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Posted at 8:30 AM ET, 07/16/2007

LoCo's Moving to LoudounExtra.com

Today we are excited to launch LoudounExtra.com, a new web site dedicated entirely to Loudoun County news, sports, entertainment, and the people in these communities that comprise our neighborhoods, schools and social scenes. You will find Living in LoCo featured prominently in the center of the page, where we will continue our conversation about Loudoun's hot topics.

You will also find information relevant to your life, such as traffic cameras in with views of main roads -- Route 28 at Waxpool and Route 50 west of the Loudoun County Parkway. Search the comprehensive guides to learn more about restaurants, schools, and places of worship. And, of course, we will bring you daily local news from Washington Post and washingtonpost.com reporters, as well as all Loudoun-related stories from our print editions.

And this is just the beginning; lots of new features are in the works. We also want to hear what you think about the new site, so please put your thoughts in the comments section of the blog. The more you tell us, the better we can serve you.

Looking forward to seeing you in our new space!

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Posted at 11:21 AM ET, 07/13/2007

Music for the (Right) Ages?

From our correspondent, Paul Gottschling:

As northern Virginia sprawl threatens to squeeze local youth bands out of suburban basements for fear of racking up noise complaints, it could seem that Loudoun might take a turn for the tuneless. But luckily for fledgling garage jammers, the Loudoun Foundation aims to give the county's adolescent musicians a career boost by attracting nationally renowned bands to Ashburn for a weekly series of concerts, the Loudoun Summer Music Fest.

And as the Summer Music Fest draws larger crowds--12,000 ticketholders the first year, 55,000 last year--the concert series has intensified its music industry luster, scoring such high-profile acts for 2007 as Taylor Hicks (last weekend), Peter Frampton, and Pat Benatar.

Yet curiously, the artists chosen for this otherwise youth-minded event generally are not hot acts with the younger set.

"Most of [the bands] are very family-oriented, but you have some like Marshall Tucker and those guys, where you get your standard beer-drinking, havin' fun kinda people," said Tracey Parent, president of the Loudoun Foundation. "Our goal is to utilize the Summer Music Fest to ... get to meet and create relationships with the musicians and the music industry to mentor the kids within the community that are up-and-coming musicians, and give them that upper hand and advantage that they might not get."

Plus, when the Music Fest stages the more boomer-friendly musicians, the Loudoun Foundation sees a spike in revenue from increased beer and ticket sales. About 3,500 showed up for Taylor Hicks show (at least he has that American Idol thing going on); Blues Traveler drew about 4,200 people.

But the mottled lineup shows no sign of hampering the Foundation's youth programs, which have put young musicians in a studio with their professional counterparts, given away thousands of dollars in musical equipment, and put fledgling musical groups on tours through Europe.

What do you think of Loudoun's music scene?

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Posted at 7:14 AM ET, 07/12/2007

Boys Sport Mohawks for Summer Locks

Trendy mohawks started sprouting around Loudoun in early June, but what made them stand out was that the guys sporting them were not maladjusted gen-Xers, but boys under 10. Once the pools opened, they started popping up everywhere.

Brothers Caleb (9) and Jake (8) Barnes from Loudoun Valley Estates are in their second summer of 'hawks. Their dad Ned creates the cuts himself. The boys said they "love it" and could not wait for school to get out so they could have this special summer hairstyle.

Caleb and Jake love their summer mohawks. (Photo/Marcoullier)

Five-year old Andrew Isaacson from Ashburn begged his parents for a mohawk for months. One of his friends from daycare had one because the big brother did, then another school friend got the cut. Andrew's mom relented with the caveat that his would have more of a fade because the grandparents were coming for a visit. On a recent trip to King's Dominion, the family saw dozens of boys with similar hair-stripe up the middle cuts.

What is next for the pre-tween set?

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Posted at 11:23 AM ET, 07/11/2007

Entrepreneurs ISO Winning Performances

If you can't get enough of reality/performance/competition shows, or if you fancy yourself a top entertainer, think about setting your calendar for the launch of Performster.com.

The site was created by Ashburn resident Brian Patterson and fellow '05 GMU graduate Reza Pourrabi to do YouTube-type entertainment one better by providing a site where performers upload video, viewers watch and judge, then prizes are awarded. Another aspect of the business is to provide said performers access to the talent Industry since this could be a place for agents and directors to scout without leaving the couch.

The site was slated to launch July 4, but has been moved to early August. A statement on their blog says,"As much as we'd like to launch in July, the user-experience is the most important aspect of the website to us. At this point, it's good, but we want it to be great for you."

Patterson told the Connection newspaper, "I paid my way through college as a magician," he said. "I started by doing birthday parties when I was 12 or 13. So I am glad to be able to provide this outlet to others who are like me."

Pourrabi explained that the site managers will not be judging the talent; it is all up to the viewers. There could be updates as often as every hour as a competition winds down to the winner.

You can read more about Patterson and Pourrabi's plans to coax northern Virginia's talent base into uploading their videos at Broadsideonline.

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Posted at 11:48 AM ET, 07/ 9/2007

Big Digs Unearth County's Past

Correspondent Paul Gottschling discovered some historical digs that anyone can experience this summer.

Sifting for historical treasure at one of Loudoun's archaeological digs. (Photo by Gottschling)

The boy let out a prolonged and enthused "Coool!" to his father at the sight of the white ceramic plate, which sat half-submerged in the soil like a crashed UFO. An archaeologist excavating the small test hole smiled and returned to informing another young spectator that archaeologists couldn't just lift the plate out of the dirt, they had to carefully monitor the plot as they dug, layer by layer.

These and many more visitors stopped by the Loudoun Archaeological Foundation's public excavation, a part of Claude Moore Park's July 4th Celebration and one of a series of digs that the Foundation is holding this summer to commemorate the 250th anniversary of Loudoun County.

The Foundation alternates between sites at Claude Moore Park, the Schafer House in Leesburg, and Banshee Reeks Nature Preserve.

As an anthropology nerd, I found this amicable crew of archaeologists and their wealth of local knowledge scintillating. And I hope more people will take advantage of this resource while it lasts--the members of the Foundation seem ready to field any question from any Loudoun resident. Consider this the ephemeral Colonial Williamsburg of Loudoun.

During each dig day, your whole family can observe the excavation and even participate by sifting loose soil for small artifacts and rinsing objects for identification. Prehistoric artifacts, including an 8,000 year-old spearpoint, have been unearthed in Banshee Reeks. "You don't have to go to Jamestown to find some really significant history," said Foundation Director Dr. David Clark. "Here it is in your backyard."

The Foundation is also hoping to discover new dimensions of 18th and 19th-Century Loudoun society. At the Schafer House site in Leesburg, archaeologists have glimpsed at a possible cross-county commercial network. "Back in the 1800s, a guy was making pottery in Leesburg, and he was selling it or bartering it, and now we're trying to ... get some characteristics of those potteries and see if we can trace it," said Clark. "And we've actually found duplicate fragments of that type of pottery here at Claude Moore."

Each station in the Claude Moore dig site consistently attracted a crowd of spectators (mostly parents with small children) when I was there for the July 4 event. Far fewer people have visited the Leesburg site, but Clark anticipates an ever-larger turnout as the Foundation continues to advertise and solicit to houses and businesses.

How important is Loudoun's history for its residents? And what is the best way to present it to the public?

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Posted at 10:00 AM ET, 07/ 6/2007

"Triangle Interchange" for New Wegmans

Crews broke ground last week on a new interchange at River Creek Parkway and Route 7 that must be completed before construction can begin on Wegmans at the upcoming Village at Leesburg.

The interesting part of this road construction is the "triangle interchange," which will elevate the north-south traffic lanes above Rt. 7. Here is an artist's rendering of the interchange.

According to the developer, "pedestrian and bicycle access will also be provided along all major streets and will connect to existing trails." The interchange will take three building seasons to complete, according to estimates.

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Posted at 7:25 AM ET, 07/ 6/2007

South Riding Celebration Drew Thousands

A look at the South Riding Independence Day celebration from correspondent Val Cavalheri.

Bikes decorated for the Star Spangled South Riding parade. (Photo by Val Cavalheri)

The 4th annual "Star Spangled South Riding" celebration on July 3 began with an old-fashioned neighborhood parade where about a thousand participants rode decorated bicycles, waved from wagons, and walked strollers through a half-mile trek on Center Street.

By 6:30 p.m. cars lined nearby streets and approximately 5,000 people descended on the South Riding Golf Club for an evening of entertainment that included the band Kings of Swing and 15 minutes of fireworks set to patriotic music.

"I can't believe all of this is happening right here in my neighborhood," said Joel Wasserman, a long-time resident of South Riding.

Another homeowner, who asked to remain anonymous, wondered who was footing the bill for the event. "Don't get me wrong," she said, "I had a blast, but this had to have cost a fortune." Wanting to give credit to the benefactor, calls were made to the Proprietary, but not returned before publication time.

With fireworks shows around Loudoun from June 30 to July 4, pyrotechnic fans could get their fill in a span of a few days. Association-run communities such as Ashburn Village, Brambleton and South Riding did not heavily promote what they consider to be events for their own residents, but that did not stop people from nearby communities from crashing.

Who do you think hosted the best Independence Day celebration?

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Posted at 8:04 AM ET, 07/ 5/2007

News Tap: Road Kill, Drive Thrus, Skins Camp

A look at some interesting news around Loudoun:

Cleaning Up Road Kill
A morbidly enlightening article about who clears the roads, shoulders and medians of various types of road kill. If it is an emergency situation, like blocking traffic, VDOT handles it. But if the deer, or other wildlife, carcas is on the side of the road, even if decomposing and covered in maggots, Ashburn-based Allied Cleaning services comes to the rescue.

Favorite line: "In the winter, Kahn says, when the deer stay fresh longer, it's not uncommon for the bodies to disappear before workers get can there to remove them." Got venison?

Leesburg Contemplates Banning Drive-Thrus
The town council is considering a ban on drive-thrus for new businesses, like banks and restaurants. (Current ones would be grandfathered.) Supporters say they want more foot traffic, but other council members are going to check with their business contacts to see what the financial impact would be.

Do drive-thrus matter to you?

Redskins Camp Opens July 27
Hey, this year you can go to the 'Skins traning camp for free (yes, parking too), but it will still cost you something -- a bit of personal information. The team requires that you fill out a registration form, which then becomes your "invitation" that grants you and your guests access to the facility.

In this not-so-subtly veiled attempt at garnering marketing and demographic information about the fan base, there is an opt-out if you don't want to be contacted by "selected companies, authorized by and including the Redskins... about information on products and services that may be of interest..."

What will they do about fans who don't have computers and Internet access? What if you use an alias?

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Posted at 7:30 AM ET, 07/ 5/2007

Retail Proposal Stirs Debate in Dulles South

Introducing Val Cavalheri, our new voice from South Riding. Cavalheri, a 10-year resident of South Riding, is an accomplished photographer and writer. Married with two children, one in college and the other beginning high school, Val says she is eager to learn more about all the moving parts of the community. She launches with a look at the debate for more retail development in Dulles South.

Tuesday the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors voted 5-4 against reconsidering the 80-acre Dulles Landing retail development. Rezoning for the land was approved June 19, which opened the path for approval of the big-box retail center. Both Chairman Scott York and Supervisor Jim Burton were absent during the original vote and were looking to have the board address the plan again because of issues with the application, such as not getting enough money from the developer to cover needed road improvements, and the number of access points.

Dulles Landing is slated to feature a Wal-Mart, Borders and Old Navy, along with other shops and restaurants. It is adjacent to the already approved 750,000-square foot Arcola Center-The Shops, which is located along Route 50 at the intersection of Route 606. Target, TJ Maxx/Homegoods and Lowe's are slated to be built in the Arcola Center location and will be joined by the soon to be built Home Depot in South Riding.

Families for Dulles South, LoudounsFuture.org, and other citizen groups are saying enough is more than enough. The opponents see his area of Route 50, known by locals as the "Gateway" to Loudoun County, being turned into millions of square feet of retail strip mall development. Steve Hines, a representative of Families for Dulles South said, "A big-box strip mall really makes a strong statement for visitors and tourists wishing to come into the county to spend their tourism dollars. I think Route 50 will look like Route 234 in Manassas."

Hines cites a study produced by the county's own staff which indicates that current and projected residential housing can support 1.4 million square feet of retail between now and 2030. "So, we'll have any where from 2 to 3 million square feet of unneeded, surplus retail pushed on the residents of the Route 50 corridor," concludes Hines.

Barbara Munsey, the Dulles District representative on the Loudoun County Planning Commission disagrees. "Most of the people who are opposed forget that the market will dictate the pace of what occurs and when. The comprehensive plan [for the development] is a guideline and it needs to be a living document that interacts with the market," she said.

"The Route 50 task force has worked two years on producing the most successful planning for the corridor which will begin to take the traffic off of Route 50 and onto secondary roads, Munsey explained. "The alternative ... if we blindly follow the existing zoning, is no road improvements, by-right warehousing and truck traffic. Will this improve the current situation?"

Aldie resident Laura TeKrony is concerned that not enough office space is in the plans and that "by bringing in more retail and residences, we become a bedroom community, which then turns into a need for more affordable housing.... Will we now have to build more homes to support all this retail?" TeKrony asked.

As a South Riding resident, I see the concern from neighbors and nearby businesses when smaller retailers close or move, due to the influx of big boxes. How many more will follow? Too often we see servers outnumbering patrons in local restaurants, on what should be a busy Friday evening. Then there is the very noticeable increase in traffic. The half hour it used to take me to drive the 10 miles to work, now takes almost an hour. Ten of those minutes are just getting from my house to Route 50.

What do you think? And how will this additional retail development affect you?

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Posted at 1:00 PM ET, 07/ 3/2007

Walking the Paths Less Traveled

Today, correspondent Paul Gottschling brings us a view of local trails and expert opinions on where to walk.

The Washington & Old Dominion Trail near Belmont.(Photo by Gottschling)

An average weekday evening at the Gottschling home looks like this: My brother joins the family for dinner, visibly weary from a day of leasing apartments. Meanwhile, I've emerged from a mix of desk-riding, reading, and mostly idle about-the-house pacing. In short, we both need to get out for a walk. We simply mosey around the neighborhood on a relaxing route, though one that hardly brims with natural beauty.

But Loudoun offers more than paved pathways, promising a wide array of short and long walks through scenic woods, historic paths, river views and gardens. Seeking a few gems among the many great diversions, I asked the people most fitting of the title "walking trail expert" -- Loudoun park officials -- about their favorite places to take a casual stroll. Here is what they had to say:

Heather Rosso, the Events Coordinator at Algonkian Park , prefers to run trails in her free time, heading through "a couple of the small hills at Claude Moore," http://www.co.loudoun.va.us/prcs/parks/claude.htm as well as through the park in which she works. She also enjoys the Washington and Old Dominion trail, which as a Lansdowne resident she can access through its Belmont Ridge Rd intersection. "I like the W&OD for the distance that you can just keep going and going and going on it," she said.

Mark Mink, the Assistant Manager of Claude Moore Park likes "walking up the back of the hill in the Guilford Station area, [which has a] great overlook over a lot of Loudoun County. Just tremendous. Great views from up there." Park visitors can reach the overlook from Claude Moore Park's Little Stoney Mountain Trail.

The Scout Trail at Claude Moore (Photo by Gottschling)

Dodie Lewis, also at Claude Moore as the Park Naturalist, like Mink sticks to the offerings of her workplace. "My favorite hike here in this park would be on the blue trail, also called the Scout Trail. ... It's really pretty, and you wouldn't ... realize that you're right in the middle of Sterling." The slight bit of the trail that I sampled promised endless seclusion for anyone opting to complete its 3.5-mile, park-encircling loop, which has no real terminus.

Trails at the Rust Manor House and Nature Sanctuary, which is an oasis hidden near downtown Leesburg. Mark Riddell, spokesman for Northern Virginia Regional Parks, said one great walk with a water view is along Red Rock Wilderness Overlook at the end of River Creek Parkway.

What is your favorite walking spot?

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Posted at 9:00 AM ET, 07/ 3/2007

Huge Fires in Leesburg

An early morning fire on Cherry Lane (Photo by Charles Speacht)

Two massive fires broke out Monday morning in Leesburg, one just after 4:30 a.m. on Cherry Lane and the other at 5:22 on Seaton Court, bringing volunteer firefighting crews from Leesburg, Ashburn, Lucketts, Hamilton, Purcellville, Aldie, Sterling and even a ladder truck from Frederick County, Maryland.

In firefighter Brian's blog, he writes of the extensive damage and drama playing out before sunrise: "I was trying to hit some more fire that was visible in the roof area when I noticed the floor I was standing on was spongy (a very bad sign for a FF) and I actually felt a lot of heat coming up my leg from underneath. I quickly realized there was fire underneath me in the basement and that the floor had started to burn through. Needless to say, I got the hell out of that room with a quickness."

Fire demolished a home on Seaton Court and damaged neighboring properties. (Photo by Charles Speacht)

One firefighter described the Seaton Court blaze as "consuming the house." The report says the heat was so intense that it was melting the siding on neighboring homes.

No resident injuries were reported, and at this time officals do not know the cause of the fires.

NBC 4 and Fox 5 helicopters were on the scene for the Seaton Court blaze; here is a slideshow from the channel 4 copter view. And firefighter Tim from Sterling has a few dozen pictures and some notes showing a hot orange-red blaze, huge water works cooling the debris, and firefighters working in the skeleton of the home.

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