Acres of undisturbed woodland, quiet trails, splashing streams and a
tranquil pond are just a few of the reasons to visit Hidden Pond Nature
Center. Tucked away in Springfield, Hidden Pond is a neighborhood haven
filled with natural wonders. Hidden Pond’s 25 acres lie adjacent to the
700-acre Pohick Stream Valley
Park. A 2,000-foot trail and bridge connects the two sites so
that neighbors and guests can visit the Hidden Pond Nature Center as
well as the pond, streams, wetlands, woods, and quiet places that these
The nature center, which is accessible to everyone, features exhibits
and live displays that orient you to the park and to the natural world
of Fairfax County. Read More >>
The center has nature study areas for group visitors and a small
sales area featuring books and other items for the nature enthusiast.
Complementing the nature center are streamside and woodland walking
trails, a self-guided nature trail, and a one-acre pond. The park
also features lighted tennis courts and a children's play area.
The nature center staff offers programs for school, youth and scout
groups, community organizations, and the general public. Activities
include guided walks, field trips, workshops, demonstrations, and
special request programs by reservation on a variety of topics.
For your safety and the safety of our environment, please stay on
Haunted Pond Jr. and Haunted Pond - Saturday, October 28
This program covering nocturnal wildlife and local lore features live animals, a walk in the forest at night, a campfire with spell-binding stories, s'mores, and who knows what else! Scary stories will be in the last 30 minutes. The Haunted Pond Jr. section will have only mild stories; we don't want to frighten you!
$10 per child; Haunted Pond Jr. is for ages 3-6 and runs from 5-6:30 p.m. or 6-7:30 p.m. Haunted Pond is for ages 6-12 and runs from 8-9:30 p.m.
Nature Quest Mondays October 30, November 13 and 27
Be a part of the long-running naturalist program designed for the young explorer. From field to stream and everything in between, children will be able to learn about wildlife hands-on and in the field. $7 per child; ages 3-7 yrs; 10:30-11:30 a.m..
Our resident animals would like to
take the opportunity to introduce themselves to you. They love to
have visitors, so please come by and see them in person!
Choose a park animal from the list:
Oreo - Black Rat Snake
My name is Oreo and I am a black rat snake. At almost 6 feet long,
I'm the largest snake in VA and the longest animal at Hidden Pond. As
my name suggests, I can eat rats but I also love mice, so I'm a good
snake to have around and help control the spread of diseases. I'm
also a great climber, and can eat birds and their eggs in the wild.
I'm not venomous so don’t worry! But don’t ask me for a hug either,
because I'm a constrictor and can squeeze really tight. I may look
scary but I'm super friendly, so come in and say hi to me. I'll be
watching for you as you walk in the door!
Fluffy - Common Snapping Turtle
My name is Fluffy and I am a common snapping turtle - you can find
more turtles like me here at the pond. I am a relative of the
alligator snapping turtles that live south of Virginia. I got my name
because when I shed my skin it hangs off of me in little pieces and
makes me look fluffy. I am between 10 and 20 years old and had been
someone's pet when I was little, but they didn't realize I would get
so big! Now my home is at Hidden Pond where I make appearances at
programs about turtles.
My shell is about a foot across, but I’m not as big as the females
in my species which get twice my size! I am also lighter colored than
other snapping turtles because my shell and skin have not been
stained by the dark mud of the pond. I love to eat EVERYTHING! There
is little that I won’t eat but I prefer worms, slugs, bugs and fish.
When I’m not doing programs or swimming in my aquarium, I like to
sit by the windows and soak up the sun. In the spring and summer I
like to go for walks outside. Unlike other snapping turtles, I don’t
snap (except for food) and love to meet people during programs where
they get a chance to touch and see what I feel like. Remember, we’re
called snapping turtles for a reason and the rest of my species is
usually very grumpy and snap to defend themselves if bothered.
Petting me is likely one of the only times you will be able to safely
touch a snapping turtle, so come and visit me - I am one unusual
Red Eared Slider
Recognize me from somewhere? There’s a good chance you’ve seen me at
a local pet store or a friend’s house! That’s because I am a very
popular pet species. Unfortunately, people don’t seem to realize that
I am not a native turtle; I’m from the southern United States, and
when people release me in places like ponds it’s actually bad for the
ecosystem. That’s because I can outcompete native species of turtles
and eat all of their food! I’m very easy to identify, as I have a
large red stripe behind both of my eyes. I’ll sometimes get confused
with snapping turtles because of my size…my shell length can be up to
16 inches long!! Perhaps surprisingly, only the girl turtles are
going to reach that size, because the boys of my species are smaller
than the girls. You can find me down at the pond eating crayfish,
fish, and other small vertebrates.
Eastern King Snake
I’m a very popular animal at Hidden Pond, and everybody seems to
have a different name for me. Some call me Princess, some call me
Caitlyn, some call me King Arthur, who knows! All I know is that I’m
a King Snake, and I get my name because I really am King of the
Snakes around here. Can you guess what my favorite food is? That’s
right! I love to eat other snakes in the wild, and I am so tough that
I can even eat venomous Copperhead snakes! Luckily for the other
snakes here, I have my own tank, and the staff keep me happy with
lots of mice. I’m a pretty large snake too, between 4 and 5 feet
long, with black and white stripes on me. Even though I’m not very
friendly to snakes, I’m very nice to people, and they love to hold
me. Sometimes I may tickle you with my tongue, but I’m not trying to
lick you, just smell you. Just like the black rat snakes, I’m a
constrictor, and squeeze my prey. But if I squeeze you don’t worry!
I’m not trying to eat you, I probably just want to make sure I don’t
fall when you hold me.
Unlike my friends the Green Frog and Bullfrog, you aren’t going to
find me in the water. You’ll find me hopping around on the forest
floor, but good luck spotting me! My body is brown with a black mask
around my face, and I have great camouflage. I’ll eat small insects
and other invertebrates by lunging forward and shooting my sticky
tongue out. You may think I’m just your average animal, but I have
one of the coolest tricks of any animal at Hidden Pond…I can FREEZE
myself! That’s right, when it starts to get cold outside during
winter, I’ll drop my body temperature so low that icicles will start
forming on me, and I go into a deep sleep called hibernation. When
I’m frozen I’m completely defenseless though, so I need to make sure
I’m in a good hiding spot first. Luckily the nature center keeps me
nice and warm year round, so I won’t need to freeze myself any time
Juvenile Snapping Turtle
If I look familiar, it’s probably because you’ve met Fluffy, or any
of my other snapping turtle brothers and sisters! Unlike Fluffy
though, I still have a lot of growing to do; I’m only a few inches
long! Fluffy gets his own tank because of how big he is, but in the
meantime, I’m sharing my tank with a bunch of other water turtles who
are around my size, so we all get along. I’m still little so I’m very
shy, even out of the water; you’re much more likely to see me try to
partially hide in my shell than snap at you, even if you pick me up.
Fluffy can eat pretty much anything he wants, but I have to be
pickier with my food. So for now I’m eating worms, shrimp, and other
small invertebrates. You may have trouble spotting me in my tank, as
I love to hide under rocks and I blend in with them. If you can find
me, say hi!
Nursery Web Fishing Spider
If you don’t like creepy crawlies, then maybe I am not the animal
for you….I’m probably the biggest spider you’ll see around here! I
resemble wolf spiders, but thankfully you aren’t going to see me as
often as them. That’s because I don’t like making my way into
people’s homes, as I prefer to live near water sources where I will
occasionally eat fish and other small vertebrates like tadpoles. I’ll
wait by the water’s edge for something to swim by and then grab it
with my fangs! I’m not dangerous to people but I am mildly venomous,
and can inflict a painful bite. Come in and look at me, but don’t
Northern Water Snake
Like my name suggests, you’re most likely going to see me in and
around the water, where I love to eat fish, frogs, and crayfish.
That’s one reason why people often confuse me for the dangerous
Cottonmouth snake, which has a similar pattern and lives in water,
but does not live in northern Virginia. Even though I am not
venomous, you still want to watch out for my bite, as my saliva
actually causes things to bleed more than usual. In the wild I can be
a fairly aggressive snake and have no problem biting people if I feel
threatened, but I am getting used to people here at the nature center
and have become a little nicer.
Eastern Garter Snake
People get my name wrong all the time…I’m a Garter snake, not a
Garden Snake! That being said, I can be found in gardens quite
frequently, and I am a very commonly seen snake around here. I’ll eat
bugs, slugs, and small vertebrates like lizards and fish. In the wild
I can hibernate in big groups of over a thousand Garter
Snakes…sometimes I will even share my den with venomous Copperheads!
I’m very shy here at Hidden Pond and don’t really get to play with
people too much, so I might be hiding under rocks or mulch when you
try to look for me. If you can spot me, say hello!
American Bull Frog
If you’re searching for the biggest frog and the largest Amphibian
in Fairfax County, look no further than me! I am truly enormous, with
a body length of about 6 inches and a weight of about one pound. You
can hear my calls pretty frequently during the summer here at the
pond, and many people say it sounds like a lightsaber from Star Wars!
I don’t have too many predators in the wild aside from large mammals
and herons, and I am a ferocious eater. If it can fit in my mouth, I
can eat it! Just like a snake, I don’t chew my food, but swallow it
whole. Fish, bugs, tadpoles, snakes, crayfish, other fogs, mice, even
small turtles and birds are all on the menu for me if I’m hungry
I may be a very pretty snake, but I am also the only truly dangerous
animal at Hidden Pond and the only venomous snake we have in Fairfax
County. Even though I can pose a threat to people, I’m often very
misunderstood. I’m not aggressive at all and am actually very shy,
and will usually try to slither away from people if threatened. My
venom is also not as strong as most people think; as long as you go
to the hospital you should be good as new within a few days. You can
tell I am a venomous snake because of my triangular, arrow-shaped
head, and my cat-like eyes. Here at the nature center I am kept in a
locked tank, so don’t ask to take me out! I am a fascinating animal,
but I am one to watch from a safe distance.
Don’t call me a frog! I am related to them but my skin is more dry
and bumpy, and I am not great at jumping. You won’t see me in the
water or in trees like many of our frogs at Hidden Pond, as I like to
live on the forest floor. I have two main defenses against predators;
my first is my camouflage, which I use to blend into dead leaf litter
and the forest floor. My second is probably the most important, as I
am actually poisonous! I have two bumps behind my eyes that I use to
release poison when a predator picks me up or tries to eat me. It
makes me tastes awful and can also make the predator very sick. I
trust that you won’t try to eat me, but don’t get my poison on your
fingers and then rub your eyes! It can really burn. Also, listen
carefully for any sounds I might make…If I chirp, I’m a boy!
Eastern Box Turtles
We’re very popular animals here at Hidden Pond and there are many of
us on display! We have a small tank with younger turtles, and the big
turtles have a large terrarium by the front desk. The little guys are
too small to hold but are super cute and fun to look at. However,
don’t hesitate to ask to hold the bigger ones! You won’t see us in
any of the water tanks, because unlike the other turtles at Hidden
Pond, we don’t swim and prefer to live on land. We get our names
because our shells resemble boxes and are dome shaped, and the fact
that they can completely close; we actually have a hinge on the
bottom part (plastron) of our shell that helps us close it tightly in
the front to protect our head and front legs. Unlike our water turtle
friends, we can pull our arms, legs and head completely inside our
shell when we’re scared, so we aren’t an easy meal for most
predators. We also have one more defense…in the wild we can actually
be poisonous! That’s because we commonly eat toxic mushrooms that
don’t hurt us, but try to eat us and you may become poisoned
yourself. We don’t really eat mushrooms here at Hidden Pond though,
but hopefully you wouldn’t try to eat us anyways!!
Eastern Painted Turtle
If you come to Hidden Pond during the summer, I guarantee you’ll see
tons of my friends down at the pond, basking in the sun! I am one of
the most common water turtles you will find in our park, and I get my
name from the colorful pattern on my head, legs and the underside of
my shell. I’ve also been around for a very long time; scientists say
my species has existed for 15 million years!! During the warmer
months you can find me eating algae, various aquatic plants, and
small creatures such as crayfish and insects, but during the winter I
hibernate under the mud at the bottom of the pond. You can tell
whether I’m a boy or a girl by looking at the claws on my hands; if
they’re long, then I’m a boy! I use this to impress the girl turtles.
Gray Tree Frog
You might have a hard time spotting me if you look in the woodland
frogs tank…that’s because I’m usually hiding at the top of the glass!
How do I do that you ask? Unlike many of my other frog friends, such
as the Wood Frog, I actually have sticky pads on my toes that help me
grip on to surfaces; I can actually crawl up walls! You can call me
the Spiderman of Hidden Pond. I’m also an excellent jumper and can
leap several feet in the air. This is even more impressive when you
realize how small I am ... I’m only an inch or two in length. That
would almost be like you jumping across a football field! If you ever
get to see me jump, look at the underside of my back legs; they’re
bright yellow, which I use to confuse predators!
You’re going to have to be really lucky if you want to find me in my
tank ... that’s because I’m a fossorial species, meaning I like to
live underground! I also need a very moist environment, like most
other amphibians, so mud is a great place to find me. It’s easy to
see where I get my name, but why do I have such bright spots? It’s
actually a warning to predators that I am poisonous! Don’t worry
though, that doesn’t mean I’ll bite or sting you, but I’m definitely
not something you would want to eat!
Pohick Rangers: HPNC’s Signature Series
Pohick Rangers: Instilling a Lifelong
Love of Nature Since 1991! As told by Site Manager, Mike McCaffrey
The longest running program at Hidden Pond, the Pohick Rangers, was
started as a kind of nature club patterned after a club that I had
been in at my elementary school in Maryland when I was growing up.
Remembering how much fun it had been was just one of several reasons
we wanted to do something like that at Hidden Pond. The other reasons
were to show off the great natural areas of our park and to help
young people have a fun, in-the-field learning experience. Read More >>
Program topics include wetland studies, forestry, reptiles,
amphibians, arthropods, nocturnal wildlife, geology and the site’s
cultural history. The hands-on netting experience at the creek,
along with fishing and bug hunting, are very popular parts of this
program. However, just being out and exploring woodlands by
climbing over logs and rocks and traversing a stream ignite a
ranger’s sense of discovery. The wide array of personalities in the
program makes its projects fun for staff and for the group.
Program participants have restored habitat, and vernal pools built
in 1998 and 2012 now are amphibian breeding areas in the park.
Several hundred tree seedlings have been planted in areas where
youngsters removed invasive plant species.
Since its inception in 1991, the program has helped ready young
people to become park volunteers and, in some instances, to become
staff. Around the county, state, and nation, former Pohick Rangers
are teachers, aerospace engineers, business people, journalists,
graphic designers, doctors, college professors, military, and
No matter what these young people end up doing in their adult
lives, Pohick Rangers take away a greater appreciation of what our
natural world is all about and what it offers to us. They have a
new compassion and respect for all living things that they will
share with others. I know that this is so, for I still am friends
with three of the original Pohick Rangers from 1991, and their love
for nature now is as strong as it was two decades ago.
Meet the Naturalists
has been working here at Hidden Pond since 2012. He regularly visited
the park growing up and was fascinated with the programs and animals on
display, and knew he wanted to become more involved. After graduating
from Virginia Tech in 2014 with a Bachelor’s degree in Wildlife
Sciences, he’s been working with the site more closely, and enjoys
educating people about the animals he loves. He’s lived in Virginia all
his life and is well versed on the native wildlife, and says there’s no
other place he’d rather live. His favorite animal is Fluffy, the
friendly snapping turtle. He is a total dinosaur nerd as well, so
expect him to be leading any dinosaur programs and camps! You can also
find him teaching our Home School at the Pond and Snake Feeding
programs, or just turtle fishing down at the pond during summer, so
don’t hesitate to stop by and say hello!
Naturalist at HPNC since June 2015, Becky loves working with the
preschoolers and making crafts during Nature Quest. Her favorite
program is the Wetlander’s Camp, especially the last day when they had
a “Celebration of Water”, (read: field day), where the campers first
learned about the importance of H2O in a wetland, their
daily lives, and it’s significance throughout the world. The baby
turtles captured Becky’s heart as soon as she walked in the nature
center, and she wanted to work here specifically so she could hold them
(see picture!). The great outdoors has called to her ever since
childhood, whether exploring the neighborhood creek or climbing trees,
nature brought a sense of freedom and excitement. She followed this
passion at the University of Mary Washington, where she double majored
in Environmental Science and Economics. Sign up for a program or stop
by the center to say “HI!” to Becky!
Riley is a recent Old Dominion University graduate with a love for the
outdoors! Like many of Hidden Pond’s staff and volunteers, she grew up
exploring Hidden Pond and learning about the natural world around her.
She now has the opportunity to interpret our park while working closely
with the community, and has been working as an assistant naturalist
since September 2016. Her favorite program is our annual Winter
Survival Camp, where we learn to make shelters and build fires! If you
stop by, don't forget to say hi to Casey!
Jenn Shunfenthal started volunteering at Hidden Pond while in middle
school and became a staffer in 2014. Jenn received her undergraduate
degree from James Madison University and majored in Geography with a
concentration in environmental sustainability, conservation and
development. Recently she received her Master of Science in
Environmental Management and Sustainability from the University of
Malta and JMU. Jenn's main interests are large mammal conservation,
herpetology, ecology, bats and Native American history. At the center,
her favorite animal is Oreo, our black rat snake! But she is also a
self-proclaimed tortoise-whisperer. Sign up for Pohick Puddle Jumpers
to take a class with Jenn!
Featured Park Animal
Patent Leather Beetles
I am an insect and an arthropod, which means I have an exoskeleton
where the outside of my body is almost like a suit of armor. I have
many legs and body segments. You can find me in rotting logs along with
millipedes and many other critters where I can actually eat the wood
using my strong jaws, but good luck spotting me! I don’t like to be out
in the open and prefer to hide, as as I can still be an easy meal for
larger predators. I'm a decomposer which means I eat dead stuff and
recycle the nutrients back into the earth. This makes me a very
important animal. I can even make a squeaking sound with my wings if I
Poisonous applies to plants, animals, and fungi, and involves the
transmission of toxins through contact and ingestion (eating
something). Venomous usually applies to only animals, which forcibly
inject toxins with stingers, fangs, etc. One of the most common
misconceptions we hear at the Nature Center is that some snakes are
poisonous; they’re not. You could actually eat a venomous snake and
be ok, but we all know eating a poisonous mushroom would be a
Most of the invasive species found in Fairfax County are plants; as
there are many, we’ll name a few that have the greater impact.
Purple Loosestrife: a wetland plant that sadly is sold at many area
nurseries as a butterfly attractant species, it crowds out the
native wetland species.
Garlic Mustard: this invasive not only competes with native plants,
its roots help change the chemical composition of soils which help
to kill or weaken native species.
Oriental Bittersweet: a vine which chokes young trees and overtakes
the crown of mature trees, outcompeting the trees for sunlight.
Multiflora Rose: competes and crowds out forest understory shrub
There are others, but these are some examples. If you are looking
for more information about invasive plants, you can check the
“Information on Invasive Plant Management” link on the main page of
our website or the county’s webpage. Invasive animals include the
Chinese Mantis, Red Eared Sliders, and European Starlings.
After the land had become a park, most species have actually
rebounded, however, some fish species have declined or vanished from
much of the county’s waterways due to increase water temps due to
development of areas adjacent to parks; heavy siltation from the
development changed the gradient of the stream beds. Some degree of
the decline could be attributed to pollution. Fish species that have
declined or are now extirpated (extinct in this area) in much of the
water ways include: Greenside Darters, Fantail Darters, Pearl Dace
and several others. Illegal collecting of wildlife such as reptiles
and amphibians has hurt some populations in county parks.
Our park is home to many mammal, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish, and
arthropod species. Some species, such as our local amphibians, are
displayed on our website. Highlights of the others includes:
Birds: northern cardinals, house finches, blue jays, several
species of woodpecker, Carolina chickadees, barn owls, and mourning
Reptiles: garter snakes, black rat snakes, northern water snakes,
ring-neck snakes, worm snakes, brown snakes, eastern five lined
skinks, box turtles, painted turtles, snapping turtles, stinkpot
turtles, and red eared sliders.
Mammals: flying squirrels, eastern gray squirrels, striped skunks,
red foxes, raccoons, white tailed deer, eastern chipmunks, various
species of bat (such as the little brown bat), and occasionally
coyote and even bobcat (very rare).
Fish: bluegill, mosquito fish, black nose dace, creek chubs,
tessellated darters, catfish (such as bullhead and madtoms), and
Arthropods: many species of dragonfly and damselfly, crane flies,
patent leather beetles, red kneed millipedes, and nursery web
Our park can be considered one large ecosystem, and there are many
predator - prey relationships and food chains here. Some animals may
be top of their food chain in their preferred habitat, such as adult
snapping turtles in ponds, but may rarely be preyed upon by medium
sized mammals such as raccoons and foxes if traveling across land.
Each animal and organism here plays a part in the food chain. For
example, mosquitos will lay their eggs in slow moving water, such as
our pond, where they are eaten by mosquito fish, which may be eaten
by a larger fish, such as a bluegill, which can be preyed on by
turtles, such as painted and snappers, or by water snakes. These
animals may in turn by eaten by large predators, such as great blue
herons. The smaller animals also depend on vegetation, such as
duckweed, to conceal themselves in their habitat, or else they would
be easy meals. If you find an organism in our park, chances are there
is another organism that depends on it for something.
People can feed the animals, which is usually discouraged, and can
also disrupt their habitats, whether intentionally or
unintentionally. Seeds from invasive plants can often get stuck to
shoes and clothing, and when people walk along the trails they can
spread them to new areas. Duckweed, a species of aquatic plant that
floats on the surface of slow-moving or stagnant water, has become an
issue too due to human activity. Fertilizer runoff from surrounding
neighborhoods causes duckweed levels in the pond to skyrocket in an
intense algae bloom, which often covers the entire surface of the
pond; this provides shelter for some of our animals, but underwater
plants can no longer get sunlight and they often die off, causing a
dangerous drop in oxygen levels in the water which can be lethal for
fish and the food chain as a whole. Some people will unfortunately
take animals from our park as well, which is illegal. We used to have
bass in our pond but to our knowledge they have been fished out. We
have had several incidents of people taking turtles from our pond as
well, and some have introduced non-native pet turtles, such as red
eared sliders, that they think are native to our area but are
actually damaging to the pond ecosystem and to our native turtles.
Sadly, some people also feel the need to harm or even kill some of
our native animals, even in our park. In 2015 we found a water snake
that had obvious blunt force trauma to the head. Water snakes very
commonly get confused with the venomous Copperheads and Cottonmouths
(the latter a non-native snake), and snakes in general are probably
the most misunderstood animals here or in any ecosystem. Finally,
wildlife diseases such as Ranavirus, which affects our local reptiles
and amphibians, can be introduced to new parks either directly by
people (often through their shoes) or by the release of one of these
infected animals into our park. Luckily we have not had too many
issue with this just yet but we are being cautious.
Most of the animals in our park are here year round, with the
exception of some migratory bird species, and thus they have many
interactions with people. We try to discourage people from feeding
animals, such as waterfowl, as it is possible for some to become
dependent on people for food and can also expect people to feed them,
a process called habituation. This is why they tell people not to
feed gators in Florida, as they can become expectant of food when
seeing people and can respond aggressively if they aren't fed.
Frequent exposure to people can sometimes cause animals to gradually
lose their fear of humans; you can debate whether that is a good or
Feel free to contact us! Our hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday
through Friday (closed on Tuesdays) and noon - 5 p.m. on the weekend,
and we love visitors and can answer questions over the phone. You can
also submit further questions through our Ask A Naturalist page
of our website. All of the species of animals on display at the
center, with the exception of the Diamondback Terrapin, are animals
native to Fairfax County that can also be found in our park, and have
bios on this page of our website under Meet the Residents. There are
also field guides we sell of native species, and many field guides
brands, such as Peterson and Audubon, detail the native animals found
in our park, county and state. Come on in and say hello!
NOTE: There are TWO Greeley Boulevards in the area. You must turn
onto Greeley Blvd. where it intersects with Old Keene Mill Road
approximately 1/4 mile west of Rolling Road.
Facility Address and Phone Number:
8511 Greeley Blvd.
Springfield, VA 22152