A Fall Chill in Outdoor Recreation

Water falls around ranger Jon Mendez, above, as he winterizes the aquatic area of Algonkian Regional Park.
Water falls around ranger Jon Mendez, above, as he winterizes the aquatic area of Algonkian Regional Park. (Tracy A. Woodward -- The Washington Post)
By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2006

Mr. Frog looks a bit forlorn these days.

He still gazes over Downpour, the water park at Algonkian Regional Park in Sterling. But children no longer spit out of his open mouth and slide down his tongue, to land with a splash in his play pool as parents watch from nearby deck chairs.

The pool is drained, the deck chairs are tucked under tarps, and Mr. Frog stares dully at the emptiness.

Autumn has come to Downpour and other recreational facilities throughout Northern Virginia. As the weather cools and the sunlight vanishes, area parks are gradually shutting down outdoor facilities that can't weather chilly temperatures, snow and ice.

Thousands of summer employees have left, and outdoor pools have been drained and winterized. Even the Reston Association, renowned for opening its pools the earliest and closing them the latest in the region, has put its last heated pool under wraps for the year.

In the next month or so, miniature golf courses will shut down -- their waterfalls turned off and putting holes plugged. Batting cages will be closed, and boat rentals will stop. All natural-turf ballfields will be put off-limits, and some campgrounds will close until spring.

At the same time, parks are preparing for a surprising amount of activity.

Golf courses and most tennis courts remain open, for example. "A lot of times we have mild winters, so people like to get out and play" during the winter when golf and tennis facilities are less crowded, said Mark Riddell, spokesman for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which operates 21 parks throughout the area.

Skeet shooting is open year-round at Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville. The increasing number of synthetic-turf fields in Fairfax County means that those fields are usable "virtually year-round," said Dan Sutherland, grounds manager for the Fairfax County Park Authority, which operates 400 parks.

Autumn tree colors bring hikers. Bikers like the cooler temperatures.

Fairfax County used to close its two campgrounds, at Burke Lake Park and Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, in the winter. But after upgrading the heating in the restroom facilities at Lake Fairfax's campground, which allows recreational vehicles, "there was no real reason to close it down," Sutherland said.

Business is surprisingly brisk at the facility, which has 70 sites for RVs, Sutherland said. Because visitors can stay up to two weeks, out-of-town workers often bunk there in their RVs, as do some patients receiving outpatient treatment at area hospitals.

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