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10 Best Bets for Getting Your Kids Outdoors

By Sarah McGowan

Remember the “good old days”?  When school was out and the sun was shining, playing outdoors and hanging out with friends during the long, lazy days of summer was the best part of the year.  As we all know, American kids now spend an alarming amount of time indoors – usually focused on some sort of electronic device.  Groups ranging from the American Diabetes Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics say this is detrimental to the health and well-being of our kids – and there are plenty of studies to back them up.

But this is a tough problem to overcome. Not every kid is interested in traipsing out into the woods, and what parent hasn’t spent a Friday evening with Lester Holt as he walks us through a chilling, child abduction case on Dateline NBC? Despite these hurdles, we CAN do things to make it easier for our kids to get outdoors. The following are a few structured and unstructured ideas to entice the young ones away from their gadgets this summer:

1. Play frisbee. A Frisbee is a simple, inexpensive toy to throw around the yard or park…it is also becoming a very popular sport!  Want to learn how to play?  The Washington Area Frisbee Club (WAFC) is one of the most active Frisbee clubs in the U.S. and has programs for every skill level.  There is a special league for kids ages 10 – 13, and kids of all ages can play and learn with their parents in WAFC’s “Recreational League.” For more information, check out the WAFC website at

2. Build a fort. My 5-year old built a fort made of bark and tree limbs in the woods behind our house. Recently, her friends in the neighborhood have joined in the fun – it is their favorite spot and their enthusiasm for using the fort warms my heart.  Yes, there is a danger of ticks, but I check her every night for them.  Don’t feel up to checking for ticks?  No judgment coming from over here. Give your kids some old blankets and they can be thrown over a picnic table, an old card table, or stretched over two chairs – let the fun begin!

3. Swim at a pool. Nothing feels better on a hot, humid Virginia summer day than a dip in the pool!  There are many opportunities in northern Virginia to cool off this summer – from summer-long pool memberships, to a one-day pool pass, there is something for every budget.  For a listing of indoor and outdoor pools and pricing, please visit Northern Virginia Magazine’s list-ing  for northern Virginia pools:

4. Rent a kayak or a canoe. As a former camp counselor, I noticed that our canoe trip was the highlight of camp for most kids. Why?  Because going out on the open water in a boat is exciting and different! A trip in a canoe or kayak is quiet and serene – and, if you are lucky, you will be treated to views of all kinds of wildlife. There are a number of places where you can rent canoes and kayaks on the Potomac, as well as on some of the area’s small lakes. https://familycanoeingdc.wordpress.

5. Try an outdoor summer camp. From learning about insects, to riding horses, to understanding how Native Americans lived long ago, there is something for every interest.  Not all camps are held outdoors, so if that is your goal, do some calling ahead to see where your child will be spending his/her time.  For some good outdoor bets, look for the camps listed at your County’s nature centers:

Fairfax County:

Loudoun County:

Prince William County:

Audubon Naturalist Society:

The Eastern Ridge School:

Wilderness Adventure at Eagle Landing:

6. Go to an outdoor farmer’s market. Taking a nice walk outdoors surrounded by delicious local food, flowers, baked goods and music – what’s not to love? Be sure to go hungry – most stands offer samples and prepared foods are usually for sale as well. During the summer, there are multiple farmer’s markets going on every day of the week.  For a comprehensive listing of markets in DC and northern Virginia, please visit:

7. Camp in the backyard. Packing the kids up and heading out to Shenandoah for the weekend is truly a memorable event, but it is not always realistic nor is it possible for everyone, every weekend. Some of the key elements of camping can be duplicated right in your own backyard or local park – a fire pit for cooking marshmallows, a grill, picnic food, fireflies, scary stories and staying up a little later than normal. If you have a tent and some space, you could also try spending the night out in the backyard – it is almost as exciting as camping in the woods.

8. Try your hand at geocaching. This is one activity that is enhanced by electronics and might just get that kid who is glued to the computer out of the house! Geocaching is an outdoor treasure hunt that is done using a GPS-enabled tracking device (cell phone). Individuals navigate to a specific set of GPS coordinates and then work to find the geocache (container) hidden at that location – there are many locations here in northern Virginia, as well as all over the world!  For geocaching 101:

9. Map out a trail to school. In many communities, parents are getting their kids to school in walking or biking pools. Essentially, parents take turns chaperoning groups of kids as they walk or bike to school. This gives kids more outside time and exercise each day, as well as teaching them about pedestrian safety.   Have your child map a safe route to school and invite some friends to test the route. Safe Routes to School has a great site:

DC Commuter Connections has a site called School Pools, which helps parents within the same school to connect for transportation purposes (carpooling, walking pools and biking pools):

10. Set up a lemonade stand.  It never hurts to have a little walking around money for that ice cream cone or special treat at the farmer’s market. Lemons, water, sugar and some great marketing skills are all your kids need to start up a lemonade stand – it is a classic.


The Reston Network Analysis

Study Area Map.

Study Area Map.

Ever wonder how the community you live in evolved into its current shape and form, or  what it might look like in 10, 20 or 50 years?  Communities grow and evolve over time, even master planned communities like Reston.  While Robert Simon formulated a masterful plan for a multi-faceted and multi-use community, functionality and changes in demographics, housing trends, commuting patterns, lifestyles, and other factors, dictate that community master plans be re-visited and updated.  An update to the Reston Master Plan was completed in February 2014 when the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors adopted the Reston Phase I Comprehensive Plan for the areas surrounding the three Silver Line Metrorail Stations.

The Reston Phase I Comprehensive Plan developed new guidance for mixed use development focused around the future Silver Line Metrorail Stations.  To understand what is needed to support transportation to and from these new developments, the Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) has initiated the Reston Network Analysis.

The Network Analysis will evaluate the conceptual grid of streets in the Reston Transit Station Areas (TSAs) adopted in the Reston Phase I Plan Amendment.  It takes into account the future demand for travel associated with the development around the three Metrorail Stations.

The analysis will identify what roadway features are necessary to support acceptable traffic conditions and a walkable and bikeable environment in the TSAs. The end result will be a street network that is cost effective and requires the minimum right-of-way, with the least impacts to adjacent properties while addressing the future travel demand. It will take into consideration the provisions of the Reston Phase I Master Plan. The study is scheduled be completed late 2016.


Project Overview.

FCDOT wants this analysis to be as inclusive as possible.  Your input is encouraged!  An Advisory Committee, appointed by the Supervisor and comprised of landowners and citizens, meets regularly.  The meetings are open to the public; feel free to attend. Meeting announcements for Advisory Group Meetings, Stakeholder Meetings and Public Meetings can be found on the project website:

There is also a comment box on the webpage if you have any thoughts or questions about the project!


Kristen is a Senior Transportation Planner for the Fairfax County Department of Transportation.


Get your Pedal on for Bike to Work Day

By Douglas Franklin

In May we celebrate our Mothers, Cinco de Mayo, and Memorial Day.  What you may not know is that May is also National Bike Month, which celebrates bicycling as a clean, fun, and healthy way to get to work.  On Friday, May 20, 2016 Bike to Work Day will be celebrated all over the Washington D.C. metropolitan region.  Bike to Work Day is free and open to riders of all ability levels, especially those who have never commuted by bicycle before.

Commuter Connections and the Washington Area Bicyclist Association coordinate this free and exciting event every year.   This year there will be over 80 pit stop stations set up throughout the District, suburban Maryland, and Northern Virginia where bicyclists will get free T-shirts, refreshments, and giveaway goodies while supplies last.  Plus, all participants will be entered into a raffle for a chance to win one of many shiny new bicycles being awarded.  And we’ll even give you a well-deserved pat on the back for getting out there and doing it!

The free T-shirt is your “I did it” trophy.  Come snag that free T-shirt, you earned it!  You just have to be one of the first 15,000 to register for Bike to Work Day at, and there is absolutely no cost to do so.  Secondly, on your way to work via bicycle, stop at the pit stop station you designated when registering.

There are so many people who help put together Bike to Work Day, it’s such a positive outpouring of volunteerism and camaraderie, and we want you to be part of the fun.  Will this be the year you finally make your move and brush the cobwebs off that lonely bike of yours?  Or perhaps make an investment in a new bicycle?

Remember riding a bicycle to get around as a kid?  It was a certain rite of passage and was simply second nature as your method of transportation.  Flash back on that fateful day when dad finally removed those 051515-B2Wtraining wheels and you flew solo for the very first time.  To your parents, that moment in your life was nearly as meaningful as when you walked for the very first time.  To you it meant freedom and accomplishment, and a crowning achievement.  In a certain way, the joy of bicycling as an adult harkens back to the spirit of our inner child.  Now’s your chance to capture that spirit again on Bike to Work Day.

Admit it, with a job to go to each day you don’t go to the gym like you know you should.  If only there was a way to get exercise that doesn’t really seem like exercise.  Wouldn’t it be great to get that needed exercise while doing something as mundane as commuting to that pesky job of yours?

As if you didn’t know, bicycling has all sorts of health benefits.  And the cure to just about everything is eating a healthy diet and getting exercise; we hear that over and over again.  The physical benefits of bicycling are many.  Bicycling engages the muscles in your legs without the strong damaging force of coming down hard on your knees. It gets your legs moving and your heart pumping, and since it’s low impact, it’s far easier on your joints than running.

Bicycling is a legitimate method of transportation to work for tens of thousands of commuters in the region.  Bike to Work Day is your chance to try it for the first time, and join those who’ve discovered the secret of bicycling already…it’s fun and healthy.

Bicycling is also great for the environment since it doesn’t give out any carbon based emissions; it is a 100 percent green form of transportation.  There are zero fuel costs at the pump; the only fuel you’ll be burning are calories.

As far as the mental benefits of bicycling, another big aspect is that it can help reduce stress. It will just make you feel better.  The sense of freedom that comes with open air movement at a smooth pace is good for the soul.  It helps us explore the area around us.  Once you bike in areas where you typically drive, you’ll be surprised by what you notice.

A recent study by the New Economics Foundation found that commuters have reported lower stress levels than their counterparts using cars.  The Commuter Connections 2013 State of the Commute Survey report found that than nine in ten who traveled to work by bicycling/walking (93%) reported high satisfaction with their commutes, more than any other mode of transportation.  At 61 percent, commuters who drove alone to work by car were the least satisfied.

Prepare for the event by using some of the great resources at biketoworkmetrodc.org9

Learn more about bicycle commuting, how to ride in experienced commuter bicyclist lead convoys, where to brush up on cycling skills, and participate in a cycling class to learn how to safely share the road with cars, other bikes, and pedestrians.

If you don’t want to go it alone, try finding a ride buddy for Bike to Work Day at the Washington Area Bike Forum,  The online Bike Forum is a place to connect with other area bicyclists.  You can look for riding buddies, ask questions about commuting and route selection, and discuss bicycle safety, advocacy and so much more.  The community on the forum is helpful, knowledgeable and open to riders of all ability levels.

Last year’s Bike to Work Day event drew more than 17,500 bicycle commuters. Get your Pedal On for Bike to Work Day 2016 happening Friday, May 20.  Grab hold of the freedom that bicycling provides and make this year your year. You’ll be so happy you did.

Register for Bike  to  Work  Day  at   and   follow us   on  Twitter    @BikeToWorkDay, #BTWD2016.

Doug is a TDM Marketing Specialist and coordinates Bike to Work Day for Commuter Connections.



Telework Week March 7-11

If your business suffered during recent weather events, Telework Week is the perfect opportunity to learn more about telework, a cost-effective, easy-to-implement way to ensure continuity of operations in an emergency.  In addition, there are plenty of genuine bottom line benefits for your organization!  So click on the ad below to learn more about teleworking – including FREE technical assistance to start or expand your telework program.  You can even pledge to try teleworking March 7-11.  


















Try Something New This Summer – Join A CSA!

As the sun stays with us a little longer and days are warmer, many of us can’t help but think of summer cookouts and the good food that accompanies them.  One way to take full advantage of those perfectly sun-ripened tomatoes, sweet corn and crisp greens is to join a CSA (community supported agriculture).

A CSA provides “city-folk” with direct access to food produced by local farmers.  Basically, CSA shareholders pay for a “share” of vegetables for a set number of months (usually by season).  This cost allows the farmer to plan for the season, repair equipment, shutterstock_42990718purchase seed, etc.  In exchange, each week shareholders receive a box of locally farmed, seasonal vegetables. Many CSAs also offer options to purchase locally produced meat, cheese, eggs, flowers, breads, and other goodies!

Each CSA is a little different, but there is usually a “host site” (this can be an individual’s home, a school, farmer’s market, etc.).  This is where the vegetable boxes are dropped off by a CSA representative and picked up by CSA participants. Your CSA will work with you to find a host site that is closest to your home to facilitate pick-up.  Alternatively, many farms offer CSA share pick-up at the farm itself.

Most CSAs also have different sized “shares” – full, half and even quarter shares – depending on how many individuals you are feeding and your budget.  Another option is to split the share with another individual or family if smaller shares are not an option.


Why would I participate in a CSA when I can just go to the grocery store?

The produce is fresh. The typical American meal travels 1,500 miles before it is consumed. That lettuce you just purchased was picked and stored up to 4 weeks ago. And how about that tomato? In the U.S., tomatoes can be picked and stored for up to 6 weeks. In order to transport our produce long distances, it is often picked while still unripe and then gassed to “ripen” it after transport. Am I making you hungry? Conversely, the vegetables you are getting through your CSA have been picked the week you receive your box.  Yum!

CSAs are more sustainable. Remember that 1,500-mile road trip your veggies took to get to your plate? That trip contributes to your food’s carbon footprint.  Vegetables from your CSA box generally come from farms within 100 miles of its drop-off point.  Additionally, CSA vegetables are seasonal, meaning that you are not going to get a tomato in January.  Vegetable production accounts for a large percentage of a vegetable’s carbon footprint – think of the energy needed to heat and light a tomato hothouse.  By eating local and seasonal, you are cutting down on both transport and production emissions. Bonus: Your support also helps to keep the farmer’s small business sustainable!

It expands your palette. Garlicky scapes, Jerusalem artichokes, and stinging nettles – oh my!  While CSA boxes include common seasonal vegetables – tomatoes, cucumbers, potatoes, etc., if you are lucky, you will get a few surprises. Initially, it may feel a little bit like playing Iron Chef each week, but most CSAs give you a list of what to expect in your box a few days before pick-up, which helps with planning – some CSAs even provide recipe ideas! As a five-year CSA veteran (with kids), I have found that it has really pushed my family to incorporate vegetables into our meals that I would never have considered – with (mostly) very positive results. 

It’s an opportunity to meet new people. Since most CSAs have a central pick-up point, it is not uncommon to meet participating neighbors at these pick-up points.  The question, “What do you usually do with all of these turnips?” is an easy conversation starter and you may find that you have a lot more in common than a turnip problem! Our gracious CSA host has also held potlucks for our CSA group and put those who are interested on a listserv where we can exchange emails regarding vegetable storage, recipes and food swaps.

Are you sold? Interested in trying a CSA this summer?  Here are a few that cater to those living in Northern Virginia:


Blenheim Organic Gardens 

Washington’s Birthplace, Va.

Lawrence and Becky Latane


$580 (farm pickup), $600 (Fredericksburg or King George pickup), $635 (Falls Church pickup), mid-May through November, every other week. Certified organic.

Pickup locations: Falls Church, Fredericksburg, King George

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Fair Oaks Farm

Aldie, Va.

Mollie Madison


$495 full share, 16 weeks; or flexible CSABucks program in which members choose produce, meat, eggs, flowers and more for pickup at farm shop

Pickup locations: Alex-andria, Arlington, Chantilly, the District

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Great Country Farms

Bluemont, Va.

Mark Dewey


$499-$649 (depending on pickup or delivery site), 20 weeks; delivery to homes or businesses in Northern Virginia.

Pickup locations: Aldie, Arlington, Ashburn, Chantilly, Fairfax, Herndon, Lansdowne, Leesburg, Sterling, Vienna

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative

Leola, Pa.

CSA department

717-656-3533, ext. 2

$599-$825 vegetable share, 26-week summer season; fall and winter seasons available; chicken, meat, fruit, flower, herb, bread, cheese and egg shares available. Cooperative of about 100 farmers.

Pickup locations: Arling-ton, Baltimore, Bethesda, Chevy Chase, Columbia, Damascus, the District, Fairfax, Falls Church, Frederick, Gaithersburg, Great Falls, Herndon, Kensington, Leesburg, Montgomery County, Olney, Potomac, Reisterstown, Rockville, Silver Spring, Springfield, Takoma Park, University Park, Vienna

Pickup at the farm: No


Polyface Farm

Swoope, Va.

Sheri Salatin


Pay-as-you-go buying club for meat (beef, chicken, turkey and pork) and eggs; monthly March through November. Delivery.

Pickup locations: Alexandria, Annapolis, Arlington, Ashburn, Centreville, Fairfax, Falls Church, Kensington, Laurel, Leesburg, Manassas, Occoquan, Potomac, Reston, Silver Spring, Springfield, Takoma Park

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Potomac Vegetable Farm

Vienna, Va., and Purcellville, Va.

Hana Newcomb


$368 mini share, $528 regular share, $688 robust share, 16-week summer season; $184 mini share, $264 regular share, $344 robust share, 8-week fall season; egg, flower, herb, chicken, and bread shares available.

Pickup locations: Alexandria, Arlington, Burke, Falls Church, Fairfax, Herndon, Reston, Springfield

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Spring House Farm

Lovettsvile, Va.


$220-$672 for three-month, meat-only shares (bi-weekly delivery).

Pickup locations: Arlington, Ashburn, Centreville, the District, Hamilton, Leesburg, Vienna

Pickup at the farm: Yes


Willowsford Farm

Ashburn, Va.

Michael Snow


$729 large share, $513 small share, 27 weeks; vegetable, egg, prepared food items, flower, chicken, milk and other shares available, as well as weekly pre-orders for all farm stand items. Additional delivery sites may be available.

Pickup locations: Aldie, Ashburn

Pickup at the farm: Yes