Arboretum of Virginia and experience one of the nearby gardens that Historic Garden Week has helped to sustain and grow,” explains Anne Buettner, one of the Tour Chairmen for the Winchester-Clarke County tour. The 175-acre Historic Blandy Experimental Farm at the State Arboretum is in nearby Boyce.  It contains over 5,000 woody trees and shrubs from around the world. A property of the University of Virginia since 1926, it is currently operated under its department of Environmental Services. Stone walls along Dogwood Lane that once led to the manor house of the original farm were rebuilt in 2004 by the Garden Club of Virginia using proceeds from past tours. Walking trails wind through the property, including the Native Plant Trail where visitors will see early blooming spring ephemeral wildflowers like Bloodroot, bluebells and trillium. These harbingers of spring are followed by violet, wild geranium, wild blue phlox and Mayapple. Cost: $30, in addvance, $40 day of event.

Visit for a complete tour schedule, to purchase tickets and for details regarding itineraries and Garden Club of Virginia current restoration sites.

Karen Cauthen Ellsworth is the Director of Historic Garden Week.


Bicycling Around Leesburg Begins with Exploring

Leesburg Look Dec 2016Seeing is believing, and exploring multi-use trails around town on a bicycle is liberating. The Town of Leesburg, Loudoun County, VDOT, and Bike Loudoun are to be commended for the increased miles and connections of paved multi-use trails in Leesburg and Loudoun. Not only do the trails connect neighborhoods to schools, they also connect cyclists and pedestrians to shopping areas, parks, and the greatest treasure of all – the
Washington & Old Dominion Trail (W&OD Trail). Yet we don’t often see cyclists using the routes off the W&OD. Is it a matter of being stuck in their cars, or a matter of becoming familiar with the routes?

As a bicycle ride organizer and leader for Bicycle Outfitters, I have led rides mostly on the W&OD for those who are interested in gaining fitness and/or fresh air. A special ride was developed to give riders experience and confidence in using their bicycles for transportation. One of the most popular new rides this season has been the Leesburg Loop, or as one rider dubbed it, Tour de Leesburg. The route circumnavigates the town using its network of multi-use trails and the W&OD – a distance of 12 miles. The ride was designed to give cyclists the opportunity to practice and become familiar with the routes off the W&OD. It’s a ride that packs a lot into those 12 miles.

The newly completed and opened section of the Russell Branch Parkway between Battlefield Parkway and
Riverside Parkway was the key to taking less experienced riders on the route. This replaced the hilly and truck-laden route on Cochran Mill Road as the departure point off the W&OD southeast of town to Battlefield turning on Russell Branch. Riders love the detour through the Village at Leesburg! Pedaling up the street, they pass the movie theater, bowling alley, shops, restaurants, and beehive that is Wegmans. (Note: the Village at Leesburg could use some visible bike racks.)

Northeast of town, they cycle past other shopping areas, Market Place at Potomac Station and then Fort Evans Plaza. Northwest of town, they ride through Ida Lee Park where the path traverses between the library and recreation center.

Eventually the route returns to the W&OD through residential areas near
Loudoun County High School. Near the finish, the route turns off near Market Station and its many popular restaurants onto the new multi-use trail through Raflo Park on Harrison Street. The only snag on the route is where Battlefield crosses the Route 15 bypass north of town. The multi-use trails veer off into the neighborhoods before the traffic light on both sides of the intersection. Cyclists must use the four-lane streets for a block on either side.

Often the riders have never cycled off the W&OD or out of their own neighborhood, not knowing where the side paths take them. Coming in January 2017, Leesburg will erect wayfinding signs for bicyclists along the routes around and through town, making navigation much easier.

Riding the multi-use trails, cyclists brush up on using hand signals for stops and turns. They learn where the routes go, where the traffic light buttons are located, and safe ways to navigate busy intersections, which at times require a dose of patience. They also see the importance of riding predictably as
another vehicle on the road.

After riding the Leesburg Loop, riders have later reported taking friends and family on the same ride to share their new-found knowledge of how to bicycle around town. Mission accomplished.

—Lisa Campbell, Bicycle Outfitters Ride Organizer


Car2Go Goes Upscale


The distinctive Car2Go fleet of Smart cars in the Washington, DC region is about to get a significant upgrade, in the name of a new fleet of Mercedes Benz models. Car2Go, owned by Daimler AG, which manufactures Mercedes, introduces a fleet of Mercedes crossovers (the GLA) and sedans a (CLA) to the Washington market in early February.

While the two seated Smart cars are perfect for city driving and parking; however some subscribers of the Car2Go service desired vehicles that could carry more people and cargo. As such, the fleet is 
being augmented by these two new lines of Mercedes.
Car2Go is an international car sharing service that provides fleets of cars in major U.S. cities such as New York, Denver, Seattle, Portland, Austin, Portland and Columbus. Fees for usage are based on the time you use the vehicle and no monthly fees or rental subscription packages, no 
reservations required, no need to return the car to the 
location where you hopped in.
Car sharing, including Zipcar, is becoming increasingly popular in the US and is now being seen more frequently in suburban areas, like Northern Virginia. Car sharing provides a great alternative to car ownership, particularly for those residents who rely mostly on public transportation for most of their transport needs. In Washington, the Car2Go “home” area, where the vehicles can be picked up and dropped off, currently includes only DC and Arlington. The Car2Go and Zipcar operate about 800 vehicles each in the DC area.


Best Places to Live In the US? Washington Region Comes In Fourth


So do you like living here in the greater Washington metropolitan region?  Hope so, because according to the 2017 rankings by US News & World Report you will have to move to Austin, Denver or San Jose, California to find a better metro area to live
in.  Using a 1 to 10 scale, the annual rankings take five elements into consideration – Desirability (6.9 DC ranking); Value (7.4); Job Market (8.7); Quality of Life (6.6); and Net Migration (6.9).  The overall score for Washington was 7.3 out of 10 possible points.

According to the report “The Washington, D.C., metro area has the perks of a large urban area. It’s serviced by an extensive public transit system, is home to plenty of restaurants and entertainment venues and a variety of museums and other cultural sites. Meanwhile, each neighborhood in the District and its surrounding towns has its own atmosphere. Residents gather for block parties, mingle at dog parks and converse at coffee shops, creating an ambiance similar to that of a much smaller community.”

In its analysis, the report does note that housing is expensive (average housing price in Washington being $371,772; whereas US average is $211,731), however they also recognize that “Washington offers a better value than similarly sized metro areas when you compare housing costs to median household income.”  The report notes that the area is fairly young and attractive because of good schools, plenty of well paying jobs and a variety of recreational and cultural amenities.  Traffic, however, is a black eye, with our average commute times being 34.8 minutes, or roughly 8.4
minutes longer than the national average, and probably much more stressful.

All in all, many of the residents love this area for all of the things mentioned in the rankings report.  To see more on the report and to see how other areas stack up with DC, visit on the web.