Archive for the ‘Travel’ Category

History of the United States Flows through Fairfax County, Virginia

The history of the United States flows through Fairfax County, Virginia. Two of our Founding Fathers called the county home, George Washington and George Mason. Washington and Mason were the brains behind the Fairfax Resolves, the first document to outline the colonies’ grievances against England.

historic courthouse 600But it goes much further back than that. Capt. John Smith explored the Potomac River area of the county as far north as Great Falls in 1609, shortly after the founding of Jamestown. And, it didn’t end with our first president’s death, either. The first turnpike in America, a 15-mile stretch of Little River Turnpike, ran through the county to Washington, DC.

The Historic Fairfax County Courthouse opened in 1800, the same year as the U.S. Capitol and the White House. And, of course, one of the first land battles in the Civil War occurred at the courthouse, which led to the first Confederate officer to die in the war. A monument to the officer, Capt. John Quincy Marr, stands outside the courthouse. The monument faces north, as do the two Civil War cannons on either side of the monument.

Those are some of the tidbits Jenée Lindner, president of Friends of the Historic Fairfax Courthouse, shared Wednesday at the courthouse during a lecture titled, “Who Was the Fairfax Family? The Colonial History of Fairfax County.” The lecture was part of a series of ongoing events celebrating the 275th anniversary of the county’s founding.

The county receives its name from Thomas Fairfax, 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron. He is the son of Thomas Fairfax, 5th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, and Catherine Culpeper, heiress to Leeds Castle, Kent, England, and of the land that would become Fairfax County. While Fairfax laid claim to the land with his marriage to Catherine, Culpeper County and the incorporated town of Culpeper, about an hour’s drive southwest of the courthouse, pay tribute to her family’s contributions to the founding and development of Virginia.

historic courthouse plaque 600Culpeper met Fairfax when he rescued her after a probate hearing during which she successfully wrested control of her inheritance from her father’s mistress, Lindner said. She was just 19 and a mob of men clawed at her following the judge’s decision. Lord Fairfax picked her up and carried her safely to her carriage. The rest, as they say, is history. (Actually, that’s history too, if you’re keeping score.)

Our nation’s first president is closely tied to the Fairfax family. The family schooled Washington in high society customs and traditions after Washington’s father died when George was 11. Washington and Bryan Fairfax, son of the 6th Lord’s cousin William Fairfax, would become lifelong friends. Bryan Fairfax also would inherit the title of 8th Lord.

Not surprisingly, Bryan Fairfax and Washington had different views of breaking with England. Bryan Fairfax strongly urged Washington not to endorse the Fairfax Resolves. He wrote a lengthy letter outlining his protests that was delivered to Washington the day of the vote, Lindner said. But Fairfax remained neutral during the war.

After the war, the two men socialized regularly. In a sign of how strong their bond was, Martha Washington asked Bryan Fairfax to be chief mourner at Washington’s funeral. Martha was too distraught to attend.

On the other hand, Washington and Mason, an instrumental pairing in the founding of the United States, rarely spoke after Mason refused to sign the Constitution over its lack of Bill of Rights, Lindner said. The eventual Bill of Rights added to the Constitution is largely based on Mason’s Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was added to the Virginia Constitution in 1776. James Madison, another Virginian, ushered them through Congress. They were ratified in 1791.

Mason’s ideas also crossed the Atlantic Ocean. His Declaration of Rights influenced the French Declaration of Rights of Man and the Citizen, which was issued after the French Revolution. Not to be outdone, the Fairfax influence crossed the continent when Charles Snowden Fairfax, 10th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, caught the ‘49er Gold Rush fever. He and his wife, Ada, officially settled in Marin County, California, in an area now called Fairfax, California, in 1855.

Fairfax County, Virginia, has had its economic ups and downs over the centuries. It remained primarily agricultural until its growth spurt began in 1930, coinciding with the growth of the federal government under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Today its economy is diverse and international, with 400 foreign-owned companies representing 45 countries operating within its borders, along with eight Fortune 500 companies. And the county continues to influence. Celebrity database company IMDb lists 113 celebrities who were born in the county. Olympians and an astronaut also called the county home.

Although the Fairfax nobles have resided exclusively in London, England, for three generations, Nicholas Fairfax, 14th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, will cross the pond to help celebrate the anniversary with his wife, Annabel. While here, he will lecture on what Brexit means to Great Britain and the European Union. The Fairfax history and its effect on the world continues.

Additional sources:

Fairfax History – Page 1. Accessed June 1, 2017.

“History of Fairfax County, Virginia.” Accessed June 1, 2017.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications and author of Write It, Speak It: Writing a Speech They’ll APPLAUD! Reach him at

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Earth Day musings: A natural reconnection

I’m an outdoorsman. At least I used to be. My earliest memories are fuzzy visions of recreating in the great outdoors. I was a Boy Scout and my dad was our scoutmaster. Dad insisted that the troop camp one weekend a month throughout the year, except for June and July, which was reserved for a two-week Scout camp. Then there were the family camping trips up and down the East Coast. Later, my friends and I threw a tent and sleeping bags in the car trunk for road trips to scenic spots.

Terry F. Liercke, president of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia, led a Nature/Bird Walk.

Terry F. Liercke led the Nature/Bird Walk. Click on the photo for more images on my Pinterest page.

I carried on that tradition when I began my own family. My daughters were in diapers and barely crawling when I began taking them on family camping trips. We camped, hiked, snow skied, and water skied throughout California. When we moved to Virginia, we explored the Shenandoah Mountains and Valley by foot and canoe, camped at Pohick Bay Regional Park, and kayaked off Chincoteague Island.

But somehow my daughters aged and so did I. Somehow my outdoor excursions became limited to performing yard work. I had lost my connection to nature. Daughter Clare pushed me back with a recent gift of AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. On Saturday, I took my first guided nature walk in years.

Our guide was Terry F. Liercke, president of the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia. Our venue was Mason Neck State Park, which was celebrating its 2014 Eagle Festival. Initially, I was disappointed because our hike was to be along the Bay View Trail, the trail I had hiked the week before. I wanted to hike the Eagle Spur Trail. It was, after all, the Eagle Festival and I wanted to see a bald eagle, or two, or three! But I grudgingly plodded along with about a dozen others.

It wasn’t long before I realized I was seeing the trail with new eyes. I learned, for example, that oak trees, including the native oaks of this mature hardwood forest, can host 534 species of moths and butterflies. The bird boxes in the freshwater marsh were erected for the wood duck. Mayapples and spring beauties adorn the forest floor. Blueberry bushes grow in wild abundance. Butterflies and bees avoid azaleas because they are non-native plants. Beaver and Canada geese live in harmony, or at least the goose we saw napping on a beaver lodge. A pair of osprey flew overhead as we approached the shore of Belmont Bay. But no eagles, until one of our group called out, pointing to a spot above the early spring’s leafless canopy, “Is that a bald eagle?” It was. Eagle Festival mission accomplished.

Bald eagle flies over hikers.

Bald eagle flies over hikers. Click on the photo for more images on my Pinterest page.

One would think it would be difficult to visit the park and fail to see an eagle. The Mason Neck peninsula juts into the Potomac River about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C. Like Italy, the peninsula is shaped like a boot. Mason Neck State Park comprises the top of the boot along Belmont Bay. The Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is the boot’s sole on the banks of the Potomac River. It was the first national refuge created specifically to provide bald eagle habitat. Gunston Hall (home of founding father George Mason) and Pohick Bay Regional Park run up the Achilles tendon bordering Gunston Cove and Pohick Cove, respectively. Together, the four entities provide wildlife with 6,000 acres of protected land in which to thrive. Dozens of bald eagles call the peninsula home. One of them had to fly overhead.


Caroline “CobraCaroline” Seitz explains how the eastern rat snake she is holding is a bald eagle food source. Click on the photo for more images on my Pinterest page.

And one did. Our nature walk and mission concluded, I was drawn to the Big Tent by the energetic voice of “CobraCaroline” enthusing her young audience with a show-and-tell of native reptiles. Caroline Seitz owns Reptiles Alive! LLC, which performs live animal shows throughout the Greater Washington, D.C., area. In addition to being an entertainer, Seitz also is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator. Along with her enthralled youngsters, I learned that the eastern rat snake is among the bald eagles’ taste treats, although 90 percent of an eagle’s diet consists of fish. I also learned that the eastern snapping turtle can grow to 75 pounds. Happily, even I can outrun a turtle.

Someday, I may have to. Because I’m back to nature. Anyone want to mow my lawn while I’m hiking the great outdoors?


If you go:

The park is in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Access to the park is via U.S. 1, then five miles east on Route 242 (Gunston Road) to the park entrance.

The address is 7301 High Point Road, Lorton, VA 22079-4010. Phone: 703-339-2385703-339-2385. Email:

Passenger vehicle parking fees: $4 weekdays; $5 weekends.

There are no campgrounds at Mason Neck State Park, but camping is available at nearby Pohick Bay Regional Park.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

A walk in the park

For my 60th birthday, daughter Clare presented me with AMC’s Best Day Hikes Near Washington, D.C. It’s not the first time she suggested I go take a hike.

Sign showing Bay View Trail 0.2 miles ahead.

Click on the photo to see more photos on my Pinterest page.

On Sunday, I opted to hike the Bay View Trail at Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, VA, just a 25-minute drive from my home. Mason Neck is just a hop, skip, and jump from Gunston Hall, George Mason’s home. (George Mason was the father of the Bill of Rights, for those of you wondering.) It’s also a hop, skip, and jump from Pohick Bay Regional Park. I’ve visited Gunston Hall and camped at Pohick Bay, but somehow never meandered down the road to Mason Neck. It’s been on my list for years because of its reputation for bald eagle sightings, but I needed to be prodded by Clare to get me there.

Everyone else in the Greater D.C. area were crowded into the pathways around the Tidal Basin for the Cherry Blossom Festival, so Mason Neck was relatively quiet. Alas, the bald eagles were also sparse, but then I hiked a trail on the other side of the park from the eagle trails.

Next Saturday, the park is hosting its 2014 Eagle Festival from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Are you ready for some leaf-peeping?

Fall colors of red, yellow, and green

Fall colors in my neighborhood two years ago.

Today marks the autumnal equinox, a time when young hearts turn to thoughts of:


It’s legal and your mother approves.

As a former New Hampshire resident, I can attest that nothing beats New England leaf-peeping.

Except, perhaps, this year.

If you want to witness fall’s vibrant colors in 2013, head to the Mid-Atlantic, according to  The weather in Virginia, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey has been perfect for peak foliage with late September moisture and cool temperatures. In contrast, the Northeast will be too warm and the Southeast too moist for the leaves’ liking.

The Farmer’s Almanac predicts peak colors in the region beginning in early October, so you still have time to plan. And plan you should, because festivals, wine tastings, and other activities beckon along with leaf peeping. Here are the peak dates the Almanac predicts for three Mid-Atlantic states:

Virginia: (Inland) Oct. 12-28; (Coastal) Oct. 19-Nov. 4

Pennsylvania: Oct. 5-21

New Jersey: (Inland) Oct. 12-28; (Coastal) Oct. 19-Nov. 4

Pennsylvania and Virginia have web pages specifically dedicated to leaf-peeping and fall activities. Virginia boasts 15 million acres of fall foliage. Since I moved to Virginia 15 years ago, my favorite fall drive has been Skyline Drive in the Shenandoah National Park.

Pennsylvania boasts a trillion trees that are “are waiting to amaze you with bright colors.” The state’s tourism folks have developed three suggested leaf-peeping road trips for your legal psychedelic pleasure.

If the Mid-Atlantic is out of the picture this fall, you have no need to despair. STORMFAX provides a list of state links to lead you to the best leaf-peeping in your area.

Wherever you are, enjoy nature’s annual display of color. That’s what it’s there for.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Media Musings: Sure to bug the crap out of you

Editor’s note: This is another in my series of monthly musings on the news, published on the Sunday following the last Saturday of each month, except when it’s not.


© 2013 Tom Pfeifer

Current as of May 25, 2013


Welcome to Memorial Day weekend. The official start of summer.

Swimming pools. Barbecues. Picnics. Travel. Outdoor competitions. Reading a good book.

Giant bugs. Feces. Uncontrollable storms. Bridge diving. Terrorists.American flag

Ah, yes. What a summer we have planned for you.

Are you considering a swim in your local public pool this summer? Then I won’t tell you that half of America’s public swimming pools contain fecal matter.

You shouldn’t be surprised, really, because Americans have plenty of reason to be scared fecesless about summer fun.

How about a barbecue or picnic? Not if cicadas scare the feces out of you. In a science fiction movie gone real, huge, orange-eyed, flying cicadas rise from the ground by the thousands every 17 years when the soil reaches 64 degrees. Once released from their slumber, they fly aimlessly into unsuspecting humans while their sexed-up brethren emit a deafening whine akin to a flying saucer from a poor B-flick soundtrack. It goes on for months. There is no escape if you live in cicada country.

But perhaps you live in tornado alley. I was bemused when the day after Weather Channel storm chasers lamented the lack of tornadoes this year, Texas got clobbered. Shortly after, Moore, Oklahoma, was destroyed. Some evangelists believe it was God’s retribution for Michael Moore. If so, then the rest of the country can relax. If not, you’ll want to check the weather before heading out.

Oh, wait. That won’t help. Because of Congress’s and the White House’s decision not to decide how to solve the sequestration dilemma, the National Weather Service has laid off one-third of its meteorologists. One of the victims of the cutbacks was a pilot program aimed at helping local communities prepare for extreme weather events. The only silver lining to that cloud is the pilot program was based outside Washington, D.C., meaning Congress and the White House won’t know what hit them.

Unless the supercomputers they funded nail the super storms. While Congress’s and the White House’s inaction resulted in the layoff of its human capital, the NWS found the funds to upgrade two supercomputers. With these computers, the ability to better predict super storms like last year’s Sandy disaster is greatly increased.

Of course, that begs the question: If a computer issues a storm warning and there’s no one there to hear it, will New Jersey still be destroyed?

Fish have noticed this dilemma. That’s why for decades they have been migrating to cooler waters and away from the swirling warm waters that generate super storms.

I imagine they are also scurrying under bridges as fast as they can, or avoiding them altogether.

Because here’s your travel forecast for the summer: The Interstate-5 bridge that collapsed into Washington State’s Skagit River was considered structurally sound – if one doesn’t count the fatal flaw engineered into the design of that particular bridge. Hundreds of similarly designed bridges hang over Washington State, and perhaps thousands across the country. The bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis in 2007 was similarly designed.

A former transportation official confidently described the bridge design this way: “It doesn’t imply anything bad about the bridge. It just means that if a certain component fails, it can lead to the complete collapse of the bridge.”

Good bridge.

Let’s hope the Commonwealth of Virginia used a similar bridge design to bridge the gap for terrorists.

You remember Tamerlan Tsarnaev. He’s the eldest of the two brothers who planted bombs at the Boston Marathon. What you may not know is that he traveled to his boyhood home in Russia last year to solidify his jihadist views. The region that bore him is considered the most dangerous of Russia’s entrenched insurgent areas. His Russian counselor is known for his anti-government views and for his group’s torching of American and French flags. The New York Times headline announcing this development screamed, “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia.”

Does the talk continue in Virginia? It’s possible. Tsarnaev’s body is buried there, where his remains can fertilize disturbed minds with the help of the University of Virginia. In what one can only hope is a bad comedic plot by a troubled comedic actor, Andy Kaufman, a lecturer and fellow at the University of Virginia, is teaching a Russian literature class to the juvenile delinquents at Virginia’s Beaumont Juvenile Correctional Center. He hopes to expand the successful program to adult inmates. Russian literature is steeped in reactionary themes. Perhaps Kaufman can organize a visit to Tsarnaev’s grave as part of the class. That’s the bridge that’s missing.

What isn’t missing is your upcoming summer fun. So take a swim. Put another shrimp on the barbie. Take a nice, long drive. You don’t want to miss the excitement that befalls you. After all, it’ll be winter again before you know it.


This post is dedicated to the memory of my cousin, Kathie Haaf. I embrace our childhood memories.


Barry, Ellen. “Suspect in Boston Bombing Talked Jihad in Russia.” New York Times. 9 May 2013.

Bernstein, Lenny. “World’s fish have been moving to cooler waters for decades, study finds.” Washington Post. 15 May 2013.

Fears, Darryl. “Bug-phobic dread the looming swarm of Brood II cicadas.” Washington Post. 18 May 2013.

Lindblom, Mike, and Phillips, Cheryl. “Span wasn’t built to take critical hit.” Seattle Times. 24 May, 2013.

Samenow, Jason. “Hiring freeze hobbling operations at local Weather Service office.” Washington Post. 9 May 2013.

Samenow, Jason, and Achenbach, Joel. Steve Tracton and Brian McNoldy contributed. “Hurricane season comes with plan for better forecast.” Washington Post. 19 May 2013.

Svrluga, Susan. “Crime and punishment: Juvenile offenders study Russian literature.” Washington Post. 12 May 2013.

Tavernise, Sabrina. “Fecal Matter Found in Public Pools.” New York Times. 16 May 2013.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

Snowy DC post-inauguration

A few days after President Obama was sworn into his second term, snow began to fall on the nation’s capital. These are just a few random scenes of bunting still waving in the breeze, the bleachers still bearing witness, and tourists wondering what was going on behind those walls as I tried out my new camcorder.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

No lie: You can plant a cherry tree to celebrate history

I received my first official e-mail about the 2011 National Cherry Blossom Festival last June. In December the e-mails began to come more regularly.

But it wasn’t until the temperature hit 75 on Friday and I began to contemplate the severity of this year’s annual Washington, D.C., President’s Day winter storm that the idea of another annual Cherry Blossom Festival became a possibility in my mind.

Cherry blossoms at night along the Tidal Basin with the Washington Monument in the distance.

Used by permission from the National Cherry Blossom Festival.

Cherry trees, of course, had an important heritage in the D.C. area long before Mayor Yukio Ozaki of Tokyo gave 3,000 cherry trees to our nation’s capital in 1912. This President’s Day weekend — like every other — we remember the lie that George Washington cut down a cherry tree and admitted his crime when confronted by his father. That cherry tree lie began a tradition that carries on to our present day.

It also began the lie that our favorite presidents don’t lie, a tradition that also carries down to the present day.

Thankfully, you no longer have to live in or visit Washington, D.C., to experience firsthand the blossoms of a cherry tree or the lies by and about our presidents. Now, “for the first time, the Festival has partnered with Arbor Day Foundation in a nationwide, year-round tree planting program that will bring the trees directly to you,” declares the National Cherry Blossom Festival. You can purchase a Japanese flowering cherry tree, also known as the Yoshino, which is the species planted around D.C.’s Tidal Basin, for $8.98. If you want to go cheap, you can get the Sandcherry Western for $4.98. Want to plant to impress? The Arbor Day Foundation has four varieties priced at $12.98.

A portion of the proceeds goes to support the festival, of course.

So buy and plant now so that by next President’s Day your very own cherry tree will be large enough that your very own tyke can cut it down. Because in America, anyone can grow up to be president and lie and be lied about. It really is the pits.

Tom Pfeifer is the managing partner and chief strategist for Consistent Voice Communications. Reach him at

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