Fairfax County’s 427 public parks are among the best in the nation. From 1.44 acre Bel Air Park in Mason District to 1,555 acre Huntley Meadows in Lee District, and everything in between, Fairfax County residents and visitors can find nearly any activity close by, and often free. Trails are the most popular offering, especially in the era of Covid-19, and Fairfax County has 325 miles of trails, including the 40 mile Gerry Connolly Cross-County Trail (GCCCT) that rambles through portions of all nine magisterial districts. Golf courses, recreation centers, hundreds of athletic fields, playgrounds, cultural and historic sites, horticultural and nature centers – all provide diverse and daily opportunities for fresh air, exercise, recreation, and leisure activities. Fairfax County parks have been lauded with the National Gold Medal Award for parks, and by CAPRA Accreditation (Commission for Accreditation of Park and Recreation Agencies), and the American Alliance of Museums.
Ensuring that our parks remain great is the task of the 12-person Fairfax County Park Authority, whose members are appointed by the Board of Supervisors. One member from each magisterial district, and three at-large members serve four-year terms, without remuneration. Park Authority members are superb volunteers, with demanding fiscal and community responsibilities. One of those volunteers was Dorothy Norpel, a Mason District resident who served as an at-large member in the 1970s and 80s. Dorothy passed away last week, only three weeks shy of her 99th birthday, but her legacy can be seen throughout today’s Mason District park properties.
I got acquainted with Dorothy when she taught art after school at Weyanoke Elementary School, and our daughter was one of her young students. Not long after, Dorothy and I helped establish the Friends of Mason District Park, and we embarked on numerous park adventures, including the Mason District Park Festival, which ran each September for more than 30 years, and the Newton Edwards Amphitheatre and its free summer concert series. Dorothy was instrumental in saving what is now the public Pinecrest Golf Course when development threatened its loss. Likewise, the Clark House on Columbia Pike and historic Summers Cemetery on Lincolnia Road came under the aegis of the Park Authority, because of Dorothy’s perseverance.
It was her devotion to Green Spring Gardens, the county horticultural center located in Mason District, that truly is her legacy. Dorothy was a founding member of the Friends of Green Spring Gardens (the FROGs), whose support raises tens of thousands of dollars each year to help maintain the gardens, host children’s programs, and a myriad of other activities that make Green Spring the jewel in the Park Authority’s crown. Dorothy had a keen sense of history and preservation, along with art and gardening, and she knew how to get to “yes,” even though it might take more than a little diligent persuasion sometimes. A mutual friend noted that, when Dorothy pushed for something (which she did frequently), it was never to serve herself, but to benefit the causes she held most dear. Dorothy’s long service, as a Park Authority member or simply as a committed citizen volunteer, was exemplary, and our community is the better for it.
Note: Last week, I wrote that virtual summer concerts are being planned from the end of July to the end of August, and promised to provide a link in this column. The links still are being verified; I will provide them when available.
Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at email@example.com.