Rec Center Gateway to Nature, Culture

Rec Center Gateway to Nature, Culture

Next to the new Cub Run Rec Center is the gateway to more than 2,000 acres of conservation land lying just to its southwest; residents here have a unique opportunity to learn about nature — right in their own backyard.

"In all our county rec centers, fitness and aquatics are the two main activities, plus meeting rooms," said Sully District Park Authority representative Hal Strickland. "But here, because of all the acreage outside the rec center, we have the opportunity to use the rec center as an extension of the Park Authority's nature and cultural programs."

The land is within the Occoquan Watershed and includes the Cub Run Stream Valley Park and a rare, oak-and-hickory forest. So it lends itself perfectly to providing a hands-on learning experience and an open-air classroom for local school children and Scout troops.

Young people will be able to discover the wonders of watershed ecology from the ponds, streams and wetlands; soil and vegetation from the oak-and-hickory forest; and wildlife habitats from the birds and animals there. Students could even study the impact of climate, geology and humans on the ecology.

"With a staff naturalist and nature programs drawing on the treasures of the 2,235-acre Sully Woods next door, this rec center will be a leader in promoting resource stewardship," said rec center director Doreen Henry. "It's the first time that both sides of the house — recreation and stewardship — have been included under the same roof."

IN THE AREA of the flagstone terrace off of the rec center's largest meeting room, the Park Authority will build an ampitheater as a catalyst for a whole host of informative presentations.

"In the ampitheater we'd have year-'round, interactive, educational programs and exhibits," said Strickland. "And it could also be used for [next-door neighbor] Westfield High's earth-sciences activities; it would be a logical tie-in."

Guest speakers could offer learning sessions before hikes to tell hikers what they'll see and some of the area's history, and elementary-school students could take field trips there. Middle-school students could attend summer programs about ecology and the environment, and teens could go fishing and take walks along the trails.

"We don't have these trail opportunities at the other rec centers because we don't have the land mass — it's all paved over," said Strickland. "But here, along the trails, children could see an old mill, a pond, an historic cemetery, wetlands, forest, pasture, old Indian campsites, farm sites, etc."

There are several different access points along the trails where people may start and end their journeys. And they can learn something different on each trail. Along the way, they'll become more familiar with Elklick Run Creek, which goes past the Cub Run Stream Valley Park, northwest to the Loudoun County line and crosses Pleasant Valley and western Braddock roads.

"There'll be a trail from the rec center to the Cub Run Stream Valley, which would tie into the high school and all our other parklands south of it," said Strickland. It would also hook into the network of existing trails in Ellanor C. Lawrence Park and the Big Rocky Run Stream Valley.

He noted, as well, that some residents of Chantilly's Pleasant Valley community want a trail built from their neighborhood, across Cub Run Stream, up to the rec center and south to Westfield High so they can reach all these places on foot.

"THEY WANT to have a 'sweat equity' partnership with us to do it," said Strickland. "They asked us to put money in the 2004 park bond, and we've offered it as an option in our bond." He said it would cost about $300,000 to construct such a trail, and Pleasant Valley residents would provide some of the labor.

In addition to the multitude of recreational and educational offerings the new rec center brings to the Sully District, Strickland believes it can also provide another valuable service to all the residents here.

"The center has an opportunity to offer after-school programs in aquatics, fitness and the environment — and help prevent the gang activities that [Fairfax County residents] are all so concerned about," he said. "The Park Authority believes it has a number of facilities such as its rec centers that can be a safe haven — with adult leadership and direction — as an alternative to gang activities."

"I believe the Park Authority could play a strong role in prevention — rather than suppression — where most of [the government's] gang dollars have been going now," continued Strickland. "We'll have an array of activities for young people to do. Let's give these kids games, instead of gangs. I think, if we give them an alternative, they'll take it."