Thirty years ago, a small group of citizens, concerned about maintenance in the newly established Mason District Park, formed the Friends of Mason District Park with the goal of raising enough money to buy a weed-eater for use along the park trails.
The 121-acre former pony farm was a significant addition to parkland in the area, but not too many people actually used the park, so another goal was to create an event that would bring more people into the site. That was the beginning of the annual Mason District Park Festival, which will celebrate its 30th birthday on Saturday, September 26.
The first festival, in 1980, was an experiment in untested volunteerism. Working with little or no money and the Park Authority, which didn’t quite know what to do with this group of eager volunteers, a family day was put together, kicked off by a fun run led by then-Supervisor Tom Davis. These were the days before fancy desk-top publishing, so the first publicity flyer used a balloon theme. It was easy: cut out three circles of printed paper, paste them on a page, draw three lines like strings on balloons, add some lettering, and print on colored paper. Thirty years ago, as today, the festival featured live entertainment on the Showmobile stage, community booths, and children’s rides. Ad-mission then, as today, was free.
The first festivals were in early October; the event later was moved to the last Saturday in September because the weather was better. October 4, 1980 was a lovely day, though, and by the end of the day, when all the proceeds were counted, enough money had been raised to buy a John Deere tractor, plus the weed-eater! I don’t know what happened to the weed-eater, but the tractor still was in use as recently as 10 years ago.
Buoyed by the success of the first festival, the Friends have co-sponsored the event with the Park Authority every year since. While an occasional rain date had to be used, 2008 was the first time the festival was cancelled entirely, due to excessive rains that swamped the site for days. Vendor space for the festival on September 26 is still available, and applications may be picked up at the Mason District Governmental Center, 6507 Columbia Pike in Annandale, or call 703/256-7717. You also can send an e-mail request for an application form to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The past 30 years have seen some changes at Mason District Park. The Newton Edwards Amphitheatre was built in 1984, and rebuilt in 2005 after a devastating fire. The amphitheatre is the site of the popular Spotlight by Starlight free summer concert series, co-sponsored by the Friends. More than 7000 people attended the concerts this summer. The old stock pond at the entrance to the park was retrofitted as a water quality and stormwater management facility a few years ago, and the Thursday morning Farmers’ Market attracts hundreds of customers. New equipment was installed on the playground last year. One of the first synthetic turf fields in the county was installed at Mason District Park in 2007, and an off-leash dog area was constructed on the south side of the park, accessed from Little River Turnpike, in 2002. No matter what type of recreation you are seeking, you probably can find it at Mason District Park. Come see us at the Festival on September 26.