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Byways: Literally the roads bypassing the main road or the paths less traveled. Virtually, any unusual means to an end.

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Saving Tanyard Hill / Occoquan as a Virginia Scenic Byway February'12
Byways For The Rest of Us January'12
E-mailing for Help December '11
Reading Animals’ Whispers November'11


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Saving Tanyard Hill / Occoquan as a Virginia Scenic Byway February'12

Tanyard Hill Road above historic Occoquan could qualify as a Virginia Scenic Byway except that it is about to become a victim of urbanization. The Prince William County Council has passed a plan to build an office building at Old Bridge Road and Tanyard Hill Road on the hill above the town.

One can easily find some of the history of the hill written into the records of the history of Occoquan and Lorton. It’s a pretty ride on a forested steep hillside leading to the quaint, charming, historic little town of Occoquan. There really are only two ways into and out of Occoquan: Along the river from Ox Road route 123 or straight up the hill to Old Bridge Road. There is no connection for motorists to the West. This makes Commerce Street and Tanyard Hill Road crucial to the enjoyment and survival of The Town of Occoquan.

Concerned residents and property owners down the hill, in town, on the banks of the Occoquan River are disappointed at the Council’s decision to allow the construction. They already have a problem with the afternoon traffic back-ups as motorists try to shortcut through town and up the hill toward Lake Ridge. A twenty minute wait on a hill doesn’t make sense, but motorists try to beat a few lights.

Citizens fear two things: That the traffic may likely become worse and that the conversion to impervious surface will cause more rain run off to wash through town as it did in the aftermath of Hurricane Lee. That storm caused a culvert to be damaged and massive erosion. Muddy water and rocks flowed down Tanyard Hill through the streets of Occoquan on the way to the South beach of the river.

Designating Tanyard Hill Road as a Virginia Scenic Byway might have forced consideration of the history and natural beauty of the hillside and the historic town at it’s foot. Residents recount sledding down that long hill to the river as children; There was less traffic then. Mr. Rice Hooe (pronounced hoe) of Lorton owned the tanning yard on that hill in the 1700 ‘s and so the roads are named Hooe’s Road that connected to his business and Tan’yard Hill for his operation. Only a dwindling few natives know this including a descendent still living here. Late comers say it “whose road”. The web site indicates that, at one time, Tanyard Hill Road was part of Va Route 1 along with Old Bridge, Minnieville, and Telegraph to the South and Lorton Road to the North.

By the way, visitors have difficulty with the pronunciation of the Town’s name as well. We say something like Ah’-Kah-kwan. Oc co quan.

The Town of Occoquan itself, has a long history including a brush with the Civil War and has survived fires and floods. Mill Street downtown was Route 123 until Hurricane Agnes took out the one lane trestle bridge. Now, it’s not on the path of commerce but only the shortcut to Lake Ridge. It’s still a quaint gas post lamp lit little town with a sampling of architectures and interesting little Mom & Pop businesses and a few strong businesses. It’s industry is tourism but no longer is it a commercial port. But Occoquan survived while the Port of Colchester is gone swallowed up in greater Mason Neck, Lorton. So, much history is available but here is not the space or need to recount it yet again. The Town of Occoquan has a small museum which was the office of one of the mills which burned. There’s all the history you can want.

With the Route 95 Highway exit, the town gets a lot of visitation from weary and curious travelers looking for a meal, or just coffee and they find shops, gifts, art and souvenirs. It’s Lorton’s fun shopping center. The Town also has a couple of other industries: Arts and Entertainment with a boat tour, eateries and music venues like the open mic.s at the Coffee House of Occoquan, and three fine art galleries. You might also think of it as Romantic Occoquan as you could plan a whole wedding around the Town, from the rings, the dress, the cake, the invitations and the venue. Why not try adding Occoquan to your byway travels and stops?

This construction which the Council has approved over the protests of town citizens and Town Hall, may finally do it in. It has too much of the wrong kind of traffic. It has rush hour traffic which is a burden but not support. It needed a solution not more burden. Quaint Charming little historic towns should be quiet and relaxed. Prince William County does not need an office building there on the Old Bridge Road bottleneck as councilman May says. No wonder Prince William County has traffic problems; They’re not thoughtful enough to avoid them. So, the battle between money and locals, between the 1% and the 99%, between progress and history is about lost. Perhaps the State can bring some sense to the madness. Anyone can request Byway designation, but local government must adopt a resolution of support. Who will make the request finally?

From the foregoing discussion, Tanyard Hill Road seems to qualify for the States criteria for a Virginia Byway except the last point because of the conflicting interests of governments. Here are the points from the Virginia State web site:

• The route provides important scenic values and experiences.
• There is a diversity of experiences, as in transition from one landscape scene to another.
• The route links together or provides access to scenic, historic, recreational, cultural, natural and archeological elements.
• The route bypasses major roads or provides opportunities to leave high-speed routes for variety and leisure in motoring.
• Landscape control or management along the route is feasible.
• The route allows for additional features that will enhance the motorist’s experience and improve safety.
• Local government(s) has/have initiated zoning or other land-use controls, so as to reasonably protect the aesthetic and cultural value of the highway.

The question becomes: Why have not the governments made the provisions to protect this Byway? For more information about the Virginia Byway Program, Call 1-800-FOR-ROAD (1-800-367-7623) or contact Lynn Crump, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, at Perhaps it’s not too late for another Byway.
For a map or brochure, contact:

Virginia Department of Transportation
Office of Public Affairs
1401 East Broad Street
Richmond, VA 23219

Byways For The Rest of Us January'12

Virginia is full of beautiful, historic and cultural byways. You can look beyond the unhappy Civil War history to the history of Virginia when the many small towns and communities originated.
Virginia has nearly 3,000 miles of special roads that offer something for everyone. Many of these are officially designated as Virginia Byways, such as Route 5, or national scenic parkways, such as the Blue Ridge Parkway. VDOT makes a free map available of Virginia’s Scenic Byways.
So much of Virginia’s discussion of byways is predicated on Civil War History which is an unhappy mask of the pre-existing history of families and industry. Illustrating this, occupying forces burned court houses full of vital records to express that an area was conquered and churches were occupied and pews burned for heating fuel by unfunded armies. Town economies were destroyed which have never recovered. The war didn’t build; It only burned more history than it created but there’s still plenty to see and enjoy.
Virginia’s byways are also about scenery, nature discovery, arts, crafts and family activities. Not that we want to forget the Civil War but, If you do just a little searching, you can find the reasons that towns were formed and attractions of happier subjects.
For instance, Middletown, Frederick County, established in 1794 has a battlefield, Cedar Creek, which they advertise while they forget to mention that the town was founded by Dr. Peter Senseney of Switzerland who laid out the original lots for the village, Virginia’s clock making industry center. He was the pastor of the first Pennsylvania United Brethren in Winchester. It is the home of the second oldest continuous theatrical playhouse, Wayside Theatre, in Virginia and of Route 11 Potato Chips. So, you can tour the potato chip factory, enjoy dinner and room at the Wayside Inn established in 1797 and take in a play at the Wayside Theatre. You can drive through town without stoplights.
Leesburg was at the commercial crossroads of the major north-south Carolina Road (now U.S. Highway 15) and the east-west oriented Potomac Ridge Road (now Virginia Highway 7). a small settlement emerged. and In 1757, the Assembly of Virginia selected this settlement for the location of the Loudoun County courthouse. Due in part to its ethnic and religious diversity, which included English, German, and Scotch-Irish belonging to Anglican, Baptist, Methodist, and Quaker (Society of Friends) congregations, many Leesburg residents supported the American Revolution. The town was incorporated in 1813. It is now the site of the Morven Park and Equestrian Center and home of the annual Potomac Celtic Festival. It is rich in Art and Music and the surrounding area boasts a slew of orchards and vinyards. It is on the W&OD railroad trail.
Coming South of Leesburg, you might enjoy Oatlands Plantation events, or The Plains with it’s quaint downtown and corn maze, or visit a vinyard or even the Great Meadow Equestrian and Event center. Any direction you go, you find a another Virginia Byway.
You find Haymarket chartered 1799 junction of the Old Carolina Road evolved from the Iroquois hunting path and the north branch of Dumfries road connecting the potomac river to the Shenandoah valley.
There’s Gainesville, the last stop on the Manassas Gap Railroad and changing point for stagecoach horses on the Fauquier and Alexandria turnpike. It was a shipping point for grain, timber and cattle.
Toward the piedmont area, through Warrenton, you come to Remington, a natural crossing of the Rapahannock River on the way toward Charlottesville. Originally called Millview, It was the destination of the River Canal. You’d continue through Orange and Louisa counties which gave their names to those towns, already trade centers, as the seat of the courts.
If instead you veered East you find Newgate in the 1760’s became Centreville in hopes of being on the proposed trade route which advantage fell to Manassas.
Clifton was born as a result of Civil War, originally known as Devereaux Station. OK, that’s one good thing that resulted from the war.
Stevensburg, originally called York by the Quaker population there was the birthplace of Admiral Cary Travers Grayson, personal physician to President Woodrow Wilson. That home, Saluria, has been preserved.
And Goldvein really is on the Virginia gold vein, having been the site of 18 active gold mines in Monroe Park.
Fredericksburg is one of those great port towns built near the end of the tidal water deliniated by Interstate Route 95.
Colonial Beach was an early D.C. bathing and fishing resort and the home of Alexander Graham Bell inventor of the telephone. Today, the Bell House is a bed and breakfast.
Then there’s Kilmarnock, another crossroads influenced by Indian trails and named by Robert Gilmour, an agent for a mercantile firm based in Glasgow, Scotland who owned land in Kilmarnock, Scotland.
Virginia has towns founded by British, German’s, Scotch-Irish. It has towns built on agriculture, trade, culture, industry and shipping. Some for oysters, all kinds of minerals, railroads, and industries. There are towns built by Amish, Quakers, Mennonites, and Bretheren and often around the home of some rich and powerful person.
The history is about commerce and building a nation not political struggle. As you can see, you don’t have to go very far to find such history but you have to search a little bit to get past the noise of the Civil War. We assume that you have already seen Gunston Hall and the Workhouse. Take a Byway to Art, Craft, music, culture and recreation.

E-mailing for Help December '11

How One Local Woman’s Contact List Helps Others in Need

by Kathleen Jarvis Vavoso, special to the Star

It is a bright, crisp fall morning and the leaves on the trees are beginning to look dipped in hues of orange and red. On such a beautiful morning, it’s surprising to think that anything could be wrong in our community, but many things are amiss including one family who are in need of furniture for their children. This isn’t unexpected given the current economic climate; scenarios such as this are neither unexpected nor unusual. It just is how things are right now.
Susan D. Tesorero, mother of two and community service advocate, sends out an email request for a local family who has recently voiced a need for two twin beds. Although she would never admit it, Tesorero is a mainstay in her Fairfax Station community, helping those in need one email and one family at a time. Within a few hours of sending out the email request, she has several responses.
“I have a double bed and sheets I can donate and transport, ASAP.  Also willing to contribute to the purchase of new beds and sheets,” writes one woman named Missy.
“Thank you. Got a twin bed…so I’m just looking for one more bed,” Tesorero writes to the others on her email list. Soon she gets what she needs: another bed, including sheets and blankets. Others email to offer money and more sheets.
Tesorero works for no specific organization or group, instead her community service has evolved where need and circumstance have led her through the years. Nearly ten years ago, she was a teacher in a school that had many children who were in need. That is when her community service began. Later she helped gather school supplies for those who needed them, started a coat drive, and volunteered for the Lorton Community Action Center. Tesorero currently helps many school-age children and their families through her various contacts in the community. She is unable to specifically identify some of her contacts because she is careful to maintain the privacy of those she helps. She has been working with school-age children and their families for only a year, but says the response from the community to help has been astonishing.
“It’s amazing to see how you put an email out there and people step forward,” Tesorero says. “I had 20 email responses to the bed request. One person even offered to buy a bed,” she adds. “It made my day because I could call the mom and give her the news.”
Tesorero is quick to point out that this isn’t about her, but about the people in the community who are willing to help others. What she does, she explains, is bridge the gap between people in the community who receive regular services from organizations such as LCAC or other county services and the family that is in emergency crisis and just needs to “get over the hump.”
One single mom with several kids recently needed a car to get to work, Tesorero explains. After emailing several people, Tesorero actually had two cars donated. “With this mother, I saw how the whole process of the county and community really came around for her,” she adds.
In addition, local churches such as New Hope Church in Lorton have also provided Tesorero with food and other items enabling her to extend aid to parts of Alexandria, including the Hybla Valley area.
Michelle Y. Anderson, who is on the email help list and has donated items, explains that people are more inclined to donate if they know they are giving to a specific person or family. Recently, Anderson donated a crib to a grandmother who required one.
Tesorero understands how the need in the immediate community is and can be overwhelming. “It could be someone just one minute away from me,” she adds. What she wants people to understand is that donating one or two items is huge and makes a big difference for one family. “Now these children have beds, can sleep, and do well in school,” she stresses.
With that said, she reminds us of the true purpose of her efforts: “Helping one family at a time.”

Kathleen Jarvis Vavoso is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C. area. To be included on Tesorero’s email list for future requests, contact her at


Reading Animals’ Whispers November'11

By Kathleen Jarvis Vavoso, special to Lorton Valley Star

Mark Richards has a special gift. Animals of all types are immediately drawn to him, becoming seemingly awestruck in his presence. To his surprise, the Fairfax Station resident has garnered somewhat of a reputation as being the neighborhood animal whisperer.
Richards, who is an amateur animal behaviorist and had all kinds of pets growing up from squirrels to snakes and raccoons, believes animals are keenly aware of human behavior or patterns.
“Animals can sense thought patterns, perhaps electrical in nature. Maybe even similar to those studied by neurologists (of the human brain),” Richards says. For example, Richard explains how it doesn’t take much to spook a feral cat as compared with a domesticated one. But over a period of a few months, he was able to show through his behavior and patterns that he was not a threat to one particular black feline that now follows him around.
Like Richards, some people are able to bond with animals in ways others cannot. These so-called animal whisperers communicate through nonverbal cues, senses or other exceptional means. The whisperers focus on the emotional, in addition to the physical.
Google animal whisperer and a number of fervent websites appear, including an Animal Whispers Blog where pet lovers say they talk directly to their animals and assert they are able to determine their needs and wants. One woman says she communicated with her horse and it told her it no longer wanted to be called “Lollie,” but instead “Jezebel.”
Another website claims to provide “distant energy healing, animal communication, past life therapy and release of trapped emotions.”
While those examples may be a bit far-fetched and hard to grasp, others like Cesar Millan of the Dog Whisperer television show offers more authenticity and is lionized as an expert in his field. “Dogs have an amazing intuition and instinctual connection to their owners. I’ve witnessed this first hand with a sick owner, her dying wish for her dog, and her dog’s ability to sense when she was in danger,” Millan writes on his website.

Are animals more intelligent than we give them credit?

Erika B. Bauer, the Smithsonian National Zoo’s head of animal behavior group and biologist of Asia Trail and Giant Pandas, believes animals are much more intelligent than many people think. She says people may not appreciate that intelligence because they lack the personal experience or observational skills that a zoo keeper acquires.
For example, Bauer and her colleagues recently performed memory tests on some of the orangutans in the zoo using computer touch screens. To start, the orangutans were given six images to memorize. When those images where intertwined with other distracter images, the animals were still able to correctly pick out the required memorized images.
“I think this can teach the public a lot about what is going on (with the animals) and the way they think. I think people are surprised,” Bauer says. Most people have heard that dolphins possess exceptional intelligence as well. Bauer says she was recently talking to a colleague at The Dolphin Institute in Hawaii where a fascinating experiment was recently conducted.
The experiment consisted of two dolphins placed in a pool of water working with two trainers conducting a behavior training session called “tandem create.” When the trainers gave the dolphins the signal to “tandem create,” the two dolphins actually went underwater and together selected which behavior they would perform from many taught to them and then performed that behavior simultaneously, or in tandem.
While Bauer admits she has never heard of anyone being able to determine that an animal didn’t like his or her name, she says she works with a lot of zoo keepers who are able to detect when an animal is acting a certain way. For example, a keeper may be able to determine that the animal acted a certain way because of a loud noise or that it was separated from its social partner.
“Zoo keeping is as much a science as it is an art,” Bauer says. A plan may make sense objectively but the idea is to remain flexible, be able to read the animal and change course if necessary, she adds.
For instance, it is important to be able to determine if an animal is out of sorts during any given training session and then make the necessary adjustments based on those findings.
“Knowing when to say when,” is important she explains. Also, important, she adds, is the ability to recognize when an animal is distracted during a training session and just needs a break.
Bauer explains how bonded relationships definitely form between an animal and its trainer. It follows that if the animal enjoys working with the trainer, it will perform better. With a laugh, she says, she knows a few colleagues who will work with the animals at the zoo, then go home and apply the same sorts of training concepts on their own children.
When asked what she thinks of the recent animal whisperer phenomenon, she says perhaps it’s really people just knowing how to read animals.
Unlike Richards who seems to have a special connection with many different creatures, most people view animals for their own pleasure to own, care for or simply watch at a distance. For those who are more irascible about the creatures, animals can be deemed pesky nuisances. However you feel about them, many people miss their true value and the lessons they can offer.
Kathleen Jarvis Vavoso is a freelance writer in the Washington, D.C., area.


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