Arlington, that award-winning bastion of smart growth and pedestrian-friendly spaces, has done it again, becoming the first county in the state to be designated a Community Wildlife Habitat.

That's right, wildlife, in Arlington.

At a time when communities are losing green space to development, the Reston-based National Wildlife Federation says Arlington has distinguished itself as a model community where people and wildlife can flourish.

Officials say Arlington is among the first counties in the nation to receive the honor. Eleven other communities nationwide have gotten the award. Reston, the only other local winner, was honored in 2000.

Community Wildlife Habitats are an extension of the federation's Backyard Wildlife Habitat program, which encourages people to turn gardens and yards into wildlife-friendly environments. Since 1973, the federation -- the nation's largest member-supported conservation advocacy and education group -- has certified more than 57,000 back yards nationwide, including 2,955 in Virginia and 403 in Arlington.

To be recognized as a Community Wildlife Habitat, Arlington certified landscapes in areas as diverse as back yards, schoolyards -- one of the most exemplary is at Tuckahoe Elementary School -- commercial properties, apartment complexes, neighborhood common areas and public places such as parks.

Arlington's effort was coordinated by Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment, a community nonprofit group founded in 1978 to help create a sustainable environment.

Officials with the group said the award is proof that Arlington is committed to being an urban community with lots of open space. Even if it seems counterintuitive.

"In some ways Arlington's smart growth made it work for wildlife habitats," said Elenor Hodges, executive director of Arlingtonians for a Clean Environment. "We have our development, but it's in concentrated areas. That's one of the reasons it worked in this community."

The Court of Their Dreams

The basketball facility at the Mount Vernon Recreation Center is getting a $25,000 face-lift thanks to the Women's National Basketball Association and one very driven basketball club.

The money was awarded last month to Rodney Hunt, president and general manger of Virginia Pride Inc., a nonprofit group that seeks to help children develop through a basketball program that includes some of the best local players.

In February, Hunt entered his club in a national contest to sell WNBA tickets (in this case, for the Washington Mystics). In addition to working toward the prize, groups in the contest took home an average of $2 for each ticket sold.

It was Virginia Pride's second year in the contest. In 2004, it earned a close second by selling about 3,900 Mystics tickets.

This year the push was on to win the grand prize -- $25,000 to help a community build its "Court of Dreams."

Virginia Pride won by selling 5,750 tickets for the Mystics' game against the Indiana Fever on June 18 at the MCI Center.

The recipient of their winnings is the Mount Vernon Recreation Center at 2701 Commonwealth Ave. in Del Ray, where most of the club's nine teams practice.

The renovations, which include spiffing up the court and furnishing a reading area in the center's lobby, should be completed in several months, city officials said.

Hunt started taking his son Bradley, 13, to their local rec center more than a decade ago. He said he saw a lot of talent there but not a lot of opportunities for kids to develop their athletic skills.

"There were so many kids there who were so talented, but their shoes were three sizes too big or too small," said Hunt, who owns a business in McLean, RS Information Systems. "I called the city to see what I could do to help."

The result was Virginia Pride, an all-star farm team of sorts for local high schools. The group welcomes any boy or girl to try out, but only the most talented make the cut. Since its inception three years ago, the club has raised $500,000 to support the kids, ages 10 to 17, outfitting them with gear and covering travel costs to send them to games across the country.

Three of the club's teams have been ranked in the top 20 of the country's Amateur Athletic Union and five have reached the top 10 of Youth Basketball of America rankings.

Hunt said the club focuses not only on developing children's athletic abilities and getting them exposure to high school coaches but also on providing tutors and introducing them to community service such as cleanup drives and serving food at homeless shelters.

"They get exposure that they wouldn't have otherwise gotten, and it results in scholarships to attend prep high schools in the area," Hunt said. "These are very talented kids we're trying to get our arms around."