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Savoring the Small-Town Feel

By Joanna Franco

When Dulles Airport was still being built, Vince Olson’s son used to be among the other neighborhood kids sitting on a jungle gym waving to the train engineers as the train rolled through Vienna to Dulles. Although the train tracks are now part of the Washington & Old Dominion walking trail, the former Vienna councilman said that small-town sensibility still exists today.

"It’s a community where you can feel a sense of community," said Olson.

Once newcomers arrive in Vienna and Oakton, many are struck by the small-town feel of the area, despite the mad traffic and burgeoning development surrounding the two communities. They discover what the longtime residents have known: that even though they live in Fairfax County, they live in communities where people come together for picnics and know their next door neighbors.

"There’s a lot of people, but you see the same people again at different places … And it seems everybody has a connection," said Vienna resident Linda Colbert, who grew up in Vienna but left, only to return three years ago.

Although many residents enjoy the small-town feeling, there are other perks to living in Vienna and Oakton. Newcomer and Vienna resident Doug Noble likes that he can walk to the bike path, to Nielsen’s Frozen Custard or to church. He’s also grateful for the town services of recycling and curbside pick-up and free mulch.

"I love it. We’re close enough in, if we want to, we can walk," Noble said.

While Oakton doesn’t have as defined a town center as Vienna, residents enjoy the rambling woods and the rural atmosphere.

"I can walk outside and see the fox run across the road… Once you’ve turned down the road, you feel like you’re away from everything," said Oakton resident Beverly Dickerson, who likened Oakton to a "little island of peace."

If longtime residents could advise newcomers on how to get to know the community, they would recommend that newcomers get involved. In Vienna, longtime residents advised that newcomers attend town council meetings, take advantage of the Vienna Community Center, visit the Freeman House and the Little Caboose or get involved in their school’s PTA, their civic association or church. In Oakton, newcomers can participate in the Hunter Mill Defense League, Options for Oakton, Friends of the Oakton Library or the Oakton Women’s Club, or they can attend the holiday parties hosted by the Hunter Valley Association.

"Everybody is very willing to make their neighborhood better," Colbert said.

Yet even as the county threatens to overwhelm Vienna and Oakton, residents remain optimistic that they can continue to keep the small-town feeling alive.

"I think Vienna’s a unique town surrounded by development. We’ve worked very hard to preserve the charm of the town. I think we’ve been pretty successful, but it’s always a challenge," said longtime resident Jack Mitchell.