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Aug
30

The 2018 American Conservation Film Festival: Inspiring Change, Offering Solutions

Image from “The Rise of Vertical Farming.”

Do you recall the last time that you attended an event that left you spinning with inspiration–with so many useful ideas that you hardly knew which to act on first? Just a short drive away, a small organization uses the power of film to engage people in conservation and offers solutions that enable each of us to make a positive change for our environment.

You’ll find the festival, in its 16th year, in Shepherdstown, West Virginia–approximately 70 minutes from our nation’s capital. The American Conservation Film Festival presents contemporary films on a wide selection of conservation topics from varying perspectives from around the world. The films and filmmakers explore stories on wildlife and wild places, food and agriculture, cultural heritage, climate change, energy use and extraction, consumption and waste, and water quality among other issues affecting our planet and ourselves. 

The 2018 American Conservation Film Festival will be held October 12-14, with an encore of award-winning films October 19-21. In partnership with Shepherd University and the National Conservation Training Center, the festival will present 36 films selected from over 300 submissions from 44 countries. Each of the films is selected on the strength of its conservation message, storytelling, and visual impact. Awards are given in seven categories, recognizing the most skillfully produced, enlightening, and compelling films on a range of important issues. 

The theme of this year’s festival, “Solutions,” features films, speakers, and programming that offer festival-goers ways to become engaged in conservation. Special programming for 2018 includes discussions with filmmakers and conservation experts, demonstrations, food-tastings, and hands-on activities for children. 

The festival also offers a two-day Conservation Filmmaker Workshop which includes expert seminars on the craft of conservation filmmaking–covering everything from camera gear to distribution–with helpful insights for filmmakers and media producers of all ages, backgrounds, and skill levels.

Admission to the festival is $55 for a full festival pass (both weekends) for adults; students and ages 18 and under are admitted free to all films as space allows. Tickets are also available for each weekend or specific film blocks.

Image from “The Devil We Know.”

Among the must-see films of the 2018 lineup, The Devil We Know unravels one of the biggest environmental scandals of our time. The film tells the story of a group of citizens in West Virginia who take on a powerful corporation after they discover it has knowingly been dumping a toxic chemical called C8–now found in the blood of 99.7% of Americans – into the drinking water supply. The film, by Stephanie Soechtig and Jeremy Seifert, premiered at Sundance earlier this year.

The top honor of the festival, The Green Fire Award, is granted to The Serengeti Rules by filmmaker Nicholas Brown. The award is named in honor of Aldo Leopold and is given to the film that exhibits an extraordinary level of excellence in filmmaking, offering the audience a fresh perspective on their relationship with the environment. The Serengeti Rules shares the story of a band of young scientists and their time in the most remote and spectacular places on Earth. Driven by their insatiable curiosity about how nature works, they discover a single set of “rules” that govern all life.

Awards were also given to Enough White Teacups (Foreign Film Award), filmmaker Michelle Bauer; Walk on the Mountain (Student Film Award), filmmakers Luke Watkins, Onika Richards and Eddie Mostert of Ithaca College; Bird of Prey (Green Spark Award for highlighting Conservation Heroes), filmmaker Eric Liner; The Rise of Vertical Farming (Green Spark Award for highlighting a path to sustainability), filmmaker Geert Rozinga; Inventing Tomorrow (Green Spark Award for inspiring the next generation), filmmaker Laura Nix; and Wildlife and the Wall (Short Film Award), filmmaker Ben Masters.

“For people who care about the environment and pride themselves on getting news from the front lines, these films make a must-see list. This October we’ll be delivering investigative exposés, gorgeous nature films, and inspiring documentaries on unstoppable conservation heroes,” said American Conservation Film Festival Manager, Hilary Lo.

The full festival film lineup, trailer links, and tickets are available on the American Conservation Film Festival website at conservationfilmfest.org.  You’ll also find helpful information about visiting Shepherdstown and local accommodations. 

The American Conservation Film Festival also offers programs throughout the year, including the NextGen Capture Conservation Contest (for ages 18 and under), Conservation Video Summer Camp (for high school students), and Best of Fest screening events in Virginia and Maryland.

If you are ready to fill up on inspiration, put real solutions into action, and make a positive change, get your tickets for the 2018 American Conservation Film Festival today.

Aug
30

Car-Centric to Car Free

Drop your car keys and go car free on either Friday, September 21 or Saturday, September 22, or both days!  Join residents and commuters in the Washington DC region and around the world for Car Free Day, celebrated in 40 countries.  Like Earth Day, another worldwide eco-conscious event, Car Free Day was brought about to create awareness of ways to better the environment.  Using alternative forms of transportation not only makes cleaner air, it also helps improve mobility.  So get around on Car Free Day by bicycling, walking, or taking transit.  For those who must travel by car, consider carpooling.

Those who take the Car Free Day pledge could win great prizes such as an Apple iPod, Capital Bikeshare annual memberships, SmarTrip Cards loaded with $25, KIND Healthy Snacks, Giant Food Stores gift cards, and more!  To take the free pledge, and for Car Free Day happenings in Northern Virginia, visit www.CarFreeMetroDC.org, or call 800 745-RIDE. 

The Car Free Day event caught the attention of area leaders in the Washington, DC metropolitan region in 2008, when Commuter Connections “adopted” the event.  (Commuter Connections is a program of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.  The publisher of @livemore magazine, the Dulles Area Transportation Association, is a member of the Commuter Connections network.)  

Although Commuter Connections’ focus is on bettering the region’s notorious commute, participation in Car Free Day is not limited to commuters.  Anyone who typically drives alone to get around, regardless of where he or she is going, is encouraged to try traveling for a day or two in late September without a car.  Workers are encouraged to go car free to and from work, as well as for trips outside of the daily commute. Take transit to the movies, walk to a restaurant, ride bicycles to the park, share a ride to the mall or avoid travel altogether by shopping online or working from home.

The automobile has been an integral part of the American landscape for many generations, so for some, parting with a car for even just a day or two can be a challenge.  However, drive alone travel patterns have been shifting over the last decade and a half.  According to the Commuter Connections 2016 State of the Commute Survey, although driving alone continues to be the main way that most DC-region  commuters get to and from work, that number has been in decline over the last 15 years.  In 2001, 7 in 10 commuters reported driving alone to work at least three days a week. In 2016, a little more than 6 out of 10 commuters reported doing so. 

Here’s a bit of social history that explains how we came to need initiatives like Car Free Day.  By the mid-twentieth century, a solid romance flourished with road travel along the interstate highway system, which proliferated during the Eisenhower administration. By the 1950’s this network of highways ran east to west and north to south.  With a smooth path of paved roadways, America fast became imbedded as a car culture.  

With the newfound freedom to travel farther distances in a short period of time, young families moved away from central urban areas and into low-density, car-dependent communities. As the nation saw a mass exodus from urban areas to perceived better lifestyles in the suburbs, the term “suburban sprawl” was coined.  

Times were good, until the oil embargo of the 1970’s brought about sky-rocketing gas prices, rationing, and long lines at the pump.  The new reality turned carpooling into a legitimate way to move people more cost effectively and efficiently than driving alone.  Flash forward to current day, and shopping malls with expansive surface parking lots are becoming less prevalent, and regional planners aim to manage growth with a more transit-oriented, mixed-use development, walkable-communities model.  

Enormous population and job growth have made the Washington, DC region a national proving ground for variable-toll “Express Lanes”, as an approach to keep the immense flow of traffic moving at an acceptable pace.  The Express Lanes have made carpooling a more attractive option through the carrot of a quick, toll-free commute. 

Technology also helped to chip away at the need to rely entirely on driving alone to work.  The State of the Commute Survey has found that more workers in the region are teleworking. In the latest survey, 32 percent of commuters reported working remotely or from home at least occasionally, up from 27 percent in 2013. 

Ease of mobility and quality of life have become valuable commodities in today’s fast paced world.  And environmental concerns are yet another reason to use transportation alternatives.  So leave that single occupant vehicle in the driveway and discover the joys of being car-free! 

Aug
30

Artist in Residency (AIR) at the National Parks

Art Captures the National Park Story,  A Personal Journey

By Jim Schlett

Over the years, Dulles International Airport has become a portal for numerous business opportunities created by the expansion of Washington’s Metro system.   In addition to helping create a  booming economy, Dulles is also a gateway to many sites of our
National Park Service, which as many have said, is “America’s Best Idea.”  One of the initial triggers for the creation of the National Parks was the artists and photographers who created images that captured the imagination of others, sparking tourism to remote sites, producing the westward expansion and initiating the process to “set-aside” land for future generations to enjoy.   To this day, the Arts and the National Parks make for a great combination, as over 40 National Park locations have established an Artist-In-Residency (AIR) program and application process.  After retiring from the Federal government with over 30 years of service in 2011, including the last 15 as the Director of Administration for the Law Department, I had decided to “refocus” on my photography, which has been an important part of my life dating back to  my receiving a gift of a Polaroid camera back in the early 1960s.  

Stonewall at Dawn.

Back around 2015, I had learned of the AIR program and process.  I had been very fortunate to have been selected as the AIR at the Whiskeytown National Park Recreation Area in Northern California in 2016.  This is the same area that unfortunately was hard hit by the “Carr Fire” of this summer.  

This year I was selected as the Artist-In-Residence at Catoctin Mountain Park in Thurmont, Maryland for May 6 – 19, as well as Manassas National Battlefield Park from July 26 – August 9.  The two weeks I spent in Catoctin, just a short drive north on Route 15 from Leesburg, were amazing.  The park, a hidden gem within the NPS, also houses the Camp David Retreat for our last 13 Presidents.  The Park provides lodging to the artists and I was assigned housing at Camp Misty Mount, a historical complex of cabins built in the 1930s by the Works Progress Administration.   As part of the program, the artist gives at least one workshop and donates one piece of work to the park.  Over my 2 weeks, I managed to hike 4-8 miles most days in order to find just the right place to stand for photographing, as Ansel Adams liked to say.   The very knowledgeable park rangers, staff and volunteers provided insights on the park in terms of special favorite places and spots to hike, relax and unwind.   At that time of the year, everything was just bursting out in a beautiful spring green, which made for some excellent photo opportunities.  Enjoying American history at the same time, I learned of the creation of the Park and its legacy, including its service as a training ground for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor to the CIA, during World War II.  This park, while small compared to many other parks, has camping sites, cabins, several trails, great vistas and a unique history. 

Later this summer, on July 27, just a short drive south from Dulles Airport, I served as AIR at Manassas National Battlefield park, the site where 2 major battles were fought during the Civil War back in 1861 and 1862.  These battles had a meaningful impact on this great internal struggle of America, which defines our nation to this day.  Today it is obvious that neither side was ready for war, with mostly volunteer armies that had enlistments of just 90 days.   On July 21, 1861, the largest battle ever fought in America up to that point took place just west of a slow, wandering stream that would become famous, “Bull Run.”  The battle raged back and forth and it appeared that the Union would be victorious but for the arrival of Confederate troops by train and the steadiness of General Thomas Jackson, who prior to the war was a professor at Virginia Military Institute (VMI).  From that point on, he was known to both sides of the conflict as “Stonewall” Jackson.   Eventually, as the day wore on, with confusion reigning on both sides, the disorganized Union troops left the field and retreated towards Washington, DC.   Across the nation, people now realized that this war would not end quickly but few ever expected it to last until late spring of 1865, accounting for the deaths of over 600,000 Americans.   No other war or conflict that America has been involved in has ever surpassed that figure.

Thirteen months later, the two armies again met at Manassas for the last 3 days of August and fought an even more encompassing battle.  This time, troops under General Robert E. Lee, the owner of the Custis-Lee Mansion atop of Arlington National Cemetery, hammered and routed the Union Army, commanded by General Pope.  Lee’s battle plan resulted in confusion in the Union ranks, despite the heroic acts of the troops, and eventually resulted in a demoralizing retreat by the Northern Army.

Today, the park’s 5,000 acres include a Visitors’ Center, long hiking trails, woods, horseback paths, a cemetery, battlefield signage, and gently rolling fields and ridges that make for great paintings and photographs.  A portion of my time was spent with Park rangers, employees, interns and volunteers who are dedicated to preserving the park and ensuring that the story of what occurred at this site over 150 years ago is not forgotten.  The knowledge that these folks bring to the daily hikes at well known sections of the field – such as Henry Hill, Deep Cut, Chinn Ridge and Brawner’s Farm – is incredible.   

With so many National Park Service sites, such as Great Falls, Gettysburg, Harpers Ferry and Shenandoah within an easy drive from the Dulles area, it is well worth your time to make such an adventure happen.

In our parks, I and other artists part of the AIR program reconnect to nature, history and the universe, so needed in today’s faster-paced society and world.  Since I took many images, one of the difficult and time-consuming tasks is editing my work down to the best 15 – 30 for prints for future exhibitions.  I am hopeful that people will respond to my work in ways that will benefit the parks by encouraging new volunteers and increasing visitation.  I will also be exhibiting some of my photographs from these two AIR experiences at the ArtSpace Gallery in Herndon Virginia later this year.  

More of my photographic images in individual galleries by subject matter can be found at http://photomanva.zenfolio.com.

Aug
30

Ashburn Celebrates Its Heritage 

On Sunday, September 9, 2018, a significant part of the history of Ashburn and Loudoun County, Virginia will rightfully be memorialized at the unveiling of an official Virginia Historical Marker recognizing Belmont Chapel. The community surrounding Ashburn is invited to join a host of community and Virginia leaders, as well as the Ambassador to the US from Liberia, at this memorable event on the grounds of St. David’s Episcopal Church and School in Ashburn.

Over 180 years ago, Margaret Mercer, a remarkable but somewhat controversial woman in her day, purchased Belmont Plantation from the Ludwell Lee family with the intention of providing a broad-based boarding school for those who could afford it, as well as providing the same opportunities for those who could not. Courses included mathematics, science, art, languages and philosophy and emphasized ethics and morality. Well known as an abolitionist, Mercer included the children of Belmont’s slaves and tenant farmers in her classes. Margaret Mercer was one of the cofounders of the African Resettlement movement, which sought to persuade free blacks to emigrate to Liberia.

In 1841, using the profits from a collective farm and proceeds of craft sales from her students, she had Belmont Chapel built, partially to expand the education availability for black and white children in the area, but also to provide a center for community worship and social activities. A lifelong Episcopalian, she invited local ministers and Bishops from Richmond to hold services there as well as weddings, baptisms and funerals. Over 250 graves which surround the Chapel ruins to this day are the final resting place of local citizens whose names are among the most well known in Loudoun County history.

The chapel eventually became a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Virginia after Mercer bequeathed it to the Diocese in her will. The last service at Belmont Chapel was a wedding in 1951. Subsequently, the carriage road leading to the chapel became overgrown and the property fell into disrepair. A fire set by vandals in 1963 destroyed most of the building except for the foundation and a portion of the stone façade.

Today, Belmont Chapel is part of the grounds of St. David’s Episcopal Church and School which was established in 1990. They continue the rich legacy begun by Margaret Mercer by providing a place for children’s education and Ashburn community events.

We hope you will join us as we commemorate the foundational value of Belmont Chapel to the Ashburn and Loudoun County citizens, as well as its founder Margaret Mercer, who diligently and gracefully helped to make the Ashburn area a better place in her lifetime.

For more information, call 703-729-0570 or contact Conrad Jones
at  hoorad@verizon.net.

Jun
28

Pay $0 in Toll & Share Your Ride

With dynamic tolls in effect inside the beltway along I-66, rideshare is a great way to travel fast, save money, and avoid the tolls. There are many rideshare options for commuters to choose. Neighbors can band together to form a carpool, or individuals can join a vanpool, while the more adventurous can try their hand at slugging. On-demand services such as uberPool and Lyft Line are also available for passengers who need options on-the-go. 

Even though all these options qualify as ridesharing, there are some differences between each mode. Explore each option below and find out which works best for you.

Carpool

A carpool is typically formed by a group (2+) of commuters, colleagues, or friends traveling to a similar destination, using a privately-owned vehicle. 

Slugging

Commuters are picked up at Park & Ride areas by a solo driver and dropped off at a designated slug location close to the driver’s destination. Slugging allows both driver and passenger to use the I-66 Express Lanes, toll-free. 

Vanpool

A large group of commuters (minimum of four) that rents or leases a van and travels to a similar destination. Vanpools are only used for commuting. Employees can also use commuter benefits to finance their vanpool as well. 

On-Demand (uberPool/Lyft Line)

Uber and Lyft have dramatically transformed the way people think about travel. However, their rideshare services are limited to their pooling options (uberPool and Lyft Line). Drivers and passengers are paired through an app, based on destination, before a trip begins. Using the regular service (UberX and regular Lyft) does not qualify as ridesharing.

If you choose to carpool, slug, or vanpool, the driver will need to own an E-ZPass Flex to avoid toll fees.

Visit Commute66.com to download free materials and sign up for the newsletter to stay up-to-date on current and upcoming changes to I-66.