- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 3, 2005

Potomac Overlook Regional Park, a 100-acre wooded area in North Arlington, also could be called “Potomac Overlook Zoological Garden” because, beyond the park’s various trails and gardens, it also has dozens of animals — dead and alive.

“We have 10 [live] animal exhibits — turtles, snakes and birds of prey,” says Martin Ogle, chief naturalist at the park.

The birds of prey, which live in large cages next to one of the trails, are all rescued animals that couldn’t be released back into nature because of severe injuries. The bird-of-prey exhibit features a red-tailed hawk, a barred owl and a great horned owl.

“The owls we have were hit by cars,” Mr. Ogle says, “and the hawk — quite a story — was shot by a farmer. It came to us 22 or 23 years ago.”

The owls suffered head injuries when they were hit by the cars, and the hawk can’t fly because of severe damage to one of its wings.

The nature center, a few steps from the cages, also features several animals. On the main floor, along with various taxidermic displays, is a glass-sided beehive where visitors can see the bees working away.

The exhibit has laminated page upon laminated page of information about bees. Visitors learn that honeybees in the United States produced 210 million pounds of commercial honey in 1997, that they pollinate about 90 crops and that there are many types of bees, including the black bee and Italian bee, both of which can be seen in the glass-case beehive.

The main floor also features several exhibits of taxidermy. One shows a couple of gray foxes. One of them is eating a squirrel. Visitors learn that these nocturnal foxes are omnivores, eating mostly rodents, insects, fruits and berries. These gray foxes — and all the animals displayed at the nature center and in the cages — are native to the area.

In another exhibit, a wide range of taxidermic native animals are displayed, including a deer, a wild turkey and a black bear.

A bird exhibit features local birds, of which the great blue heron is one of the largest. It stands 4 feet tall and flies at speeds of up to 30 miles an hour.

The snake exhibit includes a Northern copperhead, a black rat snake and a canebrake rattlesnake. The copperhead is the only venomous snake in Northern Virginia. Visitors also can learn how to tell the difference between a venomous and nonvenomous snake: A venomous snake’s eyes have elliptical pupils, while a nonvenomous snake has round pupils.

The center also has exhibits on the area’s geology, its archaeological finds and the history of the European settlers who arrived in 1608.

“We try to have something for all ages,” Mr. Ogle says. “Some of it appeals to preschoolers, and some of it is geared toward eighth-graders and up.”

The Kids’ Corner, with various animal hand puppets and books, is suitable for younger children, he says, while the history, geology and solar power exhibits can be enjoyed by older children.

Mr. Ogle recommends spending at least an hour at the nature center exhibits and another hour or two outside on the trails and in the gardens, which include a butterfly garden and an organic vegetable garden. There also is an outdoor stage where concerts take place on certain weekends.

There also are several outdoor exhibits on solar power. Visitors can learn that solar power is passive when doors and windows allow the maximum amount of light and heat into the home. About 50 percent to 80 percent of a home’s heating needs can be met by passive solar power.

Another kind of solar power is solar electricity: The sunlight strikes a type of silicon containing electrons, creating an electric current. The electricity can be used right away or stored in batteries.

“From a single visit, I hope people have a fun, interesting time exploring the trails and gardens and the nature center,” Mr. Ogle says. “The next level would be to learn about how everything is interrelated, how we as humans impact the world around us.”

When you go:

Location: Potomac Overlook Regional Park, 2845 N. Marcey Road, Arlington.

Directions: From downtown Washington or Alexandria, take the George Washington Memorial Parkway north. Merge onto Spout Run Parkway. Turn right onto Lorcom Lane. After about a half-mile, make a right onto Nelly Custis Drive, which becomes Military Road. Make a right onto Marcey Road.

From the Beltway north of the park, take the exit for the George Washington Parkway and go south. Stay on the parkway for several miles. Get off at the exit for Route 123 north. Follow Route 123 until it ends at Route 120. Make a right onto Route 120 and then make a right exit for Military Road. Go about a mile and make a left onto Marcey Road.

Hours: The park is open daily year-round during daylight hours. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday. The center is closed Monday and Tuesday.

Parking: Free

Admission: Free

Information: 703/528-5406 or www.potomacoverlook.org.

Notes: Potomac Overlook Regional Park features frequent family-friendly programs, including these fall events:

• Equinox Hike, 2 p.m. Sept. 24. Take a two-mile hike and learn about nature’s signs of seasonal change. The hike, which is moderately difficult, is open to adults and children ages 6 and older. Free. Reservations required.

• All About Owls, 7 p.m. Oct. 15. Learn about owls through slide shows, a discovery walk through the woods and a meet-and-greet with live owls. This event is open to children ages 8 and older. Free. Reservations required.

• Halloween Hike, 7:30 p.m. Oct. 29. This haunted hike in the woods is open to children ages 5 and older (accompanied by an adult). Tickets are $6 per person and will go on sale at Potomac Overlook Regional Park’s Nature Center Oct. 15.

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