Friends of the Occoquan (FOTO) is a non-profit organization of local citizens who preserve and maintain the natural integrity of the Occoquan River, other watersheds, and promote pollinator habitats and species.
Vision of Friends
To energize individuals, community, and business groups to take on the challenges of keeping Virginia’s and the nation’s reservoirs and rivers clean, by controlling excessive sedimentation and pollution through the use of rain barrels and community gardens. This message will be brought to schools, civic groups and community organizations, as well as local and federal government agencies.
Coordination of our management efforts and programs.
Open communications and develop cooperation among intergovernmental jurisdictions.
Develop public and private partnerships focused on maintaining the natural integrity of drinking water sources.
Engage the community, including the Spanish-speaking population, to become stakeholders of our environment.
Encourage and educate the community on the benefits of native plants and food gardens to help increase the food supply for pollinators.
Education and Coordination
FOTO is working with community groups, schools, federal, state and local governments to promote watershed preservation and pollinator habitats and species.
FOTO continues to expand contacts with other groups to enlarge watershed stakeholders. Installation of international signs along the watersheds is one of our projects.
FOTO is proceeding to engage the Spanish speaking community to become stakeholders of our environment and become active in maintaining clean and safe our rivers. In addition to the bilingual signs described below, we will be installing other bilingual signs in DC, Fairfax and PrinceWilliamCounties. Also we are preparing videos, literature and some TV programs.
FOTO has rain barrels for sale. Visit the Rain Barrel section to find out more.
"Budding Beekeepers: Eco Kids Embracing the World of Bees"
"Budding Beekeepers: Eco Kids Embracing the World of Bees" 11/7/23
Earlier this week, the Friends of the Occoquan were treated to a delightful experience – a beekeeping adventure with a remarkable young enthusiast. Christian Baselice, a spirited third-grader, surprised us all with his knowledge and passion for bees. Before we even began the hive inspections, Christian eagerly shared his insights into the intricate world of bees, unraveling the mysteries of honey production within the hive.
Ensuring that everyone (including another adult guest-Curtis) was geared up for this buzzing escapade, our main bee aficionado, Steve Hunter, accompanied by his grandson Christian, led the way to the hive. What struck me the most was Christian's remarkable lack of fear. Even to this day, I approach beehives with a hint of trepidation, but Christian exuded confidence and fearlessness throughout the entire experience.
As we observed the hive's activities, Christian seamlessly delved into discussions about bee brood, robber bees, and the enchanting world of honey-making. His words resonated with confidence and assurance, revealing a genuine enjoyment for the beekeeping adventure. In an era dominated by technology, witnessing a young child so attuned to nature, particularly the intricate world of bees, is both heartwarming and reassuring.
The Friends of the Occoquan extend heartfelt thanks to Steve, Christian and Curtis for gracing us with their presence at the FOTO Homestation during this bee inspection. Their shared passion for beekeeping and the natural world is a beacon of hope and inspiration for the future.
Trick or Treatment Event- Prince William County Service Authority
On Saturday, October 28th, 2023, a delightful event took place in Prince William County, thanks to the ingenious and eco-conscious efforts of Michelle Miranda (Bouchard) and the dedicated team at the Service Authority. They conjured up an extraordinary spectacle known as "Trick or Treatment," a unique fusion of environmental enlightenment and Halloween fun.
The event was a harmonious blend of local environmental groups, all converging to impart wisdom, interactive learning experiences, and Halloween delights to the 300+ attendees. Among the luminaries present, the Friends of the Occoquan shimmered brightly, sharing knowledge about their river clean-up initiatives, the benefits of rain barrels, and community garden outreach programs.
At the Friends of the Occoquan table, those who visited enthusiastically participated in creating designs on glow in the dark rocks and explored the world of recycling art through cork and napkin ghosts. One particularly memorable moment at the event was when I advised a young boy to charge his rock in the sunlight. He promptly went to the window, raised his rock, and began singing the "Sun Song."
The "Trick or Treatment" extravaganza was a symphony of appreciation for our environment, a true masterpiece where Halloween merriment danced hand in hand with ecological wisdom. Thanks to the Service Authority team for this memorable and fun day.
FOTO Fall River Clean Up 2023
Friends of the Occoquan Rescheduled River Cleanup, October 21, 2023
On a cold and windy Saturday morning, eighty volunteers cleaned up the Occoquan River/Reservoir. Collectively, they removed 45 trash and 49 recyclable bags, including two tires, one car door, two pallets, two tarps, one bench seat, one paint bucket, one plastic board, and multiple balls. Three balls were taken home by the children.
Volunteer Sheldon Greenberg concentrated on picking up cigarette butts, filling a quarter of a large plastic bag. Cub Scout Pack 1365 came out in full force with 23 members and high school students from several Eastern PWCounty schools, including returning kayakers, SEVTech1 employees, and families with their children.
FOTO thanks all their devoted volunteers for helping clean up the Occoquan Watershed and the park managers' cooperation, their helpful staff, and our sponsors.
Cultivating mushrooms is a fascinating and rewarding process. To begin, select a suitable tree for mushroom growth, ensuring it's freshly cut. Allow the tree to rest for approximately two weeks, permitting natural decomposition processes to begin. Next, carefully drill holes into the tree and insert mushroom plugs, which are inoculated with the desired mushroom species, such as Shiitake or Lion's Mane. Secure the plugs in place by gently hammering them in and sealing each hole with melted wax to prevent contamination. Regularly monitor the moisture levels of the tree, providing water when necessary to maintain optimal growing conditions. Lastly, exercise patience as you wait for the mycelium to colonize the tree over the course of approximately one year, ultimately yielding a bountiful harvest of your chosen mushroom varieties. This method not only provides a hands-on experience in mushroom cultivation but also fosters a deeper understanding of the intricate symbiosis between fungi and their host trees.
RiverFest & Craft Show 2023 in the Town of Occoquan
June 4th and 5th 2023
Perfect weather and talented artisans brought out a huge crowd to this past weekend’s Occoquan RiverFest & Craft Show 2023 in the scenic Town of Occoquan. The event featured two full days of activities for all ages, including live entertainment, great food, arts & crafts, a beer garden, Conservation Alley, and river activities.
Friends of the Occoquan participated in Conservation Alley, a section dedicated to sustainability, and the environment. This section also allowed children to earn a Jr. Passport by visiting various Conservation Alley stations and earning points to get a prize. FOTO presented Planting Mammoth Sunflowers an activity that included planting a seed in soil and taking it home. Each child received a Sunflower Kit, which included 4 seeds, a plant marker, a follow-up sheet on how to take care of their sunflower, and a book marker.
Kudos to Julie Little and the staff for putting together this well-organized and successful event.
Water Quality Field Day
June 2, 2023
On Friday, June 2nd Friends of the Occoquan participated in Water Quality Field Day at the Griffith Treatment Plant in Lorton, Virginia sponsored by Fairfax Water and other agencies. The event covered topics that included water protection, stream and river clean-ups, native plants, gardening, rain barrels, and other water/environmental-related topics.
With over 150 Fort Belvoir 6th-grade students and their teachers in attendance, the event was meticulously coordinated, ensuring that each group of students rotated smoothly between stations. The provision of t-shirts, breakfast goodies, and lunch for all participants demonstrated the organizers' attention to detail and commitment to the comfort and enjoyment of the attendees.
FOTO's presence at the Water Quality Field Day brought a unique perspective on the importance of plants in preserving the quality of our waterways. The "Planting Mammoth Sunflowers" activity presented by Sonia Monson and Diane Meetre offered an opportunity for students to learn about the positive impact of plants on the environment while engaging in a hands-on gardening experience. By planting sunflower seeds and taking them home, the students were able to connect with nature and witness firsthand the growth and care required for these plants.
The Sunflower Kit provided to each child was a thoughtful addition to the activity. With four seeds, a plant marker, a follow-up sheet on plant care, and a book marker, FOTO ensured that students had the necessary resources to continue their gardening journey beyond the event. This comprehensive kit not only encouraged the students to nurture their plants but also empowered them with the knowledge and tools needed to take care of their sunflowers responsibly.
In addition to the sunflower planting activity, FOTO also provided a brief lesson on rain barrels to further educate the students about water conservation. This integration of water-related topics within the event highlighted the organization's commitment to promoting sustainable practices and fostering a sense of responsibility towards our precious water resources. The students had the opportunity to learn about practical solutions like rain barrels that contribute to water conservation efforts, enhancing their understanding of environmental stewardship.
Rockledge Elementary School Summer Prep Event
May 25, 2023
On Thursday, May 25, 2023 FOTO participated in Rockledge Elementary School’s Summer Prep Event. The organizers of this fun and educational event were Parent Liaison Evelyn Ayala, Principal Nikki Steptoe-Coleman, and the teachers. The various organization's games, refreshments, sports activities, and children learning about their community projects were displayed. The school planted a beautiful pollinator garden.
Rain Barrel Workshop Dale City Elementary School
April 24, 2023, Dale City, VA---Upon the invitation of Dale City Elementary School’s innovative Science Teacher, Keaton Beaumont, FOTO donated four rain barrels for their expansive garden. Sonia Monson and Renate Vanegas conducted a rain barrel workshop during the school’s SOL Spirit Week. It's inspiring to see schools and teachers promoting environmental awareness and sustainability education among their students. Rain barrels are an effective way to conserve water and reduce runoff, which is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem. Educator Beaumont and Jeanne Jabara, PWC Public Schools Energy & Sustainability Coordinator, watched 35 enthusiastic students participate by adding the necessary fixtures to make the rain harvesters functional. The science class has received several accolades for its outstanding environmental and sustainability education. Kudos to them and their devoted science teacher for their dedication to this important cause. Dale City Elementary School
Springing Into Action-FOTO Spring Clean Up 2023
Friends of the Occoquan's Spring River Cleanup on April 15, 2023
Honoring upcoming Earth Day, FOTO organized a massive river cleanup across seven parks/marinas along the Occoquan. 262+ volunteers spent a muggy Saturday morning collecting debris from the Occoquan River/Reservoir and its banks. From the Bull Run, Fountainhead, and Occoquan Regional Park/Marina, in Fairfax County, to the Town of Occoquan, Lake Ridge Park/Marina, Occoquan Forest Community, and Brethren of the Harbour Yacht Club in Prince William County.
Glenn Richman, with his truck, picked up trash and brought it to the collection site. Nova GO kayakers, SEV1Tech employees, the Bull Run Rotary Club with the Manassas Osbourne High School Interact Club, Fairfax County Water employees, American Water employees, Starbucks employees, Capitol Company employees, Woodbridge Sr. High school JROTC cadets and their leaders, Boy Scout Troop 1369, and Troop 1390, Girl Scout Troop 18024, Cub Scout Pack 1365, Trail Life Troop VA0613, American Heritage Girls VA0104, Cub Scout Pack 1373, and Woodbridge Sr. High School Science Honor Society students, and several church groups worked hard in muggy weather. Many individuals caring about the environment, including parents with their children, joined the teams.
Devoted River Heroes scoured the river banks and trails, working tirelessly to fill 185 bags of trash and 22 recyclables collectively. Among the heavier items collected were 8 tires, 2 rusted barrels, 2 trash cans, 4 lids, 2 large pipes, 6 paint buckets, several wooden deck boards, a wheel barrel, car wheels, and a car bumper, 10 large Styrofoam pieces, a cooler, 4 bags of soccer and tennis balls, an artificial Christmas tree, constructions materials, boards with rusted nails, and tools were pulled from the river, including one dead rat.
The success of this event is a testament to our community's dedication to the environment by coming together to save and protect the source of our drinking water, the beautiful Occoquan River.
FOTO would like to extend a heartfelt thank you to all of the volunteers, including the station workers, the park managers and staff, and our sponsors.
PICTURES COMING SOON!
Rockledge Elementary School Stem Night
March 27, 2023
What a wonderful idea to expand children's knowledge!
Under the guidance of educator Carla Waller, yesterday's Stem night at Rockledge Elementary School encouraged students/families to visit the six educational exhibits. German & Renate Vanegas and Sonia Monson from Friends of the Occoquan talked about their programs, while Manassas Councilwoman Theresa Coates Ellis and George Ellis from PWRBA spoke about bees, and the PWC Service Authority showed the children all about water. The photos attached show a few of the other exhibitors.
Partnership Breakfast Town of Occoquan
At today's partnership breakfast in the Town Hall of Occoquan, we represented the Friends of the Occoquan, and met with several business owners learning about various upcoming events and activities the Town offers. We'll have our River/Town cleanup event on April 15th from 9:00 AM to 12:00 PM. It's not to late to register.
5th Annual Prince William County Native Plant Symposium
FOTO team members Sonia Monson and Renate Vanegas attended on Sat., Feb. 11, 2023, the all-day event of the 5th Annual Prince William County Native Plant Symposium at the Manassas GM campus. The Verizon auditorium was filled to the last seat. Knowledgeable educators, authors, scientists, and master gardeners resented topics such as, "Meadows, native plants, native edibles, invasive plants, native VA bees, backyard gardeners and climate chaos, soil health, information on how to build and maintain your own gardens, herbaceous perennials, and landscape design, and much more.
American Water Safety Fair
October 27, 2022
FOTO exhibited at a Safety Fair for American Water VA/MD, which has an excellent rating when it comes to safety. The event revolved around taking safety precautions to prevent injury to both AM Water employees and civilians. In attendance were many American Water employees from all over VA/MD, such as Barry Suits, President; Casey Allen, Vice President; Shelby Wease, Field Operations; Lynda DiMenna, Chief Environmental /Safety Officer; and Christian Volk, Water Quality Manager in the Richmond, VA region.
Their charity represented the Wounded Warrior Project, represented by Mary Tallouzi, whose son sustained a traumatic head injury in Iraq. Aside from FOTO, various contractors were in attendance.
Local politicians who spoke were PWC’s Neabsco District Supervisor Victor S. Angry and Ann B. Wheeler, PWC Chair at Large Board of Supervisors. It was an educational and informative event, especially since American Water has such an excellent safety rating.
FOTO Donates Honey, Vegetables, and Crocheted Hats to the Sacred Heart Catholic Church Food and Clothing Drive 10/21/2022
Frugal Gardening Workshop at The Panther Fresh Garden in Norfolk, Virginia
October 16, 2022
A bright sunny autumn day brought out 14 community members of all ages to attend The Frugal Gardening Workshop at the Panther Fresh Garden at Lindenwood Elementary School in Norfolk, Virginia. The FOTO-sponsored workshop partnered with the Lindenwood Education and Development Inner-city Coalition (LEADInc) for this informative event. The first hour conducted by LEADInc President, Sharon Barnes centered around how gardening at home shouldn’t cost more than buying produce from the local grocery store. Sharon spoke about how a conscientious effort should be given to reusing, repurposing, recycling, sharing, etc. to avoid paying any more than necessary for necessities and luxuries. Imagination is a crucial element to frugal gardening as one must be able to see the potential uses for discarded items, as well as, envision a way to maximize savings for purchases. The second hour was a walk & talk in the learning orchard facilitated by Betty Baucom, the former math specialist at the school. Mrs. Baucom has been a major team player in the planning and execution of the Panther Fresh Garden at Lindenwood Elementary School. Other activities included harvesting corn which some were able to take home. Avocados were given away as swag. A good day was had by all at the Panther Fresh Garden!
Gardening in Uncertain Times: Building Autonomy & Connection to the Land.
Sponsored by Friends of the Occoquan
On Saturday, October 8th, 2022 from 11 am to 1 pm Dan McGregor, co-owner of Ecological Gardening Services presented a workshop "Gardening in Uncertain Times: Building Autonomy & Connection to the Land.
The workshop was held at the Park Place Peace Garden in Norfolk, Virginia.
* Ecology-Environment and how we need to learn that we are part of it- not above or apart from it.
* Low maintenance annual crops
* Community Gardens
1 20 Most Valuable Wood & Perennial Native Plant Genera in Terms of Supporting Biodiversity in the Mid-Atlantic Region
2. Notable Plants and Mushrooms
After the workshop the 13 attendess enjoyed refreshments and had post garden talk discussions.
Back by Popular Demand! Frugal Gardening (The Cheapskate Way)
Gardening at home shouldn’t cost more than buying produce from the local grocery store. The whole idea is to beat the system—better quality food at lower cost. Realistically, you won’t be able to supply all your fruit and veggie needs for the entire year, but you should be able to make a dent in what you have to import, especially if you’re buying organic. Frugal gardening is a mindset; an extension of the concept, frugal living. Conscientious effort is given to reusing, repurposing, recycling, sharing, etc. to avoid paying any more than necessary for necessities and any luxuries. Imagination is a crucial element to frugal gardening as one must be able to see the potential uses for discarded items, as well as, envision a way to maximize savings for purchases.
“Occoquan Riverfest and Arts Show”
A sunny blue sky and a slight breeze sent many people outdoors to celebrate the ongoing “Occoquan Riverfest and Arts Show” along the beautiful Occoquan River. The Friends of the Occoquan (FOTO’s) recyclable arts booth was at the Occoquan Regional Park, where children created fish, turtles, or birds from old CDs. Boats, kayaks, and a few yachts were in the water while anglers were trying to catch fish and a quinceañera party was celebrated at the River View Venue.
The FOTO Homestation Garden is buzzing with bee news. In the Spring of 2022 FOTO expanded its bee colonies from two to five hives. This experience was fascinating and included splitting the two hives into five, rearing new queens and observing the colonies grow. This year we added honey supers to the two original hives and were able to harvest our first batch of honey. We have begun our distribution of our collected honey. Pictured below a few hardworking laborers get a suprise basket with vegetables and honey.
Rain Barrel Workshop at Fred M. Lynn Middle
Tuesday, April 19, 2022
Upon an invitation by Kimberly Davis and Life Science teacher Andrew Grupp, including several educators, Friends of the Occoquan were delighted to conduct a rain harvesting system workshop at Fred M. Lynn Middle School. Under the guidance of FOTO project member Sonia Monson, the devoted gardening students eagerly assembled the five barrels for their future vegetable garden. The five barrels will used to create a drip irrigation system for the water to run freely when needed without human assistance. These amazing young students started their plants in a greenhouse and will plant them in the raised garden beds outdoors.
Actions Speak Louder- Interview with Dominion Energy
FOTO's Presentation to the Centennial Master Garden Club of Manassas
FOTO's Presentation to the Centennial Master Garden Club of Manassas
FOTO thanks Jane Dvonch, President of the CMGC, and the Master Gardeners, an organization devoted to the beautification of local areas by encouraging the planting of native flowers, plants, shrubs, and trees, invited the Friends of the Occoquan to talk/show information of FOTO's river cleanups and environmental-inspired programs and projects.
FOTO's spring cleanup event of the Occoquan River/Reservoir will be held on Saturday, April 9, 2022, from 9:00 AM to 12:00 Pm. Flyers with pertinent information are forthcoming.
October 19, 2021
FOTO Members Alex Vanegas and Sonia Monson had the opportunity to have a Zoom meeting with the Science National Honor Society students at Forest Park High School lead by Environmental Science teacher Tabatha Zarkauskas. The six students asked FOTO members questions pertaining to Friends of the Occoquan’s programs, how its members got involved with environmental work, and other water and land conservation questions. Discussions included small acts that students can take to preserve and improve local water quality, decrease soil erosion, build healthy soil, and ways to reduce, reuse and recycle. Recommended activities included planting pollinator gardens using native plants, planting trees, building soil through composting and using rain barrels.
Pink Space Theory and Rain Barrels
On April 28th, 2021 FOTO had the opportunity to work with a group of young ladies that are part of the Pink Space Theory whose mission is to expose, engage, and empower underserved and underrepresented youth with STEAM learning experiences to prepare them for their future career paths and passions. Thank you to Tony Rigolizzo for the American Water goodies for the young ladies.
Activities included talking about the impacts of erosion on our soil, making a rain barrel and planting seeds. They even got a sneak peak of the baby birds in our greenhouse! Thank you to Dominion Energy, American Water and the staff of the Pink Space Theory!
INSIDENOVA Article on FOTO's Spring 2018 Cleanup click here
Friends of the Occoquan would like to thank the Krieg Family from Norfolk, Virginia for opening their home and garden to us. A big thank you to Isabelle Krieg for teaching FOTO all about raising Swallowtail butterflies. So much to learn from our Eco Kids! Note from Isabelle's Mom: Isabelle was interviewed by Friends of the Occoquan for her work with Butterflies 🦋 This was such an amazing experience for Isabelle.....she has worked very hard and gained so much knowledge about Black swallowtail butterflies.How to raise and care for them🦋🦋..it's so cool for her to be able to share what she does to help Mother Earth🦋
Photo credits- Kelly Krieg
Panther Fresh Community Garden- Norfolk, Virginia
Yesterday on my evening walk I ran into this trash warrior picking up trash alongside a residential road with her mom. Her name is Senna and she is a Daisy member working on one of her environmental badges. What a great eco friendly activity for parents and their children. Thanks for your hard work Senna and Mom!
November 6, 2020
Thanks to Friends of the Occoquan volunteers Dianne Schimpf-Meetre, Jessica Meetre and Susan Kilby Hylton aka the A-Team, for helping us get this trash to land! Thanks to the management and staff at Fountainhead Regional Park for their help and support.
Make a Contribution or Donation:
Please send a check or money order payable to FOTO to the address below:
or pay with credit card using paypal by clicking the link below:
Friends of the Occoquan P.O. Box 1452 Woodbridge, VA 22195-1452 Tel. (703)624-7124