The Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award is given annually by the Arlington Park and Recreation Commission to honor outstanding volunteer efforts in support of the health, sustainability and functioning of Arlington’s parks. The award recognizes an individual or group whose efforts demonstrate ongoing dedication and tangible benefit to Arlington’s natural resources, parks and public open spaces.
About Bill Thomas
William “Bill” Thomas served the Arlington parks community for more than two decades. Thomas became a member of Friends of Arlington Parks when the organization was established and was appointed to the Park and Recreation Commission in 1995. He served on the countywide Dog Exercise Area Work Group and was instrumental in the institution of the first fenced-in dog exercise area in Arlington. He was also an active birder and walked Arlington trails daily.
“Until his relocation to the Baltimore area due to failing health, Bill Thomas was a tireless worker on behalf of Arlington’s parks and citizens,” said Former Park and Recreation Commission Chairman Tobin Smith. “I can think of no better way for the commission to honor the outstanding commitment and dedication of Bill Thomas than to create this awards program in his name.”
The award honors the park stewardship legacy of Arlington resident Bill Thomas. As such, it recognizes multi-year, hands-on efforts to improve and/or maintain parklands, natural resources and habitats, and outdoor public spaces. Nominations are judged on the basis of the nominee’s volunteer activity that accomplishes or achieves significant and durable benefit. Volunteer activity is the giving of personal time, effort, expertise and leadership that results in substantial and meaningful care, improvement or enhancement to public open spaces. A volunteer activity may be ongoing activity or a discrete project. Activity upon which a nomination is based must have been initiated at least two full years prior to the year of submission, and if it is a project, must have been completed one full year prior to submission. The award may be for a specific accomplishment or for an accumulation of accomplishments over an extended period of time.
The Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award is intended to recognize direct, personal volunteer activity. In-kind and monetary donations are not regarded as a volunteer activity for purposes of this award unless they are ancillary to individual or group efforts that otherwise meet the definition of volunteer activity. While welcomed through authorized channels, receipt of in-kind and monetary donations is a function of the Arlington County government. Recognition for such donations is outside the purview of the PRC and the scope this award.
The Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award is open to individuals and groups. Excluded from nomination for the award are Arlington County Staff and currently serving members of the Arlington County Board and the Park and Recreation Commission.
Awards are made annually on a case-by-case basis. The granting of any award, and the number of awards made, are not pre-determined in any year.
The recipient of Bill Thomas Park Volunteer Award is selected by an ad hoc committee created annually under the auspices of the Park and Recreation Commission.
Nominations may only be submitted by an individual (the nominator) other than the nominee. A nominator may submit more than one nomination, but a separate application must be submitted for each nomination.
Nominations are now closed for 2020. Each nomination should include:
- A completed online nomination form that identifies both the nominee and the nominator by providing the full name of the individual or group, address, phone number and email.
- A written nomination statement (not more than two pages in length) that describes the volunteer activities of the nominee, including the time committed, the type of work activity involved, and the resources employed (including other volunteers). The evidence presented must address how the volunteer activities and accomplishments were exemplary, sustainable, and of significant impact or importance. It should also describe and document the extent to which the activities have and will continue to benefit Arlington’s parklands, natural resources and habitats, and outdoor public spaces.
- A written stewardship statement (not more than one page in length) that contains a brief description of the nominee’s role and individual initiative displayed while conducting the volunteer activities. It should also address the nominee’s steward- leader role in the community by discussing how the volunteer activities exemplify courtesy, cooperation and respect with the public, other volunteers and County staff.
- Pertinent, supplemental exhibits, such as documentation with photos, records or other written materials, media accounts, and relevant biographical information. Should these exhibits be unable to be digitized, they may be hand-delivered or mailed to: Arlington County Department of Parks and Recreation, Attn: Laura Barragan, 2100 Clarendon Blvd, Suite 414, Arlington, VA 22201.
2020 Award Winner – Glenn Tobin
An Arlington Regional Master Naturalist (ARMN) since 2016 and Trail Maintainer with the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) since 2015, Glenn Tobin has made many significant contributions to the parks and natural resources of Arlington. Shortly after joining ARMN, he decided to tackle invasive plant removal at Windy Run Park and the adjacent Potomac River waterfront in the George Washington Memorial Parkway. In particular, the area near the river was heavily infested with difficult to remove invasive species, including kudzu, oriental bittersweet, multiflora rose, porcelain berry, bush honeysuckle, winged burning bush, Japanese honeysuckle, wineberry, English ivy, and several others. As a result of his efforts, working alone and with volunteers, significant natural areas are recovering and becoming more beautiful and biodiverse. In 2020, Glenn raised money and worked with the PATC and the National Park Service (NPS) to rebuild the stone stairway that connects the Windy Run park trail to the Potomac Heritage Trail along the river, improving access for many people. Since he began his mission at Windy Run, he has contributed over 1,300 hours of service.
Inspired by the reemergence of diverse native flora at Windy Run and along the Potomac, Glenn set out to help translate significant science about natural plant communities into practical guidance for ecological restoration activities. He worked with experts in ecology, botany, and natural resources, including with Arlington County, the City of Alexandria, the NPS, and the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation Division of Natural Heritage. In order to make the resulting insights accessible to a wide audience, he created a detailed webpage, Natural Ecological Communities of Northern Virginia. As a result of Glenn’s leadership, ARMN is adopting natural plant communities as a framework for park restoration, in collaboration with local jurisdictions. This work will have lasting impact on restoration planning throughout the County and on selection of plant species for the County’s native plant nursery.
Some of Glenn’s other work includes helping lead Weed Warrior Training with the NPS, assisting in leadership for Park Stewards, and mentoring others who share deep passion for helping restore natural areas in Arlington County and beyond.
Glenn has been instrumental for the reclaiming of our natural lands in Arlington. His contributions will continue to make an impact for generations to come and his work is the embodiment of the Bill Thomas Park Award.
2019 Award Winner
Elaine Mills: Working tirelessly to transform Arlington’s green areas into natural havens, Elaine Mills has logged more than 7,000 hours since becoming a Master Gardener with the Arlington/Alexandria unit of Virginia Cooperative Extension (VCE) in 2012. With a focus on education, Elaine uses her knowledge of native plant species from ground covers to trees to develop content to share with the community on best landscaping practices. This effort is supported with her personal library of 10,000 plant photos that she has taken in Master Gardener demonstration gardens, at Arlington nature centers, and in local public gardens.
Examples of her online education work include fact sheets for the Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia (MGNV) website. These describe and illustrate numerous local native plants and 45 plants that have been designated as invasive in Arlington County. In addition to regularly contributing articles to the website on regional gardens and various gardening topics, she also creates several series of weekly MGNV Facebook posts and daily Instagram and Twitter posts.
In person and via Zoom, Elaine leads public education programs about pollinators, selecting native plants, native plants for winter interest, and native alternatives to invasive plants. Through the MGNV speaker’s bureau, she also gives talks on climate-conscious gardening techniques to garden clubs, neighborhood civic associations, and the local Audubon at Home program’s ambassadors. In addition, she participates annually in the training of local residents as future Master Gardeners with class lectures, mentoring, and supervision of intern projects.
At the Glencarlyn Library Community Garden, she developed a labeling system for visitors to learn more about herbs, native plants, and what grows well in Arlington. Under her leadership, Glencarlyn has also hosted Master Gardener intern projects, Garden Talks, and other educational programs. The garden also obtained an Audubon At Home certification thanks to Elaine and some of her fellow garden coordinators. As one of the primary organizers for Glencarlyn’s twice-annual native plant sale and a regular participant at the MGNV booth at Green Spring Gardens’ annual plant sale, Elaine not only gets hundreds of native plants into the hands of residents each year, she also shares her infinitive wisdom about how to care for and manage native gardens.
It has been well-documented that native fauna species are returning to the area – thanks in large part to Elaine and the MGNV’s native flora-focused efforts. Whether you see Elaine at the Glencarlyn garden, at a community event or online in her role as the MGNV Instagram curator, be sure to thank her for her significant contributions to Arlington’s green spaces.
2018 Award Winner
Bill Browning: The transformation of Powhatan Springs Park could not have happened without Bill Browning. Bill’s restoration work at Powhatan Springs Park had led to the clearing of invasive plant species to reintroduce native flora and fauna to the area; adding significantly to Arlington’s rich biodiversity. Bill led citizen science observation events for the City Nature Challenge at Powhatan that engage members of the general public as well as experts in recording all flora and fauna in in the park and other local areas. The newly created brush piles on the site have welcomed wildlife previously unseen at the park, including a Barred Owl. Bill also helped conduct a tree inventory of the entire park; an ARMN colleague subsequently created a GPS version that shows all the native trees and natural features on the site and will facilitate future volunteer and restoration work there.
In addition to his work at Powhatan Springs Park, Bill’s list of accomplishments includes additional invasive removal work at several other County parks and Culpepper Gardens, stream water monitoring throughout Arlington, work at the native plant garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park, and seed cleaning and other nursery work for Earth Sangha, a facility propagates native plants for restoration plantings in the area.
Since joining in 2013, Bill has been an active member of the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists and has contributed over 1,000 hours of volunteer service. Bill has been a true leader and welcoming face within the organization, serving as Membership Chair and creating initiatives such as the mentor program. He also increased communications to help new members connect with current members and easily find volunteer opportunities that best fit their interests.
Always one to further his expertise, Bill recently completed a Certificate of Achievement in Natural History Field Studies through USDA Graduate School and the Audubon Naturalist Society.
2017 Award Winners
Joanne Hutton: A member of Master Gardeners of Northern Virginia since 1995 and of Arlington Regional Master Naturalists (ARMN) since 2009, Joanne has years of natural resources volunteer work under her belt. She trained with ARMN upon retiring from the Parks Division, where for five years she had served as Horticulture Technician, training VCE Master Gardeners and overseeing the county’s Community Garden program.
Of her many service ARMN projects, Joanne worked with the Audubon Society of Northern Virginia to establish a native plant demonstration garden at Potomac Overlook Regional Park, and continues to lead the ongoing maintenance of that garden. Additionally, she helped form the Audubon at Home (AAH) Ambassadors program for Arlington and Alexandria. AAH volunteers visit individual homeowners to offer guidance on how to use best environmental management practices and increase use of native plants to improve habitat in their yards. A third major project has been Joanne’s work as part of the Steering Committee for the Plant NOVA Natives Campaign, helping edit its published guide, Native Plants for Northern Virginia, encouraging property owners to buy and plant locally native plants.
Trained in Arlington’s first Tree Steward class in 2001, Joanne was also one of several volunteers who surveyed trees in 2010 on the 256-acre Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall to help them better manage their tree population. She has been a community gardener at Parks’ 10th and Barton Community Gardens since 1999, and served as Chief Gardener for three years, continuing on its steering committee. Her focus as a Master Gardener remains public and continuing education.
An active participant in Citizen Science projects, Joanne has contributed to Christmas bird counts, monitors bluebird nest boxes at Fort C. F. Smith, and assists the Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas to determine distribution and status of breeding bird populations. She participated in Arlington’s first BioBlitz in 2017, a citizen science inventory of plants and wildlife during a 24-hour period.
In her time with ARMN, she has brainstormed ways to attract new members and make them feel welcome, served as a mentor to new members, and created an overall sense of inclusion within the group. As Joanne’s neighbor and fellow ARMN member Bill Browning puts it, “Joanne is a literal force of nature by her knowledge of the natural world, her willingness to share this knowledge, and her desire to make members in the Arlington Regional Master Naturalists feel welcome and have a sense of camaraderie.”
From youth to senior adults, Joanne serves a multigenerational cohort to ensure that Arlington residents have the skills and information they need to be good stewards to the environment. Joanne’s service has inspired and encouraged others to join the community of active volunteers in Arlington. The natural world in Arlington has a true ally in Joanne; the benefits of her volunteer work can be seen throughout the County.
John Foti: Born from a lifelong love of sports, John Foti has devoted years of service to Arlington’s sports programs. According to his nominator George Thompson, “Volunteering is in his DNA and his contributions to Arlington County’s parks are significant and have grown over time.”
The father of two sons in youth leagues, John is a staunch proponent of field access. As a coach when his oldest was just learning to play t-ball, John recognized the need for field maintenance to help keep ballfields playable and safe following inclement weather. When County staff did not have the bandwidth to make the fields playable following a rain event, John would pick up his rake and remove the standing water, putting a single field back into action to enable practices and games to continue. Working out the math, restoring the field to a playable condition helps more than 1,000 Arlington kids play games in a single day.
John was instrumental in establishing a field adoption program by which Arlington Babe Ruth and Arlington Little League would enlist volunteers to take on weekend field prep responsibilities to keep a field playable. The model worked and the impact was significant, helping save hundreds of games and even more practices over the course of the season.
When it came time to renovate the diamond field at Gunston, John saw an opportunity to install artificial turf that could provide all-season play with minimal maintenance. To raise the $371,000 needed for the project, John proposed that the non-profit Arlington Sports Foundation to contribute and encouraged the County’s Sports Commission to apply budget from the Diamond Field Fund to close the gap. John’s fundraising efforts were successful and the project was approved at the April 2017 County Board meeting. Converting the field to synthetic turf will add an additional 900 hours of field usage time, make the field usable for a variety of sports and allow the field to be used year-round when the project is completed in 2018.
John continues to advocate for increased field capacity, and, with Arlington’s population on the rise, he recognizes the need to expand on his previous accomplishments. His selfless dedication to supporting Arlington’s youth sports program as well as his commitment to use his experience and knowledge to improve County facilities and processes is the very essence of the Bill Thomas Outstanding Park Service Volunteer Award.
Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks: With the goal of preserving and expanding park and natural spaces, Friends of Aurora Highlands Parks (FoAHP) members have worked with Arlington County to provide access to public spaces for recreational and leisure activities for all ages and uses as well as to promote the environmental benefits of natural parkland. Led by resident Kari Klaus and co-chaired by Stacy Meyer, FoAHP and its many actively engaged neighbors have put significant effort behind improving civic engagement on issues related to parks planning, education and the ways in which land use is determined. FoAHP has worked to accumulate the data needed to support their mission of providing equitable access to public spaces and the many needs of Arlington residents including land acquisition and more park space devoted to natural and open spaces.
FoAHP education and outreach activities have helped welcome County residents who had not previously been involved in civic engagement into park planning efforts. The organization’s social media pages as well as their widely-circulated newsletters help keep the community up-to-date on Countywide park-related projects and issues. FoAHP actively encourages and organizes park supporters to engage in public processes and make their voices heard.
Supporters of FoAHP believe that their success can be seen as a catalyst to spur the creation of other community groups to advocate for their own neighborhood parks and Countywide. As a 2016 Bill Thomas award recipient himself, Paul Holland notes “I strongly believe by promoting the success of FoAHP, we can encourage other, grassroots efforts to emerge and support hyper-local park interests.”
2016 Award Winners
Paul Holland: A dedicated community leader, Paul Holland has served Arlington in number of capacities. He is a former Chairman of the Park and Recreation Commission, is Vice President of the Arlington Boathouse Foundation, serves on the Board of Directors of the Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing and is currently the President of the Waverly Hills Civic Association. With almost a decade of service on the Park and Recreation Commission and more than 500 volunteer hours under his belt, Paul has been a strong voice for community interests on parks, recreation, and open space.
Of the many volunteer roles he’s played within the County, his main focus as a member of the Park and Recreation Commission was promoting and expanding urban parks in Arlington County and advocating for land acquisition and strategic planning. As the co-chairman on the Mosaic Park Planning Task Force, Paul help negotiate a draft compromise between adjacent neighborhoods and the owner of the Founders Square development. Through a transfer of development rights proposal, Arlington County secured approximately $6.6 million to construct a future Mosaic Park. As the Park and Recreation Commission representative to the Realize Rosslyn planning effort, Paul helped develop consensus recommendations, including the proposed 18th Street corridor, which will provide a pedestrian connection through the heart of the sector and building strong connections through an esplanade that connects Rosslyn with the Potomac River and potential recreation opportunities along the shoreline. An integral member of the Western Rosslyn Area Planning Study (WRAPS) and advocate for maximizing open space on the site, Paul helped innovate a scattered site, including a 9,000SF public playground on the site of a new affordable housing project. Finally, during his time as a leader of the Park and Recreation Commission, Paul chaired a subcommittee to develop a county-wide park land acquisition strategy and advocated for a revised Public Spaces Master Plan.
Without Paul’s help and support, staff would not have the wherewithal to improve this park infrastructure and expansion. A true Arlington leader, Paul has applied his strategic planning acumen to create a community-based vision for the future of Arlington parks.
Yu-hsin Hsu: An ardent supporter of Arlington’s natural resources, Yu-hsin Hsu has volunteered with Long Branch Nature Center, the Arlington Central Library pollinator garden, the Natural Resources Management Unit and Arlington Regional Master Naturalists.
At Long Branch Nature Center, Yu-hsin has been invaluable as a Saturday animal care volunteer since fall 2013, logging about 160 hours and freeing up weekend staff to attend to visitor contact and other activities as well as directing other animal care volunteers in their tasks. In addition to animal care, Yu-hsin helps with invasive exotic plant removals and preparing for twice-yearly native plant sales at the center.
Yu-hsin has been a volunteer with the Arlington Central Library garden project since early spring 2016. At that time, she just happened to pass by the Library’s native pollinator garden, dropped down alongside a staff member who was weeding, and offered to help. She has not stopped helping since. The pollinator garden was initiated by Lynn Kristianson, a beloved Library staff member, who sadly passed away in 2015. The garden languished in Lynn’s absence until Yu-hsin, just finishing a Master Naturalist certification program, offered to help get the garden ready for a dedication ceremony honoring Ms. Kristianson. Yu-hsin was so attached to the garden that she decided to adopt it and coordinate other volunteers to bring it back to its original glory. Margaret Brown, Central Services Division Chief at the Library says of Yu-hsin: “She brings to the garden a Lynn-like spunky energy and perseverance, as well as a similar passion for educating others about the critical importance of pollinators and native plants. She is tireless in her efforts and selfless in her generosity.”
The final piece of Yu-hsin volunteering trifecta is her work with the Natural Resources Management Unit, educating and involving children in the Remove Invasive Plants (RiP) program, volunteering at the native plant nursery, and with habitat restoration projects. She has also helped inventory County plants and animals through the annual National Geographic Bioblitz, and engages in other conservation and outreach activities through the Master Naturalist Program.