Are there dangerous/venomous
animals at Hidden Oaks?
I brought my kids here when they
were little, and now I am bringing my grandkids! When was this place
Typically this question is about snakes but some students have
asked about tigers, bears and non-native snakes such as pythons and
king cobras! The only native venomous snake in Fairfax County is
the northern copperhead. Staff who have been at the park for 25
years have never seen the snake in the park. Nevertheless, we are
in their region. Everyone should learn how to recognize this snake
and fortunately Hidden Oaks maintains a live copperhead on display
to help families recognize the striking and distinguishable pattern
and color. The young are just as toxic as the adults, but the venom
takes several hours to take effect. No human in Virginia has ever
died from a copperhead bite. If a bite were to occur, call 911 and
get to a hospital for observation and possible treatment.
Other potentially dangerous animals include black widow spiders
(under logs), ticks and mosquitoes. Always check yourself and
family members for ticks after any outdoors activity. Should you
wish to see the comparison of a deer tick to a dog tick, come by
Hidden Oaks to look at a Lucite display. For more information on
ticks, visit Fairfax County
Health Department Ticks & Lyme Disease Prevention.
During the summer months, yellow jackets and ground nesting bees
are particularly active. They are best avoided! If you see wasp or
bee activity around a log in the park, please report the location
to the nature center manager.
What can you do at Hidden Oaks with young
Hidden Oaks opened in 1969 as Fairfax County’s first nature
center. The county’s first park was Eakin Community Park on
Prosperity Road in Fairfax. Hidden Oaks’ volunteer Carolyn William
leads a free bird walk at this park every Monday morning at 7:30
a.m., no reservation required. The nature center originally was
just what is now the exhibit half of our present day center.
Annandale was considered a great location because it was located
just down the path from the Park Authority’s then-headquarters at
the Packard Center. In 1981 the addition of the classroom and
office spaces enabled the staff to offer more programs. Originally
the nature center enjoyed displaying a wider range of animals,
including a live opossum, great horned owl and skunk. County
regulations now limit our display of mammals and birds of prey.
The most recent exhibit was built in 2003 with the theme Urban
Wildlife: Habitats and Havens. This interactive exhibit focuses on
the young child, ages 2-9 years, and engages them and their
families to explore the abundance of life at every level of the
park’s oak-hickory forest. Even though bears and tigers do not call
Annandale home, the area teems with wildlife, both flora and fauna.
My kids used to like to visit, but now
that they are in elementary school. I think they have aged out. What is
there for them at Hidden Oaks?
Hidden Oaks is a destination location for the preschool and
elementary school set and their loved ones. We start with natural
and cultural history programs for children as young as age 2. From
the popular Little Acorns preschool programs most Monday mornings,
to summer day camps, tea parties, science series classes and
evening campfires, the naturalists combine education with
entertaining engagement. View Hidden Oaks
Hidden Oaks’ Nature Playce is open dawn to dusk daily for
unstructured outdoor play in a woodland setting. This is a perfect
place to make mud pies, watch clouds go by or challenge your
balance by walking over logs or boulders. In season, the waterscape
adds the fun of splashing in shallow pools of water. The Old Oak
Trail and the stream trail as easily managed by young kids and
take-along activities are available for free at the front desk.
Inside the learning continues with the kid-friendly exhibit, Urban
Woodlands: Habitats and Havens. The youngest visitors will enjoy
the Acorner area, filled with discovery boxes, tea sets, costumes
and a big tree to cuddle up inside to read a nature story. Older
children will want to continue to explore the four levels of the
forest, live and preserved animal displays and explore the
mysteries behind all the doors and drawers. Whatever they can
reach, they can get into. The Wentzscope, courtesy of Bailey’s
Rotary Club, gives young scientists an up-close view of nature.
Children handle unusual objects on the touch table, and temporary
exhibits highlight anything from the metamorphosis of different
butterflies to what hatches from eggs.
We parked at the Packard Center. What is
that building and did someone named Packard ever live there?
Children are natural scientists as they grow. Hidden Oaks welcomes
children of all ages and has many ways to keep them engaged. Older
kids enjoy challenging themselves to build a fort or creating
physical challenges for themselves in Nature Playce. A further walk
to the stream or other trails with a magnifying lens or net from
the front desk would stimulate a child’s curiosity. Looking for
relationships and defense strategies for the live and preserved
animal species beats out Pokémon every time! Families can enjoy a
wider array of activities with older children including several of
Hidden Oaks’ popular events such as October’s Fear-less Fest, the
Pirate Treasure Hunt, our Dino Egg Hunts, children’s
literature-themed tea parties, snake & turtle feedings, flying
squirrel viewing and monarch tagging, just to name a few! Others
may want to fulfill a scout program requirement or enjoy a group
activity in the day or evening. View Hidden Oaks Scouting
Programs. As children get older, they may visit Hidden Oaks
for a school field trip. Over 20 topics are available for school or
group field trips on site, with a smaller number of options
available to be conducted at the school or meeting site. View
details on School
Programs, onsite or Outreach. Hidden
Oaks now offers online reservation requests.
A new addition at Hidden Oaks is the option to rent one of five
nature or American Indian-themed backpacks for $10/week. The bags
contain puppets, DVDs, specimens, books and other materials to
enjoy at home or in class. The Adventure Backpacks for $20/wk also
include a Junior Naturalist Workbook to keep, plus tools to explore
a specific environment. All backpack rentals require a refundable
security deposit. Rentals are arranged at the nature center.
On the trail are signs about an
unfinished railroad. What is that about?
The Packard Center, named after Fred Packard, houses the Artisans
Gallery, a handicrafts gift shop supported by local artisans, plus
environmental and community group offices. Fred Packard, 1913-1981,
was Fairfax County’s first director of parks, as well as the
executive secretary of the Northern Virginia Parks Authority.
Previously he had served with the National Park Service and was
noted for his work with the International Affairs Office in NPS.
His wife, conservationist Jean Packard, 1923-2014, was the first
woman in Virginia to serve as a Director and Chair of a Soil and
Water Conservation District, and served as the Chair of the Fairfax
County Board of Supervisors.
The Packard Center, originally the home of Malcolm Morrow, was
acquired along with the surrounding 39 acres in the late 1950’s. It
has been expanded and served from then until the mid-1980’s as the
headquarters of Fairfax County Park Authority.
I rescued this box turtle which was
wandering through my yard! Do you want it or can I release it here?
In the early 1850’s a railroad was planned through this area,
connecting Alexandria to Manassas lines further to the west.
Although berms and some bridge abutments were built, no track was
ever laid, since the entire concern went bankrupt before the
American Civil War. The war ended any further speculation or plans
for completing the line. Visit Hidden Oaks to get more fun info
about this and the nearby Manassas Gap Railroad Park!
I found a baby bird on the ground and I
brought it to the nature center in a shoebox. Can you care for it?
Eastern box turtles are native to Fairfax County as are many other
Unless the box turtle is in danger, such as being attacked by a dog
or in the middle of the road, please leave the turtle alone. If it
is in the middle of the road, only if it is safe for you to do so,
pick it up and move it across the road in the direction it was
headed, ideally 10 feet or more beyond the road. By moving the
turtle to a new location, you may inadvertently be injuring the
turtle population by introducing bacteria, and you are removing the
animal from its home. Should the turtle be injured or cannot be
returned, contact the Wildlife Rescue League, staffed by
volunteers, at 703-880-0400.
If you have found an eastern box turtle in your yard –
congratulations! You have the opportunity for a wonderful learning
opportunity! Please do not try to keep it as a pet but you could
treat it to a variety of healthy snacks. For example, a hard-boiled
egg crumbled with the shell still on will help support the turtle
with protein and calcium. Dark leafy green and orange vegetables,
such as chopped up kale, spinach or carrots, provide a boost as
would chopped up strawberries or blueberries. You could also toss a
slug or earthworm your visitor's way.
To see if you are being visited by a boy or a girl turtle, have an
adult gently lift the turtle with two hands, similar to if the
turtle was a sandwich. If the underside shell, the plastron, is
curved in, you have a male. If it is flat, your guest is a female!
What do the animals on exhibit eat and
where did you get them?
Fairfax County park Authority facilities, including Hidden Oaks ,
are not allowed to take in and care for wildlife. Before you put a
bird in a shoebox, find out if you are helping or bird-napping by
calling the Wildlife Rescue League at 703-440-0800 or go online to
Unfortunately we also have to turn away donations of used bird
nests. These may harbor dermestid beetle larvae, fleas and other
creatures that could damage our exhibit specimens.
I see signs by the animal exhibits that
some people adopted the snakes and turtles. How long do you get to keep
them at your home?
Many of the animals on exhibit were provided by a wildlife
rehabilitator who, by virtue of the injury or the length of time
kept, could not release the animal back into the wild. Some were
born in captivity, such as the snapping turtle and the corn snake.
We rarely add to our exhibit animals, and never can accept a
non-native such as a red-eared slider or iguana. Although the
exhibit animals do have names – not that they respond when called!
– we consider them as educational exhibits and not pets. Reptiles
make poor pets insomuch as they do not respond positively to human
contact or want attention. Reptiles can transmit salmonella through
their excrement. Some, such as eastern box turtles, can live over
100 years. Should you want to know about a specific animal, please
ask at the front desk!
What part of the park is open when?
Visitors are welcomed to financially support the upkeep of the
exhibit animals but the animals must stay at Hidden Oaks! By
"adopting" an animal through our Animal Sponsorship
Program, families receive a thank you letter "from" the
selected animal, a photograph and an adoption card. Sponsors are
also invited to attend a snake & turtle feeding program as our
guest. For a snake adoption, the benefactor also receives a portion
of their creature's shedded snake skin! The adopters name is posted
for the contracted period by the animal with our gratitude. Contact
for more information.
What is the length of the trails? How big
is the park?
The park grounds, including Nature Playce and the trails, are open
dawn to dusk. The exception is for scheduled programs at Hidden
Oaks and the Packard Center, and seasonally for the lit tennis
courts in the evening until 10 p.m. The hours of Hidden Oaks Nature
Center March – November are M - F from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., weekends
and holidays 12-5 p.m., closed on Tuesdays. December-Feb. the hours
are 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. daily, closed on Tuesdays.
What is the name of the creek in
Annandale Community Park?
The Old Oak Trail, a loop wood chipped path with a gentle incline,
is just under 1/2 mile. This trail is great for families, for at
each of ten posts, visitors are challenged to identify an animal
track. Families with young children may borrow from the nature
center a seasonally appropriate Discovery Bag with trail
activities, or a pictorial scavenger hunt for young children. For
all ages, pick up a seasonal trail guide by the front door. Follow
the orange blazes on the posts for the Old Oak Trail. Follow the
blue blazes for a longer and steeper walk to loop over the creek.
This path is about 1 mile. In total the connected paths are just
over 2 miles in length.
Annandale Community Park is 52 acres with 33 acres under canopy.
Included in the park is the Packard Center, a Park Authority
maintenance facility, senior and girls’ league softball fields, a
picnic shelter, tennis and basketball courts, three parking areas,
a traditional playground, Nature Playce and Hidden Oaks Nature
I see a drawing of a bear on the Birding
& Wildlife sign along the Old Oak Trail. Are there bears in the
Hidden Oaks and the land around it are all part of the Accotink
Stream Valley watershed. There are two creeks which converge by the
water easement in the southwest portion of Annandale Community
Park. The blue-blazed trail crosses an un-named tributary referred
to by Hidden Oaks as Bugg Creek, named in honor of a former trail
volunteer. The creek is officially un-named, because it generally
does not flow year-round, tending to dry up in August. The creek
which flows parallel to the ballfields is Coon Branch. Both streams
become Coon Branch, which flows southwest under Rt. 495 (the
Beltway) and feed the Accotink Creek on the other side. This creek
flows south, through Lake Accotink, and into the Accotink Bay.
Together with Pohick Bay they form Gunston Cove which feeds the
What are common invasive plants in the
park and how is the park managing the land to promote native
Hidden Oaks’ trails are part of the Virginia Department of Game
and Inland Fisheries birding and wildlife trail system. The logo of
VDGIF includes the graphic of the bear. Fairfax County is not home
to bears although a few sightings of black bears as close to
Annandale as Vienna do make the news.
How did you get the non-living animals on
The most problematic non-native plants that we are currently
trying to remove from the park grounds include: Lesser Celandine
(Ficaria verna), Multiflora rose (Rosa multiflora), Japanese
stiltgrass (Microstegium vimineum), and English Ivy (Hedera helix).
The only way Lesser Celandine can be controlled is by an herbicide
that has been applied by Park Authority certified sprayers. The
other invasive plants are controlled by hand pulling and disposal.
We depend on a variety of volunteers for labor. Teams from the
Youth Conservation Corps removed Multiflora rose a few years back.
Fairfax Master Naturalists have had work days at the park. Japanese
stiltgrass and English ivy have been pulled by seventh grade
students as part of their Meaningful Watershed Educational
Experience fieldtrip to Hidden Oaks. Students from Poe, Luther
Jackson and Longwood Middle Schools have removed hundreds of bags
of nonnative plants and planted native plants including goldenrods,
wood asters, ferns, milkweeds, phlox, and foamflower.
What kind of snakes do you have in the
park outside your doors?
Most the preserved animal specimens are donated from a variety of
estates or other nature centers. Often people move elsewhere and
don’t want to see a wonderful learning tool go to waste. The
juvenile bald eagle has been on loan from the United States Fish
and Wildlife Service since the early 1970s. Hidden Oaks maintains a
federal permit for its display for educational purposes. The
juvenile flying squirrel, which was found dead in the park, was
preserved by a local taxidermist. The chipmunk and grey squirrel
were purchased online in the last five years.
What are the rules for Nature Playce?
In Annandale Community Park the public or naturalists have seen
eastern rat snakes, garter snakes, earth snakes, worm snakes, king
snakes, ring-necked snakes and northern brown snakes.
What are the rules for visiting the
Other than not putting anything in your mouth, there aren’t any!
Staff requests that sand be kept in the sand areas and not spread
across the ground. Our motto is , “Enter with a sense of wonder and
a spirit of adventure!”
Any rules for visiting the park with our
Walking feet and inside voices. Please keep shoes on for safety.
Please do not tap on the animal enclosures: the vibrations annoy
and scares them, and can make them sick. Please do not let children
throw anything in the animal enclosures. The animal could
mistakenly eat or otherwise be injured by a foreign object. Please
pick up any toys or books you played with and return them to the
correct bin or place. Please no eating or drinking other than water
inside. Picnic tables outside are available for your use. Please be
gentle with toys and touch table items. The inside area is for
exploring and learning – for play, outside is the best side!
Other than service animals, dogs, cats and other furry and
feathered friends (even scaly) need to stay outside of the nature
center. Outside animals greatly disturb the inside animals, which
can smell and sense them. Everyone has to share the trails, so dogs
should be on leashes and under control by the owners. That is the
law in Fairfax County. Please pick up feces and dispose of them.
Additional parking is in Annandale Community Park. Upon entering
the park from Hummer Road, take the right fork of the driveway and
park in the lot adjacent to the Packard Center. Follow signs for a
short walk through the woods to the nature center. The path to the
rear of the parking lot does not have steps. The path leading in
front of the Packard Center has steps with railings. Alternatively,
you can bear left at the fork of the driveway into the park to the
parking lot next to the shelter, playground and ball fields. Follow
the marked paths behind the ball field or from the playground
behind the shelter. Both paths are unpaved.
Facility Address and Phone Number:
Annandale Park/Hidden Oaks Nature Center
7701 Royce Street
Annandale, VA 22003