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Every autumn, nature’s brilliant palette of gold, orange and red leaves provides a
glorious backdrop for hikers, bikers and nature lovers of all ages. Fairfax County
parks offer extraordinary opportunities to see fall’s finest show, from Huntley Meadows Park in Alexandria to Riverbend Park in Great Falls and hundreds of other parks in between. Amid the fall foliage, you’ll spot magnificent birds as they migrate to their winter homes further south. Just as a male bird is usually spotted with his female mate nearby, you’ll usually see Lew and Claire Blakey together in their favorite neck of the woods - Laurel Hill Golf Club. “It has beautiful panoramas,” said Lew, an avid golfer, “and then when the leaves are gone from the trees, it has a completely different view.”

The retired couple, married 25 years, ventures out almost daily and usually arrives at the appointed time, “6:07 a.m.,” said Lew. It’s tee time for him. She is an amateur shutterbug who doesn’t play golf, but likes to walk the five-mile course with her husband. While he focuses on making birdie putts, she searches for wild birds and other animals to photograph along the way, in areas that usually mean trouble for a golfer’s game. “She’s off in the woods most of the time,” Lew said with a playful grin.

“I just love being outside, and I enjoy walking,” Claire said enthusiastically. “The thing I love the most about walking at Laurel Hill is finding something that challenges me in getting the picture. It’s a real challenge to get a shot of an animal that doesn’t stand still for you.” Like a golfer who scopes out a shot with patience and an analytical eye, Claire carefully scans the Laurel Hill periphery for her best shot of the day. “I’ve taken pictures of wild turkeys, deer, squirrels, groundhogs and a great variety of birds,” she said. Her favorite shot to date is “a Great Blue Heron against the sky with a fish from the lake in its beak.”

From the Trees to the Tees, Autumn’s Wonders Abound

While Lew also appreciates Laurel Hill’s majestic views and wildlife, he admits the shot he likes to see most is a hole in one at the golf course he calls “the crown jewel of Fairfax County parks.”

The Blakeys appreciate the outdoors in their individual ways. “I always go out with him,” she said. “We do a lot of things together.” And in any season, wherever you spot one, you’ll usually find the other nearby, just like the birds that Claire loves to photograph, especially in the fall, against nature’s glorious backdrop of gold, orange and red leaves.

The Healing Power of Exercise

At 72, Al Lamb is the picture of health. He takes no medications, he exercises six days per week and he is training to compete in this year’s Northern Virginia Senior Olympics – something he’s done since 2012. “If I can improve my time by five minutes, I just might place third this year,” the Alexandria father of three adult children said. “That’s my goal.”

Walking three miles in 49 minutes would be a challenge for many people half his age, and not long ago, Lamb would have told you it was an impossible goal for him. “I was so weak, I could barely lift a cup of coffee,” he recalled.

The trouble started in the winter of 2010, after the region was hit by back-to-back blizzards. Lamb spent three hours shoveling 27-inch-deep snow along the walkways and driveway outside his house and injured his back. With each passing day, his pain got progressively worse, and no one could pinpoint the cause. Nine months and six doctors later, Lamb was on the verge of selling his house. “I was having difficulty moving up and down the stairs,” he said, “so I was going to move into a house that has the master suite on the first level.”

He was ready to sell when hope arrived in the mailbox in the form of a hospital advertisement for a strength training class for seniors. Lamb suggested to his doctor, “When I get better, I’d like to take that class.” His doctor encouraged him not to wait; to start the class right away.

Lamb’s road to recovery slowly began. “One lady in the class was using 8-pound dumbbells,” he said. “I started with 2-pound dumbbells, seated.” As Lamb got stronger, his pain started to go away, “and as I began to get better and stronger, I realized I was not going to have to move,” he said. Now a believer in the healing power of exercise, he decided to purchase a membership at Lee District RECenter and continue with his fitness goals.

“Christine Moore was my first instructor,” he said. “I told her I liked swimming the most, and she said, ‘Give me two weeks and I’ll have you back in the pool swimming,’” Lamb recalled. He started with one lap for two weeks and then added a lap every two weeks after that. “I worked my way up to 18 laps, which is a quarter of a mile, and I did between 12 and 18 laps two times per week for almost two years.” He added weight machines to his fitness routine, worked his way up to walking three miles twice a week and took advantage of drop-in fitness classes that come with every RECenter membership. When he was ready to take it to the next level, he signed up for personal training.

“Mark Carnavale worked with me one-onone,” Lamb said. “He moved me from the weight machines to dead weights, and I’ve been doing that for two years now.”

The Healing Power of Exercise

Today, Lamb is 30 lbs. lighter than he was when his journey began four years ago. He no longer has back pain, no longer needs medication to control blood pressure, and he attributes his healing to consistent exercise and the fitness experts who helped him along the road to recovery. “Those trainers gave me my life back,” he said with a grateful smile. “There’s so much that I do that I never would have thought to try to do had I not had a trainer. I’m more fit, I enjoy life more and can work longer hours.” His advice to others: “Make it [exercise] a part of your life like brushing your teeth. It’s got to be a part of your life.”

Park Authority gets National Award for Inclusion Practices

From accessible playgrounds to aquatics programs to golf courses and equestrian facilities, the Fairfax County Park Authority prides itself on providing scores of recreational and leisure opportunities for people of all abilities. Soon, the agency will be recognized by the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) for excellence in best inclusive practices.

“This is tremendous honor,” said Park Authority Director Kirk Kincannon. “The Fairfax County Park Authority has an impressive record of doing the right thing when it comes to accessibility, and we see it at work every day in our programming, in our efforts to provide accommodations for people with disabilities and in our partnerships with groups such as our award-winning adapted aquatics volunteers, the business community and the Fairfax County Park Foundation.”

The Park Authority will receive the 2014 Excellence in Inclusion Award this fall at the NRPA Congress and Exposition in Charlotte, N.C. At that time, the Park Authority will be one of only 11 park systems in the nation to attain the prestigious award from the NRPA, a national organization dedicated to advancing park, recreation and conservation efforts that enhance quality of life for all people.

Spring Hill to Temporarily Close

Spring Hill to Temporarily Close

The expansion project at SpringHill RECenter is on schedule as of press time. However, the center will have to close for a six-week period beginning August 18 so that existing locker rooms and multipurpose rooms can be upgraded to provide individual showers and five family changing rooms.

“We regret that our growing pains will cause an interruption in service,” said Spring Hill Manager Marcellous Cooper. “However, once the center reopens in late September, we hope our customers will be impressed with the new amenities the RECenter has to offer.”

The $10 million Spring Hill transformation includes a long-awaited gym with an elevated running track, a single high school basketball court with two overlay basketball courts and an overlay volleyball court. The expansion will also add a new, two-story fitness center, new office space and utility upgrades. The existing facility has remained opened during most of the construction period. The full expansion project is expected to be complete by January 2015.

Oak Marr Expansion Nears Completion

Oak Marr Expansion Nears Completion

When Oak Marr RECenter patrons get their first look at the new fitness center this fall, they’re sure to agree it was worth the wait! The new, two-story fitness center features state-of-the art equipment and three new classroom spaces. The building’s entrance, mezzanine and offices have also been renovated to make room for an expanded lobby and a new childcare room. Throughout the construction, the facility’s pool remained open and aquatic and fitness classes are continuing. The new fitness center addition is scheduled to open in mid-September 2014.

Women Tee Up for Ladies Only Golf

It is 6 p.m. on a Wednesday at Pinecrest Golf Course in Alexandria, and a group golf lesson is about to begin. “Chipping is minimum air time, maximum ground time; pitching is maximum air time, minimum ground time” instructor Lloyd “Doc” Vakay explains as the students, who are anything but the “usual suspects,” listen carefully. They’re among those who used to watch golf on television with their father or brother or who would ride along in the golf cart to watch their boyfriend or husband play what is still widely thought of as a man’s game. Now, this crowd of courageous females is stepping away from the sidelines and getting into the game through ladies-only golf lessons.

“Even after the first lesson, it clicked,” said retired Falls Church City public school educator Ann Gordon. “He’s really good. He covers a lot and he got me so excited about golf, I signed up for a five-day golf program and bought clubs.”

 “Have a good time with this, okay?” Vakay said reminding the students of their number-one play objective. “Remember, this is not a power shot. You don’t have to hit hard in golf if you hit the ball in the center area [of the club.]”

“He’s good, and a very patient, warm person” said student Paula Herrington of Springfield whose only golf experience prior to the class was socializing with friends at a local driving range. “My goal was not to play when I signed up for this class. I just wanted to learn about the game; but maybe now I’ll play.”

For some, the class itself is a social experience. “I’m taking it with friends, and we’re all beginners,” said Nancy Schroll of Falls Church. “Some of us have husbands who play golf regularly.” Carol Rivera of Alexandria signed up for the class after getting a few golf pointers from her boyfriend.  “Now I can see what I’m doing wrong, and why it’s good not to learn from my boyfriend or family,” she said with a laugh. “I’m making progress.”

In 10 years of teaching, Vakay, a certified United States Golf Association instructor, has observed a common thread among his female students. “Their biggest fear is making the transition to the golf course. They worry about keeping pace or that ‘people are watching me’ as they play.”

Vakay says Pinecrest is positioned to help all students overcome those fears and to get in the game. He says even the most experienced pros will tell you, “Golf is a constant challenge. You never master it. You’re always trying to improve. It takes practice and time, and you should emphasize fundamentals as you practice.” Above all else, he says the number one objective of the game is to have fun.

2014 Virginia Indian Festival to Showcase Native Dance and Culture

Tribal dancing, songs and drumming make history come alive each September at the Virginia Indian Festival at Riverbend Park. This year’s festival will offer greater opportunities to enlighten and delight the entire family.

“We will have a small fishing and hunting village set up so visitors can experience what daily life was like for Virginia Indians who lived at Riverbend 600 years ago,” said park manager Marty Smith.

Members of eight tribes native to the commonwealth will take to the banks of the Potomac River for the annual celebration of Indian culture featuring tribal dancing, rhythmic drumming, pottery, crafts, food and lots of hands-on, family-friendly activities. Visitors can try their hand at using chopping tools to help build a dug-out canoe from a massive log, or taking aim and hitting the mark with an arrow loosed from a bow on the archery range, or throwing spears using an atlatl.

“There’s a lot for kids to do,” Smith said. “They get to try making stone tools, they get to brain-tan a deer hide and they get to talk to tribal members about Native American culture.”  The family event has grown each year since it was inspired nearly two decades ago by the misinformation about Indian culture and history that seemed prevalent among visitors. So the Riverbend Park staff decided to organize the Virginia Indian Festival to give visitors a first-hand opportunity to learn about the culture.

“This is truly a family event and also a unique event,” Smith said. “There’s nothing else like it around here, and it has grown in popularity each year since it started.”

So mark your calendar for September 6 to be a witness to history at Riverbend Park. The 2014 Virginia Indian Festival will take place from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Admission is $5.

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