Camping at Prince William Forest Park

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Published: 06/17/2014
I am a little more of an "outdoor adventure followed by a warm shower" girl.  Especially after they chopped my neck in half last year for my brain surgery.  Sleeping on rocks just doesn't appeal to me, no matter how many months of recovery I've had.

However, my husband and kids are so darn cute, and they really love camping, so I will do it anyway.  Prince William Forest Park offers several lovely camping areas including three "frontcountry", one "backcountry" and 5 cabin sites.  This time, we opted for Oak Ridge, which allows tents and RVs.  Loops B and C are reservation only, but loop A is first come first served. Turkey Run is great for groups, and we've camped there with Cub Scouts before. 
 We made sure to bring my daughter's American Heritage Girls handbook (similar: Girl Scouts, Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Trail Life, etc) so that we could do the fire safety section and she could get a badge.  She just recently discovered that anything in life worth doing has a badge associated with it.
 Of course when you're camping, you need a few essential items.  I refuse to camp without hats and DEET because Lyme Disease is no joke.  Camping chairs, firewood, matches, all essential.

Also sleeping bags.  PWC Dad may have taken us on our first family camping trip when our kids were 6 months, 3, and 5 and forgotten the sleeping bags.  I may have also driven back from Lake Anna with said 6 month old at 2am, and because of that I always double check that the sleeping bags made it in the van.
 And, of course, you need S'more fixings.  My kids prefer to completely burn the marshmallows and eat the chocolate, although for those of us with a little more patience, a carefully toasted marshmallow is a thing of beauty.
 Tin foil (the heavy duty stuff)  is also a good idea if you're going to be using a site-provided campfire grill.  Those things don't get cleaned very often, and I don't care how hot they get.

I just don't.
Trash bags- also a good idea, and in our case we kept the cooler in our van so that we wouldn't attract any little critters. Obviously, a lovely time was had by all.

Want to have your own camping fun? Here are a few site recommendations, both from myself and from readers, in and around Prince William County.

In-County
Prince William Forest Park (Dumfries/Triangle) sites start at $20/night or $10 for seniors/passholders.  Note that you'll still apparently need to stop at the Visitors Center and pay the park entry fee ($5/week) on top of that.  We assumed it was included in the price, which was apparently wrong, but luckily we have a pass. Tent or RV or Cabin.  Showers, bathrooms, activities.

Greenville Family Farm (Haymarket) site prices aren't listed, but apparently vary based on whether or not you want electricity.  Fishing ponds, showers, bathrooms.

Leesylvania State Park only offers group camping.

Out-of-County (Virginia)
Burke Lake Park (Fairfax) sites are $28/night and Burke Lake Park offers lots of fun (including a train and carousel).  However, sites are first-come, so be sure to plan to arrive early.

Shenandoah National Park (Front Royal-Wayensboro) start at $15/night and include tent and limited RV

Christopher Run Campground (Lake Anna) starts at $32/night cabins, lodges and tent sites available. This is one of my family's favorite sites when we camp with my parents, who have a boat.

Todd Lake (Stokesville) $16/night for tent camping, showers/bathrooms/drinking water available.

Sherando Lake (Shenandoah) has reserved or first-come camping for tents and RVs.

Out-of-County (Bit of a Drive)
Starlight Camping Resort (Pennsylvania) $42/day for 2 people, $3/day for each additional child or $5/adult.

Hylton Planetarium

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Published: 12/13/2013
While the Hylton Planetarium isn't my typical Friday non-profit/charity, they do only operate based on community involvement and attendance.  New shows run between $10,000 and $20,000 a pop, and that money comes from groups coming in.  We had an awesome time, so I'm sharing today :) If you have a child who attends PWCS, they'll benefit from the awesome planetarium at some point, too! 


We had the chance to take a field trip to the Irene V.Hylton Planetarium at Hylton High School this past week, and it was so much fun!

As part of our memory work curriculum, we are learning astronomy facts this year.  My kids have memorized the parts of the sun, the planets, types of stars, phases of the moon, types of other objects in our solar system, and the names of US space missions.  Our group decided to do the Planetarium as our culminating trip, although I know another group did it as their introduction. 

The planetarium offers several different programs that homeschool groups, moms groups, retirement communities, girl scout/boy scout troops, or just a bunch of people who are super into astronomy can choose from.  We selected a program for grades 3-7 called “Earth, Moon, Sun”, which could have probably included a little more technical information for our group of kids, but they absolutely loved everything about it, especially the coyote “scientist” who kept blundering things up.  They spent a lot of time laughing and definitely liked the presentation of the material in such a 360 format.  I enjoyed the fact that they wove in some mythology and talked about how much our understanding has changed over the years.  I thought it was very well done.

Other programs are available for various age groups.  When you email the director, Anthony Kilgore, to set up your program, he can help you select for your group. 

As for details, you’ll need a minimum of 30 people, and the facility can accommodate a maximum of 60.  Shows are $10 per person, and for groups they ask that you give one cash payment or write one check.

The show was really fun.  The program isn’t anything like I remember- when I was little and you went to the planetarium, there was a giant “ball” that projected stars onto the ceiling and then the attendant would point things out with a red laser pointer.  Now, the presentations are more like movies projected on a dome, but they’re still very cool and the kids like the presentation of the material in such a fun format.

At the end of our program, the director Mr. Kilgore, who is fun and engaging with students, took our extra time to show us one song from his current holiday laser program which was amazing.  First, he explained to us that there are only three lasers in the planetarium, a red, a green, and a blue.  However, using a complex series of mirrors, he’s able to turn those three lasers into an incredible show of light coordinated to music.  The kids were in absolute awe, and I thought they  might absolutely lose their minds when at the end of the song it started “snowing” in the planetarium. 

If you’d like to catch a laser show, there are public performances each week during December:
Friday, December 6th/13th/20th 2013
6:00pm - Laser Holidays
7:30pm - Star of Bethlehem
9:00pm - Laser Holidays

You can purchase tickets at the planetarium Monday-Friday 7:30am-4pm, or in person if there are seats left the night of the show.  Bring $10 per person, exact change, and be sure to arrive 10 minutes prior to showtime and use the restroom before you go in! Once the doors lock, you can’t get in, although you can leave- but that means if you walk out to use the restroom, you’re not going to see the rest of the show, so prepare accordingly!

We really enjoyed our field trip, and it would be an awesome way to earn an astronomy badge, or to enjoy a fun trip for any group (did I mention that we took a group of kids to the planetarium for my oldest son’s 7thbirthday? We did.  And we schlepped all the way to the David Brown Planetarium in Arlington(!) and it wasn’t nearly as nice as Hylton’s, which is right in our backyard.  I don’t remember what made us have to go to Brown, I think Hylton was already booked the night we needed to do his birthday party, but just for comparison’s sake, Hylton has a nicer interior and equipment, as far as I can tell!


For more information about the Hylton Planetarium, or to book your group or event, please contact Director Anthony Kilgore, via email or at 703-580-4000. 



Someone pointed out that I forgot my funny disclaimer!! My bad!!  I was not compensated or remunerated in any way for this post.  I didn't snag a discount for being awesome, either, although that's never happened so I'm not sure why it would start now.  All opinions are my own based on our experience. Your experiences may vary, and PwcMoms is not responsible for your kids trying to turn your basement into a laser show, or the crick in your neck from looking up at the show for an hour.  Try stretching first.

Guest Post: Saying Thank You to our Military & Veterans

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Published: 08/29/2013



            This summer my AHG troop VA0428 participated in some really neat service projects.  I want to share them not to brag about what we did but instead to spread the word about some great opportunities.  Both opportunities are about honoring our military or veterans.  You do not need a group to participate in these opportunities, though prior coordination with the people that run the event is necessary.
            Operation Welcome Home (OWH).  Baltimore Washington International airport (BWI) is a major hub for returning military from their deployments.  The military that come through here are touching US soil for the first time since they left for their deployment.  Many will then make connecting flights to go to their home bases all over the US.  Some of them have their homes in the MD/DC/VA area.  OWH gives the returning military a hero’s welcome home.  There are two ways to help: 1. send thank you cards to OWH for them to distribute, or 2. go to BWI to volunteer.  When you volunteer for an OWH event, you help with three things: 1. decorate the airport (OWH has decorations), 2. assemble goody bags for troops, and 3. greet, cheer, and thank military members as they come out of the gate.
            This quote says it all:
"OWHMD Volunteers:
The greatest moment of my 7-month deployment to Afghanistan was being greeted by you at BWI. The best gift for a returning servicemember is a simple "Thank You" and a handshake.  You'll never know how much your time spent at the airport means to us, but please accept my deepest appreciation for what you do."
(signed) LtCol James H., USAF, Phoenix, Arizona"

For more information or to find a date to go to a welcome home greeting, please go to their website: http://www.operationwelcomehomemd.org

            Honor Flight.  Honor Flight’s mission is to fly veterans back to DC to visit their war memorial.  One thousand World War II veterans die every day.  The majority of Honor Flight missions fly into Reagan Airport.  The veterans fly in to DC in the morning, go see the war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery and then fly back home that evening.  What the local Honor Flight does is give these veterans a surprise hero’s greeting when they arrive in DC.  These veterans served our country and then came home and went back to regular life without any thank you.
            In June when we went to participate with Honor Flight at Reagan, we welcomed 90 World War II and Korean War veterans.  The looks on their faces when they walked out of the gate was priceless.  They had no idea we’d be there, cheering for them, and thanking them.  Not one of the 90-80 year olds had dry eyes.  We gave our full names and birthdates to the point of contact a few days ahead of time so that we could go inside security to participate in the gate greeting.  It was definitely worth it!  You may bring patriotic thank you posters and thank you cards to give out.  After the gate greeting, we went outside to wave to their buses as they left.  Later a couple families went to the memorials to visit more with the veterans.  The veterans were extremely appreciative. 
            This is a great experience for people of any age.  The organizers were excited when I told them I homeschooled.  They said they had wanted to tap into homeschool groups.  Unfortunately during the public school year, they often have no one show up for the surprise gate greetings for the Honor Flights that are during the week.
            There is a great movie, “Honor Flight” that documents an Honor Flight from Wisconsin.  In it, you hear from World War II veterans about what Honor Flight meant to them.  I would highly recommend watching the movie to help your children understand the importance and meaning of this.  For information on the movie:  http://www.honorflightthemovie.com
            Honor Flights take place Aug-Nov and then start back up in the spring.  For information on participating in an Honor Flight event, please go to: http://honorflightdca.wordpress.com

Carrie Kilareski is a local military wife, mom, and homeschooler.  Thanks for the great information, Carrie! 

Upcoming Fall Scout Events 2012

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Published: 10/08/2012
A few for the scouts...


October 13th 11am-4pm Prince William Forest Park "Heritage Festival" 
October 20th 9am-12pm Prince William Forest Park "Trails, Treks and Tracks" $8
October 20th 10am-2pm Prince William Landfill "Recycling Day"
October 20th 10am-4pm Camp Snyder "Fall Outdoor Expo"
October 17th and 18th 10am-6pm GMU "Gem, Mineral and Fossil Show" (Details Below) Scouts in Uniform Free
November 1-February 12 Mount Vernon "Scouting Days" Scouts in Uniform Free
Gem and Mineral Show at GMU - Scouts invited / and some help needed to help teach - Nov 17th and 18th at GMU Please also note that they are looking for Geology Merit Badge Counselors and adult volunteers too!This is a Scout friendly event - (Scouts in uniform are free) - with a corner near the stage set up to teach Cubs and Webelos - and the GMU show is a great place for a Boy Scout to start working on his Geology Merit Badge . Tigers and Cubs can easily earn their Geology Belt Loop and Webs can accomplish their Geology Academic pin too. Jim Kostka 202 207 5437 Northern Virginia Mineral Club Show Co-Chair (and BSA Eagle Scout)

Have more? Let me know via email or leave a comment below! 

NOVA BMX

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Published: 08/15/2012
We were really fortunate to be invited to a super-awesome birthday party at the NOVA BMX track in Woodbridge, Virginia.  The kids had a great time and were getting lots of fresh air and exercise, which was fantastic.  I thought going into it that there was no way we'd make it more than 10 minutes (long pants and long-sleeves are required for safety reasons and it was 102 degrees!), but the kids didn't complain at all! 


From treasurer Brenda Powers:
Our track is owned by Prince William County Park Authority.  We are a 501(c)3 organization and run solely by volunteers.  BMX is an individual sport and is very family oriented.  BMX became an Olympic sport in 2008 and this year we are celebrating the 2nd year of BMX in the Olympics.  It is a great sport and because of the Olympics it is growing in popularity.  Unfortunately, our track seems to be one of Prince William County's best kept secrets!  We are trying to get the word out as often as we can.  Hopefully your web site can help us accomplish this.

BMXBackyard.com
The track, located at 7 County Complex CourtWoodbridge, VA 22192, offers clinics, races, and practice time memberships.  Not sure if your child will like it enough to sign up for a 30 Day Membership? That's okay- you can come out for a FREE one-day trial membership. A full-face helmet is another requirement, but the track has ones to loan.  In addition, the track offers sanctioned practices with gate opening on Wednesdays at 5:30pm to dusk and on Sundays from 2-4pm. As far as competitive riding, it looks like races start at around $8, so this is a really affordable sport (once you've bought the bike!) especially compared to things like figure skating! 
BMXBackyard.com
The track also offers birthday parties, and would be a really fun outing for a scout troop, too.  At the party we went to, we rode first and then did a tailgate in the parking lot.  It was such a fun event!! I've never been to a party like it, and even younger siblings (no training wheels are allowed on the race track) had fun on the blacktop that surrounds the track.

When you head out to check out the track, you'll want to enter the county complex area and head to the right, as if you're driving up to the Potomac Nationals stadium.  Continue to the right all the way back to the right-rear area of the parking, and you'll see the track on your right hand side.  (It's the best-kept secret because you can't see it from the road!) 


Disclaimer Time: PwcMoms.com was not paid or compensated.  While this review is a fair and accurate representation of our views, it is important to know that BMX is a physically strenuous and potentially dangerous activity.  PwcMoms.com does not assume any liability for injuries sustained partaking in any type of sport or activity reviewed on our site, including BMX. 

Reviews: Potomac Overlook Park

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Published: 07/31/2012
I have mommy brain.  My mommy brain syndrome (MBS) is augmented by my technology dependence syndrome (TDS, or, in my case iTDS).  Example?  We showed up for my daughter's dermatology appointment (a 45 minute drive in traffic because while I love PWC, I'm driving to the bets possible doctor our insurance will semi-pay for) only to sit for 30 minutes before the semi-rude receptionist reminded me that I cancelled this appointment when I made an earlier one for before we left for the beach.

My MBS apparently prevented me from removing that from my iCal, so when my iAlarm went off, iGotIntheCar and iDrove to the appointment.  Hence the iTDS kicker.

Being that I am also spontaneous, and had skipped swim team practice, we opted to iMap our way over to Potomac Overlook Regional Park and check out what it had to offer before doing the same thing back down i66, err, I-66, to head to a library event back down in our neck of the woods.

Potomac Overlook is located at 2845 North Marcey Road, Arlington, Virginia.  It is absolutely gorgeous for hiking, as well as having a beautiful nature center, concerts, a solar-powered outdoor stage, roving naturalists, community gardens, and canoe trips. 

We've been to Potomac Overlook once before, and we enjoyed the well-shaded hiking, especially since with water shoes on we could enjoy keeping our feet cool in the creek/river that flows through the park.  Throwback photo evidence:


Okay, so they didn't like their water shoes.  I admit, I am that horrible parent that lets my children experience the world barefoot whenever they want and my husband isn't yelling.  I don't like shoes, either, so I get it.
 In this picture my kids are 15 months, 3, and 5.  I'm wearing sporting an awesome blue Moby Wrap.  If you don't have a Moby Wrap and you have a baby or are about to have a 2nd (3rd, 4th, 5th) baby, you should stop reading this NOW and go buy one.  I'll wait. No, they're not paying me, either.
I am also that mom that lets her kid swim in the deep pool he finds.  It was warm that day.  He had an amazing time and the water was clear so that you could see straight to the bottom.  I realize this doens't mean it was clean, but it looked like it, so there.

This time, however, we never made it that far since by the time we arrived it was already 108 degrees outside.  Walking from the parking lot to the nature center, we noticed there is a fun hike with signs for each planet placed at representative distances along the path.  They include fun facts like how much a person of a certain weight (I want to say it was 100 pounds) would weigh on each planet.  On your left hand side, you'll also see the solar-powered outdoor theatre as well as an eletctric car filling station.  Trees and rocks along this main path are also labeled for your viewing pleasure. 

By the time we arrived at the nature center, my middle child informed me that he was dying, and I informed him that the nature center is air conditioned, at which point he summoned the will power to go on the three steps to the door.  It was magical.

By the way, now that my kids are 4, 6, and 8, their lives exist soley on my iphone because I'm not good enough to carry a camera, so I hope that you enjoyed the nice, clear pictures above because now we're switching back to my typical low-quality cell phone pictures.

The nature center includes a fun mix of energy saving information along with a living bee colony, live turtles, frogs and snakes, as well as some stuffed local species, skulls, and skeletons and fossils to look at.  The upper level is mostly non-living, although there is a turtle and two snakes, and the lower level is mostly snakes and frogs, along with a children's cave area, which was fun to hang around in for a few minutes even if it wasn't very large.
 The children's area included boards to make your own "cave drawings" sounds of a cave on a phone, and space to sit and read books or play with toys.  It'd be a good place to cool off and calm down on a hot day.
 There's also a lower-level educational room, which was completely devoid of people on the day we went, but looked like it must be used for field trips and scout groups.  There were some fish in the tank as well as stuffed bird and small mammal species. 
Ooooh, something stuffed.  Fun.  My kids love anything about animals, so they thought this nature center was fantastic.  It's definitely small enough that you can do it in a morning and still have time for a hike, even if you read everything in the nature center, but I enjoy that about it.

It was after this picture that my phone died.  It was sad.  So, not pictured are the community garden, Indian-themed circular garden, or the live birds of prey that are a short walk across from the nature center.  These are previously injured owls and hawks that cannot be returned to the wild due to the extent of their inuries, and you do get a very close look at them.  The owls were especially beautiful, and, as a bonus, I found a 4 foot black snake on the trail on the way up! How fantastic!

Fine, I freaked out.  But the boys thought it was amazing.

This is a great local field trip, and we enjoyed both of our visits.  Check out Potomac Overlook Regional Park for your next hike or nature event!

Potomac Overlook Regional Park
Recommended for: Any age, really.  Lots of walking, but getting to/from the nature center is stroller-friendly.  There is a long hill that is not particularly handicap-accessible, I would talk to the park rangers about the possibility of being allowed to drive to the center itself if that's an issue for your.  Older children will enjoy the various themed areas and hiking.

Pros: Free! Lots of different interests addressed.  Live and stuffed animal species, lots of labeled plants and rocks with information on species.

Cons: Nature center is somewhat small, parking is removed from areas of interest.

Prince William Forest Park

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Published: 06/20/2012
Prince William Forest Park is a fantastic location for camping, hiking, and even meeting friends at the playground!  There are several entrances to the Park, including a few from route 234 in Dumfries and off route 619 past Independent Hill going to Triangle. The main entrance to the park, which I recommend you use, is the one you reach by taking exit 150B off I-95.  When you enter the park, there is a ranger station, but it may or may not be manned.  If there's no ranger, head straight down the road and you'll arrive at an information area where you can pay your $5.  Admission is good for seven consecutive days, so it's a pretty awesome deal, when you think about it that way!

Visitors Center and Welcome Station
Looping back towards the entrance, on the right hand side there is parking and a large playground with an open field.  The play area is partially shaded, but the field gets some fairly direct sunlight.  With all the trees around, you'll definitely want to do a tick check when you get home.  
Playground area with slides, climbing wall, playhouse and more

Across the street from the playground, there is a hike entrance.  I want to say the blazes are green, but I am not positive, so please don't quote me on that.  The hike is paved with shredded plastic (similar or the same to a rubber track type of feel).  It would be very stroller friendly, if you're looking to hike with a baby! 
 The hike winds you past a creek, and there are lots of signs explaining the flora and fauna, which is helpful since my kids always want to know what each individual leaf is and Google is so sick of me asking about "4 tipped leaves on flat bark trees in Virginia" that they're considering cutting me off.  I don't have to search in an encyclopedia, but I can't stay here...you know how it goes ;)
Here's another view of the playground.  The kids had a great time running around, and as a bonus, there's a BATHROOM!! Flushing toilets, running water, the whole deal.  I consider proximity of the potty to be a huge deal, so chalk that up as a win!

Prince William Forest Park has a scenic drive, as well, and it's quite pleasant.  I would have especially loved it when my first was a baby.  He had horrendous colic and the only way he slept was in motion.  A nice drive through the park would have been a great way to spend the time driving the baby!

Finally, there's camping.  We were fortunate to spend part of a night with our boy scout troop, and had a great time! There are, again, restrooms, as well as nice sites with decent parking.  We were near an outdoor area with lots of bench seating where we enjoyed a bonfire, too.  We stayed in the tent camping, but they also offer 5 cabins.  For details on camping at Prince William Forest Park, just click here. 

Breakdown-

Prince William Forest Park
Pros- nice playground, bathrooms located nearby, camping and parking
Cons- small fee, multiple entrances can be confusing to first timers (like me my first time!) 
Cautions- only that you should be sure to check for ticks, but that's any outdoor location in Virginia! 

The Great American Backyard Campout

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Published: 06/11/2012
On June 23rd, the National Wildlife Fund will be sponsoring the Great American Backyard Campout.  They're inviting everyone in Prince William County (including you, your kids, neighbors, friends and even scout troops) to hoist a tent in the backyard and make some great summer memories!

You can just participate, or, choose to take it one step further and register a team to help raise money to get kids active and outdoors.

From the NWF Website:

Did you know that today, 25% of kids play outside daily—as opposed to 75% a generation ago? Be a part of the Great American Backyard Campout and set an example for children that will get them excited about the great outdoors. Join thousands of campers on June 23 (or you can choose another day that's convenient for you). Embrace an active, healthy outdoor lifestyle—we'll show you how.
Improving your Kids' Health is Rewarding for Them.......and for You!
You have the option to help support NWF's work to connect kids with nature for their overall good health by raising money for our programs. You can set a personal or team fundraising goal, invite your friends and family to support your Campout, and earn the official Campout t-shirt. It’s easy—we’ll give you all the tips and tools you need to be successful plus the added reward of happier, healthier kids.
Register and Win a Trip
You could get the chance to Go Behind the Scenes with NWF celebrity naturalist David Mizejewski. One lucky camper and a guest will win a trip to an upcoming NWF television appearance in New York City or Los Angeles.

Guest Post: Animal Shelter Children's Farm

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Published: 05/18/2012

Thanks to Sharon for the info on the Prince William County Animal Shelter Children's Farm!

My kids are crazy about animals.  We are always looking for something to do that involves our four-legged friends.  Today we ventured out to the Prince William County Animal ShelterChildren’s Farm.  If you are interested in taking your wee ones to this free exhibit, here are a few things you should know before you go.

First of all, it’s free.  Pretty cool, right?  The only requisite is that you call beforehand to make sure there is someone available to let you in.  Even though the website says they are only open on Thursdays, they will accommodate visitors provided they are adequately staffed.  The staff also recommends that you use discretion if it is raining.  This is a real barnyard with real dirt and your children can get really dirty if it is wet.  Heads up.

We arrived to the Animal Shelter parking lot and walked through the main entrance into the shelter building.  We asked at the main desk if we could be escorted back to the Children’s Farm and we were soon paired with a kind, young employee who walked us to the back and unlocked the gates.  As soon as the gates were unlocked, the fun began.  Two very friendly, very zealous potbelly pigs greeted us immediately: one named Chunk and the other Tootsie. We took a chance and brought a big bag of carrots in case they would let us feed the animals, and as it turns out, visitors are welcome to feed carrots and apples.  And, WOW, were we popular!  My children were able to feed carrots to the pigs, the white pony, all of the goats and the cow in the yard.  The animals were clean and well-groomed.  They appeared happy and well taken care of.

Our visit concluded when all of the carrots were eaten (a few may have been consumed by the humans in our group…) and the children had laughed themselves silly at all of the animal antics in the barnyard.  We stayed for about 20 minutes.

Bottom Line: Call ahead, dress for mud, bring treats, and have fun.

Address and Phone Number:
14807 Bristow Road
Manassas, VA 20112
Phone: 703-792-6465

Hours of Operation:
Tuesday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Wednesday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Thursday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Friday: 11:00am-5:00pm
Saturday: 10:00am-4:00pm
Sunday: 12:00pm-4:00pm
Monday: Closed

Sharon Kieffer Steele is a homeschooling mother of 5 who resides in Prince William County.  She is a freelance writer who occasionally blogs atsharonksteele.blogspot.com
 

Birchdale Park

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Published: 04/12/2012
One of the smaller community centers owned by the Prince William County Park Authority (I'm not sure what to call them now that the PWC Government has assumed control, but until they send me a new logo, I'm sticking with the old name), Birchdale Recreation Center is located on the corner of Birchdale Ave and Dale Blvd, near the KMart. The physical address is 14730 Birchdale Ave.
We had the chance to head over there for a scouting activity day over spring break. Birchdale features a small community center with indoor restrooms and a few classrooms.  They are also associated with Turley Baseball Fields, which are across the street. There is an outdoor pool, playground, small half pipe, and 2 picnic pavilions which can be rented for $40 per day per pavilion.  If you rent the pavilion, you can also purchase pool passes for $1.50 per person, up to 20 per pavilion.  The pool is 25 meters. Sounds like it could be a very economical way to do a family reunion or smaller group function! The playground is wide and open, with good visibility.  Not pictured above are several swings.  The area is wood-mulched.  Behind the playground is some open space, which is perfect for a swordfight, and adjacent to the playground and the open space are the picnic pavilions.
While we're on the subject, my oldest son had a fantastic time at the scout class he attended.  They're drop-off, but only 2 hours, which makes it extra-nice that there's a playground right outside.  They easily completed two achievements, in this case codes and art, and he got a certificate at the end of the day to present our Scoutmaster with to prove he completed the requirements.

Potomac Nationals Giveaway #1

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Published: 04/11/2012
We love love love having the Potomac Nationals practically in our backyard, and with opening weekend coming up THIS WEEKEND, I want to share some details with you!

 I want to admit right up front that I absolutely LOATHE watching baseball on TV, but I love a game in person! It's so much fun to get the family out and cheer from the grandstand! I am a total sucker for the wave, and I want it to go as long as possible.  Yeah, I'm that person doing it one more time than everyone else.  So what?
We take our whole family to the 4th of July game (hint: buy your tickets NOW) every year.  We even met a preschool teacher that way! They've got a great game followed by an awesome fireworks show.  Doesn't get any more American than that!  I also love that the stadium is now non-smoking in all seated sections.  (When I was little, you had to reserve early to get in the "family section" for that!)
I also love this guy:
My kids think Uncle Slam is just about the coolest thing on the planet.  I haven't figured this out yet.  That little blonde guy? I have absolutely ZERO pictures of him with the Easter Bunny (and he loves bunnies) because he thinks the Bunny is terrifying.  Uncle Slam? AWESOME.  Your individual results with that may vary, but it works for us!

The P-Nats also run some great promotions.  Check it out!  We especially love an inexpensive mid-week game (see the Monday/Tuesday games) and we also love Scout Night!

April 13th- Freebie Friday
April 14th- FIREWORKS!
April 15th- Family Fun Day, Iceberg Giveaway (Titanic Theme)
April 19- Mustache Night
April 20- Superhero Night, Freebie Friday
April 21- Epic Fail Night, FIREWORKS
April 22- Bark in the Park
April 27- Team Autograph Day, Freebie Friday
April 28- Internet Safety Night, FIREWORKS
April 29- Reading Program, Sunday Family Fun
April 30- DOLLAR NIGHT, 2008 Championship night
May 1- Extreme Couponing Night/Two-For-Tuesday
May 2- Fan vs. Food
May 3- PWCS Middle School Night
May 4- Educator's Appreciation Night
May 5- Cinco De Mayo, FIREWORKS
May 6- Reading Program #2, Sunday Family Fun, Coin Frenzy
May 14- Late Mother's Day, Dollar Night
May 15- Wrestling Night, Two-For-Tuesday
May 16- All Faith Night, Bellybuster
May 17- Date an Intern Night
May 18- Reading Program 3, Halloween
May 19- Scout Night, FIREWORKS
May 20- Reading Program #4, Family Fun Day
May 28- Memorial Day, Dollar Night
May 29- Batman Night, Two-For-Tuesday
May 30- Chili Cookoff, Bellybuster
May 31- Battle of the Sexes
**Details on each promotion on the P-Nats Website, subject to change or alteration without notice.

Also, be sure to check out the details on Uncle Slam's Reading Program! Students at your school can read books to earn free Potomac Nationals tickets! This is a really great alternative if your school has banned the pizza reading promotions due to healthy eating restrictions.

We've also participated in the Scout Nights where the Nationals also offer camping on the outfield! We had a really great time.  Not much sleep, not much quiet, but a really great time! 


PwcMoms.com is really excited to work with the Potomac Nationals this summer to bring you both information and free tickets!  Our first ticket giveaway is for a family 4-pack of tickets to the April 20th Superhero Night, where you and your kids are invited to have even more fun dressing as your favorite super hero!! 

Want to win? You have several options, and can get an entry for each one!
1- Leave a comment telling us your favorite Potomac Nationals Promotion

2- Tell the Potomac Nationals you're excited they're working with PwcMoms on Facebook! (You only need to do this once. For subsequent giveaways (one each month all baseball season!) you can just leave a comment that you did.  Be sure to leave a comment telling us you did this step, as the comment here is your entry!

3- Have a blog? Share your favorite Potomac Nationals memory and get 5 extra entries! Be sure to link back to this contest, and leave a comment with your blog link.

4- Tweet that you want @PwcMoms to take you out to the ballgame with @PotomacNats


Disclosure: PwcMoms.com was generously provided with tickets to give away to readers.  No other compensation was given in return for this post.  All opinions expressed here are my own and all information is valid as of the time of publication. 

Upcoming Scout Offerings from PWCPA

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Published: 02/05/2012
With Blue and Gold Dinner coming up for our Cub Scout Pack, we've all been in a frenzy to get a few things finished up for ranks! I'm sure we're not the only den having that issue, but I love that this spring you can get your scout ahead though the Park Authority's Cub Scout Badges program!  All of these programs require advance registration, but they're a great way for your scout to have a little fun. There is a small fee associated with each badge opportunity, which varies depending on the program requirements. 

The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring School

Permalink to The%20Adventure%20Park%20at%20Sandy%20Spring%20School
Published: 08/10/2011
Sometimes for the love of a child you might do something that you would otherwise never do. Pay hundreds of dollars for music lessons when you know they have no rhythm but love it, sing along with a purple dinosaur, fight vehemently that your potty training technique is better than your mother in law's....


Or walk on some freaking tiny wire rope up a bajilionty feet in the air.


Okay, fine, it was 15 feet at the highest I went up. But it FELT like a bajilionty to me. My husband and the 7 year old thought it was great fun and left me in the dust clinging to my harness :) So it goes sometimes!
 Our 7 year old loves all things adventure and outdoors. I love all things non-TV/Computer. This made the Adventure Park at Sandy Spring School a perfect match for us! We decided to use our day there as a Parent/Child "date day" which we try to fit in once a month for each child so they get alone time. The drive up wasn't bad at all. We opted to go for an earlier climb so that it wouldn't be too hot (although the trees provide tons of shade and while we were there until 1:30pm and I was sweating bullets- it was from me being a pansy and not uncomfortable heat).
Children ages 7 and up are eligible to climb, but there are age restrictions on different levels of climbs. 7 year olds may climb yellow courses alone or green courses with an adult, 10 year olds may climb blue with an adult, 12 year olds may climb black with an adult, and starting at 14 all climbs through double black diamond may be done solo. I don't know that I'd put a 7 year old on alone on a yellow their first time, our VERY adventerous child paused for quite some time looking down at the first zip line and needed a gentle nudge and some encouragement to get over that hurdle. After that he did fine, but I completely understand because had I not been in front of him and not wanted him to think I was a scaredy cat, I probably would have needed more time to do the first zip line, too. Even with my distaste for heights, I have to admit after doing it the first time and getting over the initial fear, the zip lines were totally fun!!

Backing up a bit, let's outline the experience. BEFORE YOU GO YOU SHOULD FILL OUT YOUR CLIMB CARD AND SAVE TIME! The drive is not bad at all. From Lake Ridge it took us about an hour and 15 minutes to get to the Adventure Park, and it was a pleasant drive zipping up the highway. Parking is free, and "rustic" on a rock/gravel/grass field. When you walk from the parking lot there are signs directing you to a cabin-type building where you sign in and get fitted for equipment. There's staff to help. Much like when you go skiing, you'll get a tag with an "off time" telling you when you need to vacate the courses and get outta dodge. Trust me, your kids will be plenty tired after 4 hours.
Next you'll go to a group instruction session where they'll explain all the equipment. The genius part about it is that when you first get onto the course you have to snap into a safety system using two tweezles. One is always locked and you physically cannot move it without locking the other one first. It's hard to explain but it's a really easy system and means that you literally CANNOT fall. Well, you can fall, but you're only going 4 inches. This should indicate you should not be a giant baby like I was!  This video demonstrates- note that one carabeener has to be clicked into the tweezle (then the zip line is added, which also snaps in) and then the other carabeener can be moved.  All the ropes courses end with zip lines, so this is a video of the end of a course.


There's a practice course where you can work (on the ground) on the tweezle system and the zip procedures. This was pretty tough for our son the first few times because of the gloves, but he got it and was totally self-sufficient 99.9 percent of the course. Granted, we're the "do it yourself or you're not going up" type of parents. We're also the "no, you're not climbing down at the first scary zip line, you do it once and then you decide" type. If you are the "I will do it for you" and "you can quit now" type, which is fine, this would probably not be a good use of your money. It's challenging, but I think that's a big part of what makes it so great!

There's a water tank where you can hydrate, but I'd bring a bottle with me next time.
So, next, you head to the giant set of stairs and you lock in. When you get to the top, there's a staffperson who can help you select a course. You have to work up (so you must climb a yellow before a green and a green before a blue, etc). We started with two yellows and then two greens in our time there. The courses are relatively short, but they take concentration, balance, and skill to get through, so they take time. We didn't really notice how long it took and were amazed each time we finished that it'd taken us about 40 minutes. Oh- huge hint: PEE FIRST! Nothing worse than being halfway through and hearing "Um, mom?"
In conclusion, despite the fact that I was scared because, again, I am a big pansy, I would totally do this again. Our son had a great time (although at the very end of Fern Gully, his 2nd green, he was exhausted and couldn't reach up to get his tweezle and a very nice staff person had to come help him down. Note: Parents should go FIRST so they can help unsnap shorter kids. For whatever reason it seemed easier for them to get situated at the beginning of an element than to get unhooked at the end. Ideally, have one parent go before and one go after. I was taking pictures on their second green.) My husband LOVED it and said he'd love to try one of their night climbs with friends. If I can work the pricing out, I'd bring our cub scouts back up to do this again, it really was that fun.


The Adventure Park at Sandy Spring Friends School
Pros: Challenging, outdoor adventure. Fresh air, uses your brain and your muscles, totally different experience than you'll have almost anywhere else. This is expensive ($38-$48 depending on age), but look for deals on places like Certifikid, and, think of it like an amusement park but more physically demanding and it doesn't seem so bad. Zip-line sliding is way cooler than a roller coaster anyway :)

Cons: I think our son would have benefited greatly from being 2 inches taller :) and younger kids are limited in which courses they can do, but that doesn't prevent them from having PLENTY to do. There is nothing for kids younger than 7.

Caution: Bring your bug spray and be prepared to pep-talk your kid through their first course if they've never done anything like this before. Bring a water bottle, and have a great time!

Recommended: For kids ages 7 and up, especially 7 year olds that tend to be taller than their peers! This is totally worth both the drive and the price and we can't wait to go again next year!!

PWC Amateur Radio Field Day

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Published: 06/22/2011

The public is invited to come out and talk on a radio to a person located 
in the United States or overseas. 

The Prince William County Board of Supervisors has proclaimed the week of June 21, 
2011 as Amateur Radio Week.  The Proclamation recognizes the public assistance 
provided by amateur radio operators throughout Prince William County. 

Each year the Woodbridge Amateur Radio Club (WWI) participates in a field day which 
is an exercise in preparedness.  Field day tests the ability of amateur radio operators 
nationwide to establish radio communications to augment emergency communications 
networks should a disaster strike reducing normal communication. This exercise is 
particularly important since Amateur Radio is part of the Home Land Defense plans to 
provide nationwide communications should disaster strike.  WWI was instrumental in 
maintaining communications within the County during 9/11.   WWI will establish nine 
radio nets using generators and/or batteries on June 25th and 26th in the field opposite 
BJ’s gas station (Golansky Blvd).  

Amateur radio operators are licensed by the FCC and are called "hams."   One of the 
main tasks for “hams” is to be able to set up and operate under any circumstance, such as 
a natural disaster, that would disrupt normal communications.  This also includes police 
and fire radio communications that may have been disrupted for one reason or another. 

The measure used to see how well an amateur radio club can perform is to count each 
message sent and received, to and from other amateur radio stations.  Points are awarded 
for contacts with other radio stations.  WWI has participated in this event for over 30 
years and has placed in the top ten of the nation for several years.  Last year WWI was 
first in their class and second overall.  This field day WWI will erect eight towers that 
will support antennas to make contact with other radio clubs throughout the world.  
Although this is a US event sponsored by the Amateur Radio Relay League, many 
foreign radio operators will be on the air to make contact with the US operators. 

 Come out and see what amateur radio is all about.  The Club members will begin setting 
up at 2:00 PM, Friday, June 24 and the contest will take place from 2:00 PM Saturday, 
June 25th to 2:00 PM Sunday, June 26th.  The Club welcome center is one of the first 
items to be erected so come out and talk on a radio to other states or other countries.  
Experience what it means to be a Ham.  
daytime playtime - a fun place to Learn.... a great place to Grow A Play Gym Designed for Parents and Children Aged 10 Months to 4 1/2 Years... Elite Maid Squad