Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington


 Living space in Arlington offers glass towers and loud-lettered commercial signs, but also leafy residential lanes and havens that leave nature undisturbed.

Tender loving care for the havens is the legacy of Martin Ogle, retiring next week after 27 years as chief naturalist and manager at Potomac Overlook Regional Park off Military and Marcey roads.

Though Ogle’s employer, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, covers six jurisdictions (Falls Church among them), the Arlington County Board felt moved to honor him during last month’s Earth Week. I’m personally grateful for Ogle’s help with journalistic research over the years on history and botanical matters.

“I’m in a different park system, but it’s clear citizens of Arlington value their nature centers,” says Ogle, recalling how Arlingtonians rose up several years ago to quash a proposal to close the nearby Gulf Branch Nature Center. “It’s a traditional center where people can learn natural history, but it’s also where we as society can learn sustainable ways of living, which I hope will continue to grow.”

Immersion in nature leads to a desire to protect. One of Ogle’s proud accomplishments is getting the ball rolling on recycling back in the early 1990s. “We held meetings and became a drop-off point where we collected aluminum and sold it to raise funds for the park,” Ogle says. When the county adopted its own system, his team no longer had to.

Ogle also took on energy sustainability. “One of the themes is how human activities interact with the rest of nature around us,” Ogle says. So the exhibit center at Potomac Overlook was outfitted 20 years ago with a solar hot water system, modern insulation, double-paned windows and an efficient heating and cooling unit. “By virtue of having been here this long, I’ve had the luxury of being able to build slowly among all the pieces,” he says.

If there’s any unfinished business, it’s that nature centers are underutilized. “If you come on weekdays, it’s kind of quiet, but still a nice place to take a walk, the largest wooded area in Arlington,” he says.

Ogle is leaving “a pretty well-developed energy education program”–10-15 programs a year. “But it’s just been me trying to get the word out,” he says, and “publicity has to be on larger scale than one employee can do.”

Ogle’s work with elementary schools is legendary. He draws inspiration from “Last Child in the Woods” by Richard Louv.

Beth Reese, a longtime Arlington environmental educator who worked with Ogle on outdoor classrooms, says he “has the amazing ability to carry on the highest scientific or philosophical conversation at the same time he is playing with worms or up to his waist in pond scum. He’s a cross between a mad scientist, a Boy Scout and Thoreau.”

The county board’s proclamation cites him for helping make Potomac Overlook a “natural oasis” and for serving on the Urban Forestry Commission, the Task Force on Arlington’s Future and the Community Energy Advisory Group.

George Mason University gave him its “Green Patriot Award.”

Retiring from his first-and-only full-time job with a pension at the fortunate age of 51, Ogle is moving his family to Colorado, where he will “take up to a year to find new work or create new work.”

When next you head for the woods for fresh air, thank him. 


Charlie Clark may be e-mailed at cclarkjedd@aol.com