Fun and Learning Take Place at Mason Neck

Fun and Learning Take Place at Mason Neck

Elizabeth Hartwell Environmental Education Day attracts a crowd.

Had it not been for Elizabeth Hartwell, Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge may not be the treasure it is today. During her lifetime, Hartwell, a Mason Neck resident, fought to protect the pristine beauty of the Potomac River, Belmont Bay and Kames Creek. She worked to keep development and sprawl from encroaching upon the Mason Neck area, which consists of Mason Neck State Park, Pohick Park and the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. Hartwell was an author, environmental activist, Bald Eagle champion (known as "The Eagle Lady) and a woman dedicated to the preservation and defense of Mason Neck. She died in December 2000.

After she died, her son, Rob Hartwell wanted to find a way to carry on that legacy. In 2001, he held the first Elizabeth Hartwell Environmental Education Day. Last weekend, that same event was held again. A full program of events brought out families, couples, nature lovers, environmentalists, and others just looking to enjoy the beautiful spring weather.

Approximately 20 runners took part in the 2nd Annual Liz Hartwell 5K Run Walk early in the morning. There were only a few participants in the canoe and kayak egg hunt which was held next, but Jessie and Nelson Pixley, Ronja Roberts and Holly Kopecky didn't mind; based on the number of buoys they retrieved from the water, they each earned a bunch of prizes.

LATER IN THE MORNING, other kayakers took advantage of the canoe rides provided by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. Paul Gilbert, president of the trust, was on hand to help the kayakers, some of whom were going out for the first time. That was the case with Megan Monday and Adam Smith, who were adjusting their kayak in preparation for the trip. They were planning to spend about two hours touring the areas around Mason Neck. They didn't have to look far for eagles. A few flew by before they even left land.

In keeping with the purpose of the day, that is to educate people about the environment, several people set up informational booths. The Hartwells were there to share information about Hartwell, and sell T-shirts, books and videos on the environment. With them were Bill Roberts and Linwood Gorham.

Gorham said that they were still in the building stage of the education day, but that they were hoping to double the attendance every year. He remembers how Hartwell was able to get people to help with her causes. "If you just met her, it snowballed; she was just that type of person."

Greg Weiler and Daffny Jones were there representing the US Fish & Wildlife Service.

"It's a combination of a fun time for the public and education information, about what happens not only with the refuge and park, but also what happens on a broader spectrum."

Friends of Potomac River Refuges, Inc. were there. Larry Underwood, president, said, "We're trying to make refuges more accessible to the public."

He said that after 10 years of cleanup efforts that they had started to get ahead of the pollution a little bit; unfortunately, Hurricane Isabel was a terrible problem for them. He said that they pulled out 35 tons of trash from the Mason Neck area alone.

WEILER AND THE FRIENDS work closely together, and Weiler said, "The Friends fill in the gaps of raising money and helping so that we can provide service to the public. Mason Neck is unique in that the state park, wildlife refuge and Pohick Bay all coexist together."

In addition to the informational booths, there were hayrides, displays, magic shows, nature hikes, raptor shows and more canoe tours. A program, led by Rob Hartwell, presented the first Liz Hartwell Public Service Award to former Virginia State Senator Joseph Gartland.

Cathy Hartwell said, "He helped us a lot."

A special attraction was the introduction of presidential impersonator, Keith McGough. Playing the part of former president Theodore Roosevelt, he talked about his love of nature and the impact of the environment. A golf tournament the following Monday rounded out the calendar of events, bringing in the majority of the money that was raised to pay the expenses for the day's events.

Looking around at all the activities, Cathy Hartwell said, "This is what Liz loved."