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Three NoVA parks host educational field trips

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation was awarded a $20,000 grant from the Virginia Outdoors Foundation last year to transport summer camp participants in northern Virginia to nearby Virginia State Parks. Using the leftover funds, more field trips were able to take place again this year.

“We were excited when we found out that we had some money left over to do this program at the parks again this year,” said Virginia State Park Potomac District Manager Ken Benson. “These field trips provide such a positive experience and can have a life-long effect on the youth. This partnership allows us to connect the next generation with the parks and highlight the importance of conservation.”

Leesylvania, Widewater and Mason Neck state parks hosted youth ages 6-16 during July and August and provided a range of recreational activities including kayaking, archery, canoeing, fishing, swimming, biking and hiking. Programming included educational and interpretive elements that explored both the natural and historic resources of each park.

Guided by Carina Velazquez-Mondragon, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service visitor services specialist, and her team of interns, participants of the VOF Get Outdoors program started their day at Mason Neck learning the fundamentals of archery.

“For many of the participants this was their first time using a bow and arrow,” said Mason Neck State Park Assistant Manager Taylore Willis. “They learned bow anatomy, how to determine which eye was dominant, proper firing stance, safety regulations and even had an opportunity to practice firing at standard targets. Not only is archery a recreational and competitive sport, it is also a method of hunting that is acceptable in various areas around Virginia. This exposure may become a point of interest for participants to continue seeking opportunities in.”

The purpose of the field trips is to open up opportunities for members of underserved communities and show them all the amenities that the Virginia State Parks offer.

“The small group size allowed for a very personal experience for the attendees,” said Widewater State Park Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience Jamie Leeuwrik. “It was delightful to see the participants get excited to learn new skills such as learning to fish from the shoreline as well as playing the game called Terrific Turkeys, which helps them learn about the relationship between prey (turkeys), predators (foxes and snakes), and their resources. As a park that is still rapidly growing, finding new communities has helped the staff to better understand what will draw future users to the park.”

Leesylvania State Park hosted activities focused on wildlife and fishing to help teach the participants about hunting as well as preserving natural habitats.

“Seining in the Potomac River, fishing, a bird migration game and visitor exploration were some programs offered to the youth,” said Leesylvania State Park Chief Ranger of Visitor Experience Ericka Goines. “The theme for the VOF trip was showing how fishing has changed over time, and how waterfowl and other animals depend on all bodies of water and wetland to survive. In the visitor center we focused more on identifying different fish as well as invasive species vs non-invasive. The kids got a chance to feed a snakehead fish, a bluegill, a blue catfish and a pumpkinseed sunfish and to see their hunt instinct in action. It was a very fun day for all participants.”

The funding comes from VOF’s Get Outdoors grant program and was awarded to DCR for their proposal to increase access for underserved communities to outdoor spaces, establish healthy habits in youths, and introduce potential career paths in natural resources and recreation to program participants.

“The partnership with the Lorton Community Action Center was key in connecting these youth to the parks,” said DCR Organizational Development Consultant Nona Henderson. “Some members of the community do not have access to personal transportation and the funds from the VOF have enabled us to strengthen partnerships with the Lorton Community Action Center by providing additional services to their clients. We hope to continue these field trips throughout the coming months in northern Virginia under our current grant.”

DCR plans to submit an additional proposal to VOF for another round of funding to expand the program to other parts of the state.

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