The Human Element: 2020 Annual Report for VOF’s Preserve at Bull Run Mountains

“There is no power for change greater than a community discovering what it cares about.”
– Margaret J. Wheatley

As we all transition out of a challenging year and into a more hopeful 2021, I want to take a moment to reflect on the importance of the human element at our Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve. I want to focus on the power of us. The power of stories.

In light of the unique local and global challenges we collectively faced within the last year, I consider myself overwhelmingly lucky to have been able to welcome and share the Preserve with so many diverse folks. From the opportunity to introduce first time visitors to the transformative qualities of nature, to experiencing the power of seemingly disparate individuals coming together, united by a call to better understand, protect, and share the natural and cultural treasures of Virginia’s easternmost mountain range.

VOF’s Preserve at Bull Run Mountains (BRMNAP) has been a state-designated Natural Area Preserve since 2002. Nearly 20 years of being a monument of Northern Virginia wilderness and the core of our community’s rural spirit.

A unique community resource, a living laboratory, and an open-air museum.

Despite that well-rounded reality, looking back in broad view, one would notice that our natural resources have unintentionally demanded the lion’s share of researcher attention.

With a reprioritization of the countless cultural mysteries the Preserve still holds, I am happy to share that over the last few years we have worked hard to paint a more complete picture of the Bull Run Mountains. This has largely come to be with the development of our “Making History Our-story” initiative.

Building upon the foundation provided by some of our region’s most notable historians and researchers, we have begun to finely sift through the many still unstudied remnants of yesterday. This is done through gathering oral histories, carefully reviewing archival records, and mindfully surveying and uncovering physical artifacts.

By better documenting the full scope of Bull Run Mountains, we are able to highlight its greater local and global significance. This journey of discovery, which largely centers around a field of study known as folk history, has already (only in its infancy) revealed a plethora of “lost” stories that underline our common humanity. Stories of hardship, yes. But, also of triumph.

The Preserve’s diversely peopled past once reclaimed by the mountains and relegated to the annals of time, has since been resurrected. Arguably, just when we need these stories the most.

A thoughtful reminder that this mountain range, much of it now protected by the Bull Run Mountains Natural Area Preserve, was refuge for many. Was life, complete.

In that way, maybe not so much has changed? Much like stories, we are defined by what we preserve.

At the end of the day, what is more human than remembering and sharing stories?

We are taking part in an ancient and global tradition. A shared curiosity culminated in our ability to reclaim stories once forgotten. A shared community has enabled us to bring the past to life.

It is these stories that are not only helping us better understand the past but guide us in creating a more honest and inclusive present. With each new discovery, the Preserve has begun to take on new meanings and welcome new advocates.

Along with these new discoveries, our volunteers and staff naturally found ourselves asking deeper questions.

If some future human were curious enough one day to look back at our time here on earth, as we are doing now to those who came before us, what would they learn about us? What actions would define our story?

Asking these questions, we must come to terms with the reality that all of us here, in this present moment, have an inherent power over the future. Our decisions will impact those who are not yet here to voice their opinions. We not only have a power over what their landscape will look like, but we will pass down the stories that they will tell.

That is quite a profound responsibility, yes. But one that we, luckily, face together.

If you have been out on one of our Cultural History hikes, you may be familiar with us asking you this question. One that will take each of us a lifetime to answer, but something that is certainly worth pondering:

“What type of ancestor do you want to be?”

Leaving you all with that question, I invite each-and-every one of you to make it out to the Preserve in 2021. Our team has a whole host of thought-provoking programming that we are looking forward to sharing with you all.

With that, I want to take a moment to thank all of the selfless individuals and organizations that helped us accomplish the many activities that are shared within the pages of our 2020 Annual Report.

I truly hope that you all enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed putting it together. And I look forward to those who join us in 2021!

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