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At Vertical Rock, The Only Way Is Up

Vertical Rock Climbing Gym, Manassas, VA ©Matthew Rakola.

On a recent visit to Vertical Rock Climbing and Fitness in Manassas, the atmosphere could best be described as “controlled energy.” A view from the front desk reveals dozens of climbers slowly spidering their way up the walls — huge floor-to-ceiling climbing structures that dominate the warehouse-sized building. 

Coaches offer light instruction to teams of junior climbers as they take turns reaching for the next climbing hold. Several folks equipped with harnesses tentatively pick their way upward, secured by cable to a belaying partner on the floor. Elite athletes move vertically — and then horizontally — along a route of impossible-looking climbing holds. Every now and then, one misses a hand-or a foot-hold. Suddenly, they are swinging 30 feet up by their harness.

There is an intensity here. Each climber is engaged in an individual struggle with gravity. But the sounds of excited conversation and shouts of encouragement show that no one is really battling alone.

Ian Colton, who owns Vertical Rock with his wife Lindsey, has worked hard to build a feeling of community. He calls the gym a “living room,” where people meet, share their passion and get healthy. “We have had people meet here and end up getting married. Others we lose because they come in here, overweight, maybe depressed, and rock climbing opens up what they think they can do. They change their thinking, change their lifestyle and move to Colorado!”

Colton is certain that there is a rock-climbing adventure waiting for anyone willing to try.

How does someone start rock climbing? “Just walk through the door. We can handle whatever you want to do, climbing or fitness related. We have everything you need,” Colton said. He said that the “Learn the Ropes” class is a good place to start, or “Try an open climb. You get three climbs for $20, and an instructor is with you the whole time. There is always someone here to help you
get started.”

Colton points to the bouldering area, home to “The Cave” and “The Arch.” A dozen or so climbers are practicing bouldering — a rope-free, lower-altitude option. The floor around the foot of these structures is heavily padded; falls are inevitable, but lower impact. “Bouldering is where a lot of folks choose to begin” he said. “You don’t need anything but a pair of shoes and a chalk bag. You don’t need a partner, but after a few minutes in the bouldering area, you are bound to start making friends.”

Colton said, “Most people need encouragement to try the first time. We offer a ton of kids’ classes, teams and summer camps. We offer merit badge programs, birthday parties and overnight lock-ins. Parents bring their kids in and watch them climb. Before long, they want to try too. It’s very individual. It’s all about how you want to challenge yourself.” 

Director of Operations Rachel Nystrom said, “A woman in her 50s came in looking to fulfill a bucket list challenge. She tried an open climb and made it to the top all three times. She was really happy and took information on climbing and fitness classes.” Nystorm smiled as someone who has seen this scenario hundreds of times, “We expect to see her again.”

Vertical Rock has been open for eight years and employs about 30. Colton said, “Most of our staff started climbing here. Their biggest driver is passion. They will talk for hours about carabiners and what kind of climbing shoes they like and why. They come here on their days off to climb. They get to know our customers and they give back with their passion.”

For those who prefer an outdoor adventure, Vertical Rock hosts rock climbing trips. Local excursions include visits to Great Falls National Park in McLean or Old Rag Mountain in Shenandoah National Park. Colton arranges multi-day trips out west or up north, and also leads groups that are interested in ice climbing.

Colton believes everyone should try rock climbing. “No matter how high you go or how hard, you can find your own challenge. And the byproduct is fitness.”

This article provided courtesy of InsideNoVa.


Commuters Are Driving Alone Less, Taking Transit And Teleworking More

New survey shows commuting trends in the D.C. Region

Drive-alone commuting continues to decrease, while alternative modes of transportation, including transit and telework, are on the rise among commuters in the D.C. region, according to the new Commuter Connections’ 2019 State of the Commute Survey Report released today at the monthly meeting of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB).

Although driving alone continues to be the primary mode of commuting in the region, the percentage of commuters who drove alone decreased from 71 percent in 2004 to 58 percent in 2019, a 13 percentage point drop, according to the survey.

At the same time, transit use increased by seven percentage points from 17 percent in 2004 to 24 percent in 2019, the survey found. Of the transit trips, 18.2 percent were by train (16.6 percent Metrorail and 1.6 percent commuter rail) and the remaining 5.9 percent of transit trips were made by bus.

Similarly, the use of telework has nearly tripled since 2004. More than one-third (35 percent) of regional commuters said they teleworked at least occasionally. In 2019, more than one million regional workers teleworked. Even with this growth, the potential exists for an additional 771,000 people to telework, according to the survey.  

“Growth in and regional improvements to different commuting options like transit and teleworking are allowing more residents in the D.C. region to leave their cars at home,” said Nicholas Ramfos, Commuter Connections Director. “Commuter Connections provides information about transit, bicycling, telecommuting, and carpooling as well as offers services such as ridematching for carpools and the Guaranteed Ride Home program to help commuters get home in an emergency. All of these options help commuters make a decision to not drive solo.”

“The Transportation Planning Board is focused on moving more people, and not necessarily more cars,” said TPB Chairman and Prince William County Supervisor Martin Nohe. “It is a step in the right direction to see the decline in solo driving, and we need to continue to work together as a region to promote transportation alternatives, such as taking transit, bicycling, walking, carpooling, and teleworking, to get more cars off the road and reduce congestion.”

The Commuter Connections’ State of the Commute Survey, which is conducted every three years, looks at trends in commuting modes (driving, carpooling, taking transit, ridehailing, teleworking, bicycling, and walking), as well as commute distance and time, and attitudes about commuting and transportation options. For the data collection, 8,246 randomly selected employed residents of the metropolitan Washington region were surveyed.


On The Road Again. Is This Heaven? No, It’s Iowa!

Article and photos By Jim Schlett

Most movie buffs always recall this line from Kevin Costner
in Field of Dreams. Iowa was part of my recent summer road trip and yes, in many ways it was almost like heaven.

In the spring of this year, the Herbert Hoover National Historic Site in the small community of West Branch Iowa, notified me that I would be the sole Artist-In-Resident (AIR) for the month of August and along with my wife Gail we started our adventure.   For the better part of the month, we would wander around the park, taking images of the village, Hoover Hometown Days, Hoover Ball, the cottage, the grave sites and the blooming flowers on the prairie at sunset.  I came to appreciate the saying, “No two walks on the prairie are ever the same.”

This Park is where President Hoover was born and raised in the early years of his life and later buried.  As with most Americans, I had only associated Mr. Hoover with the Great Depression of the late 1920s and 30s.  In fact, Mr Hoover later joked that he was the only President to have a Depression named after him.   Little do most Americans know that Mr. Hoover had an incredible and fascinating list of business, political and humanitarian accomplishments by the time he passed away at the age of 90.  

The National Park Service manages this site, which consists of the Visitors Center, a small historic village, and an adjacent prairie.  This land contains the tiny 2-room cottage that Mr. Hoover was born and raised in for a few years in Iowa.  His father died when he was six and his mother passed away before he was 10.  He was then raised by his relatives nearby.  At the age of 11 he boarded a train by himself from West Branch with 2 dimes in his pocket and a suitcase of clothes on a long and lonely trip to Oregon to be raised by an uncle.  Through his own determination and grit, he graduated in the very first class at Stanford University and became one of the most sought-after mining engineers in the world.  Within a short span of time, he had traveled around the world several times managing mines in California, Australia and China, while becoming a millionaire in the process.

But Mr. Hoover never forgot his modest and humble roots and Quaker background of service to others.  With the United States involvement in WWI, he initially helped coordinate efforts to get tens of thousands of stranded American visitors and tourists out of Europe and back to America.  From that point on, he would be known as the “Great Humanitarian,” who would save tens of millions of people from starvation during and in the aftermath of WWI and WWII.  So in awe of his work by the people he saved, many fountains, streets, and plazas in Europe are still named after him, which puzzles most Americans who are not aware of his work outside the presidency.   His humanitarian works eventually resulted in the creation of the United Nations Childrens Fund (UNICEF).   He then secured the first contribution to UNICEF of $15 million from the United States.

The Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum is located within the National Park site, and houses a great deal of information, papers, letters, special exhibits, displays and an excellent movie on his life. 

In addition to my time at the park, we made side trips to many other sites and I can attest to the fact that Iowa has many beautiful and stunning attractions.   Some of the sites include the Amana Colonies, a cluster of seven villages built and settled by Germans in the mid 1850s, the Amish community of Kalona, where horse-drawn carriages are still a way of life, and we even spent an entire day at the Iowa State Fair and by the way, didn’t run into a single politician.   Iowa sure knows how to do a state fair.  We even managed to make a side trip up to Dubuque, a picturesque town looking down on the Mississippi River and a stop-over at the site of the movie Field of Dreams, which reinforces one of the messages of the movie, “If you build it, they will come.”

As with my other AIRs, time passed way too quickly and I will have one more AIR this autumn that will be a great end to 2019 with regard to my association with the National Park Service.

To see more of my work from my Artist-In-Residencies, check out


Holiday Festivities for the Family


9 Meadowlarkís Winter Walk of Lights

November 9, and continues every night (Thanksgiving, Christmas and News Year’s too!) through Sunday, January 6, 2019. Open nightly at 5:30pm (The last admission is at 9:30pm Winter Walk, concessions and the Snowflake Shoppe close at 10 pm).  In order to ensure your Winter Walk of Lights experience please purchase your tickets prior to your visit. Tickets are not available at the door on peak nights and special events. To ensure your admission please purchase your tickets in advance online. *Timed tickets are required.*

Bring the family to enjoy the magical Winter Walk of lights at Meadowlark Botanical Gardens in Vienna, Virginia. Every year from mid-November until just after New Year’s Day, the garden is transformed into a half-mile, animated walk of lights. Revisit perennial favorites such as the Lakeside Lights, the Fountain of Lights, and the Holiday Nature Walk – and look for new displays each year. Put on your walking shoes and bring the family to experience a Northern Virginia festive tradition. Round out your visit by roasting marshmallows, and sipping on hot beverages by the fire. (Available for purchase at Light Refreshments).

21 Bull Run Festival of Lights 

November 21–January 6, 2019; Monday – Thursday: 5:30 to 9:30pm
Fridays – Sunday & holidays*:  5:30 to 10pm  *(Holidays include Thanksgiving day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Years Eve and New Years.  Bull Run Regional Park.

The Bull Run Festival of Lights is a NoVA favorite. Hop in the car and enjoy a very merry light and music show. Be advised: Fridays are one of the festival’s busiest days, so be prepared. Still, it’s one of the best days to go, as the carnival will be open until late! Bull Run Regional Park, 7700 Bull Run Drive, Centreville; 703-359-4633; Day); Prices vary.

23 Reston Holiday Parade, Tree Lighting, and Sing Along 

Friday, November 23; 11:00am–10:00pm; Reston Town Center.

Reston Town Center launches the festive season at the 28th annual Reston Holiday Parade at 11:00 a.m. with Macy’s-style balloons, musicians, dancers, antique cars, characters, community groups, dignitaries, special guest emcees, and much more. The one-of-a-kind, one-hour, half-mile parade along Market Street also welcomes the arrival of Santa and Mrs. Claus in a horse-drawn carriage. Since 1991, rain or shine, the parade has been an annual tradition on the day after Thanksgiving.  Before the parade begins, thousands of jingle bells will be handed out to spectators lining the route. After the parade, enjoy visits and photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus plus Mini-Train rides until 4:30pm, and street entertainment. The Clauses will return for the Fountain Square Tree Lighting and Sing Along at 6pm. Afterwards, there’ll be horse-drawn carriage rides on Market Street from 6:30 until 10pm. Proceeds for the photos and rides benefit local charities. The acclaimed Ice Skating Pavilion is open all day and every day from November until March.  Phone: 703-579-6720

Christmas at Mount Vernon 

Friday, November 23 – Monday, December 31; 9:00am–4:00pm; George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate & Gardens.

Mount Vernon has decked the halls for the holiday season and invites you to celebrate this festive time of year with a special daytime program offered through December 31!

Visit George Washington’s estate and see Aladdin the camel on the grounds, in honor of the camel that Washington paid to visit Mount Vernon in 1787. Stroll through the estate during the Christmas season and see sparkling holiday decorations, featuring 12 dazzling Christmas trees, and historical chocolate-
making demonstrations.

Experience Christmas how the Washington’s would have celebrated it on a tour of the Mansion. Go behind-the-scenes and tour the rarely-open third floor of the Mansion.  3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Hwy, Mount Vernon, VA 22309. Phone: 703-780-2000; Admission Fee: $18/adults; $11 child.

28 National Christmas Tree and State Trees

Wednesday, November 28, Ellipse in Washington, D.C.

On November 28, 2018 the National Park Foundation and National Park Service will present the 96th annual National Christmas Tree Lighting. Popular entertainers and a United States military band add to the celebratory evening when the President of the United States lights the National Christmas Tree and brings a message of peace to the nation and world.

To learn more about the National Christmas Tree Lighting and December events at the National Christmas Tree, please visit

The National Christmas Tree will be lit every night through January 1. The Pathway of Peace around the National Christmas Tree is free and open to visitors 10 a.m. to 10pm daily through January 1. The pathway loops around the National Christmas Tree and features 56 unique Christmas trees and ornament displays representing every U.S. state, territory, and the District of Columbia.  Located on the Ellipse on Constitution Avenue side of the White House.  Through January 1, 2019.


1 Christmas in Middleburg 

Saturday, December 1 – Sunday, December 2; 11:00am Friday–4:00pm Sunday; Downtown.

Festivities begin December 1, The Tree Lighting Ceremony and Carols, behind the Pink Box, 12 North Madison St., 5:00pm on Saturday.

Starting at 11 a.m. the Middleburg Hunt takes to the streets creating a spectacular sight as approximately 100 horses, riders in red coats and dozens of hounds come
through the town.

The Middleburg Christmas Parade begins at 2pm as spectators line the sidewalks along Washington Street (Route 50) to watch as a unique assortment of floats, troops and bands march by in a mile-long parade. In keeping with the animal friendliness of the town, the parade includes over 700 horses, llamas, alpacas and dogs. Not to be missed are the antique fire trucks, children on floats, and of course, Santa brings up the rear riding on a beautiful horse drawn coach. Through the day there are hayrides, choir performances, the Garden Club’s Christmas Flower & Greens Show and the Craft Show as well as shopping and dining in the town’s shops and restaurants, creating a day-long family festival for visitors. A Wine Crawl is the final element, allowing adults to wind down and relax while sampling wines from area vineyards, and foods in local restaurants. Phone: 540-687-8888. 

Merry Old Town: Manassas Christmas Tree Lighting 

Saturday, December 1; 5:30pm–8:00pm; Manassas Museum Lawn.

Make time to enjoy old-fashioned family fun at the “Merry Old Town” celebration in Old Town Manassas! The holiday fun begins at 5:30pm with holiday music and at 6:00pm When Santa arrives at the Manassas Depot via VRE train.

The Annual Christmas Tree Lighting will be at 6:30 at the Manassas Museum. Take a free hayride around Old Town and go for a skate at the Harris Pavilion ice rink. Of course, Santa will hear the Christmas wishes of all the children at the Harris Pavilion gazebo. 9101 Prince William Street.  Free admission.

Merry Old Town: 73rd Annual Greater Manassas Christmas Parade

Saturday, December 1; 10:00am–12:00pm, Historic Downtown.

Join us for the 72nd Annual Greater Manassas Christmas Parade on December 2, 2016. Please visit for details, including parade route.

Free parking for the parade is available in the parking garage on the corner of Prince William St. and Main St. There is also timed parking available on the street. Handicapped parking is available in the BB&T parking lot located on Center Street and the 7-11 parking lot located at the corner of Grant and Center Street. Free admission.  Rain or shine.

Holiday Fine Arts and Crafts Show at Ida Lee Recreation Center

December 1st, 9:00am-4:00pm and December 3rd, 10:00am-4:00pm. 

No big-box shopping here! This show features over 90 local and regional artisans selling hand-made items including candles, stained glass, carved wood, jewelry, leather products, table linens, and much more. Find something for everyone on your shopping list and a little something to brighten your home this season. Admission and parking for this show are free.

Herndon Annual Tree Lighting and Sing-Along

Saturday, December 1; 5:00pm–6:00pm; Town of Herndon Town Square.

Start the holiday season with this annual celebration. Carols, tree lighting, and a visit from Santa. Corner of Lynn and Elden Streets, Herndon. Sponsored by the Dulles Regional Chamber. 730 Eldon Street. Phone: 571-323-5301. Free admission.

2 Herndon Holiday Arts and Crafts Show 

Sunday, December 2; 10:00am-4:00pm; Herndon Community Center.

Over 80 artisans and craftspeople will exhibit and sell their work at this annual arts and crafts show sponsored by the Town of Herndon Department of Parks and Recreation. A variety of handcrafted items and fine art will be on sale including wreaths, quilts, jewelry, Christmas ornaments, decorations, original artwork, photography, stained glass, and more. 814 Ferndale Ave., Herndon, VA. Free admission and parking. Additional parking at the Herndon Centennial Golf Course.

7 Town of Leesburg Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting

Friday, December 7th, 6:00pm; Town Green.

Join friends and neighbors and celebrate the start of the holiday season in Leesburg at the annual Christmas Tree and Menorah Lighting Ceremony on the Town Green. The festive ceremony will feature performances from local schools and a holiday message . The crowd will be encouraged to join in on a holiday sing-a-long and view the lighting of the Christmas tree and menorah.

Town of Leesburg Rockiní with Rudolph and Friends!

Friday, December 7th – 6:30pm – 8:00pm.

Children up to the age of 8 years old are invited to this wonderful event at Ida Lee. Bring your camera and dancing shoes! Santa will be on hand for picture opportunities and to hear wish lists. Then join Rudolph and Frosty as they rock out to holiday favorites and other kid’s tunes while dancing the night away! Pre-registration is required for this event. $12 for children 2 years old and over and $8 for under 2. Registration can be complete through WebTrac, in person at Ida Lee or via phone.

8 Town of Leesburg Annual Christmas and Holiday Parade

Saturday, December 8th – 6:00pm.

On the second Saturday of December, the holiday spirit will be in full swing as Leesburg hosts the annual holiday parade starting at 6pm. The parade will usher Santa and his friends down King Street, through Historic Leesburg. The parade will begin at Ida Lee Drive and end at Fairfax Street. Parade participation is open to the public, including businesses, civic groups, teams, organizations, and community groups.

Town of Leesburg Jingle Jam Concerts

Saturday, December 8th – 11:30am Junior Jam, 2:30pm, and 8:30pm.

Leesburg’s holiday rock n’ roll concert features many local and regional artists playing traditional holiday tunes- with a little edge. Proceeds benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Tickets will go on sale on November 13, 2018, at 5:00am at Ida Lee Park Recreation Center, in-person sales only with a 5-ticket limit.   Matinee and evening tickets are $25; Junior Jam tickets are $5.



Shared Bikes And Scooters Could Replace Nearly 50 Percent of Downtown Vehicle Trips

New INRIX Research ranks the top U.S., U.K. and German cities where micromobility has the most potential.

Micromobility (defined as shared bikes, e-bikes and e-scooters) has the potential to deliver substantial benefits to consumers and businesses around the world, including efficient and cost-effective travel, reduced traffic congestion, decreased emissions and a boost to the local economy.

According to the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ trip distance estimates, scooters are frequently used for trips between a half-mile and a mile, whereas bike distances are typically between one mile and three miles. Analyzing more than 50 million anonymous car trips, INRIX Research found that 48% of all car trips in the most congested U.S. metro areas are less than three miles (20% > 1 mile, 16% 1-2 miles and 12% 2-3 miles). If a fraction of these vehicle trips were replaced with scooter and bike trips, American cities could reap significant benefits.

Analyzing trillions of anonymous data points from hundreds of millions of connected devices, INRIX ranked the top American, British and German cities where micromobility services have the most potential to reduce vehicle trips.

Ranking the Top 10 U.S. Cities Honolulu, Hawaii; New Orleans, Louisiana; and Nashville, Tennessee comprise the Top 3 cities with the greatest profile for micromobility to succeed and reduce vehicle trips. These cities also feature warm climates with minimal topographic variation, providing further support for micromobility. The high proportion of short-distance trips – independent of a city’s density or public transit network – highlights the universal potential for shared scooters and bikes. While automobile-centric sunbelt cities like Dallas (ranked 19th) and Phoenix (ranked 23rd) have a lower proportion of 0-1 mile trips (18% and 17%, respectively) compared to denser cities such as Chicago or New York (both 22%), the small variation across all metros indicates the universal suitability for micromobility services.

To review the complete rankings of the Top 25 U.S., Top 5 U.K. and Top 5 German cities primed for micromobility to replace vehicle trips, please visit: