Darrell Winslow

Architect of Region’s Recreational Empire Retires
For 28 Years, Winslow Quietly Fashioned System
by Patricia Davis, Washington Post Staff Writer

Before Darrell Winslow came along, there was no Bull Run Regional Park. No Algonkian Regional Park. No Hemlock Overlook Regional Park. No Sandy Run Regional Park. No Upton Hill Regional Park. Children weren't screaming with delight in the wave pool at Cameron Run Regional Park. Golfers weren't breaking into a sweat at the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park.

Over the last 28 years, Winslow quietly built a recreational empire in Northern Virginia-and a national reputation. He provided uncounted millions of people with enjoyment and open space. Now, at age 62, a man most of those people never even heard of is retiring.

"These parks are a monument, or should be, to him," said Dorothy Werner, who worked with Winslow for 16 years. "He had the vision to visualize what they could be."

The North Carolina native was lured here from Bristol, Tennessee, to develop the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority's first park. Starting with a $300 utility shed, Winslow developed Bull Run Marina. Then Bull Run Regional Park. Then Pohick Bay Regional Park. Today there are 23 parks stretching over nearly 11,000 acres.

"I keep saying I want to do one more," Winslow said last week. "I've just been having fun from start to finish."

Winslow, the agency's executive director for 18 years, is proud of the fact that the authority-representatives from Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties and the cities of Falls Church, Alexandria and Fairfax-now covers more than 80 percent of its nearly $8 million operating budget through user fees and other charges. Although he credits the park authority's staff, which has grown to 80 full-time employees, his coworkers say it was Winslow's sense of fun, imagination and business savvy that rescued the once financially struggling agency.

"Darrell's a dreamer," said David Brown, who with David Hobson will make up the agency's new executive team. "He's put a lot of smiles on faces."

It's really no surprise, considering that this was a guy who paid for his car at North Carolina State University selling socks to fellow students. He would buy stacks of socks for $1 a dozen at a mill back home, then sell them for 25 cents each out of the trunk of his '53 Ford.

"Everyone was thrilled to death," Winslow said. "I would just open my trunk. I had a revenue-producing car."

Despite his retirement, which became effective Sunday, Winslow is still brimming with ideas. He is always trying to think of ways to make life a little better, particularly for children and the elderly. When an idea comes to him, he jots it down in the tiny green spiral notebook he takes with him everywhere. On a recent vacation, he said, he compiled 'Darrel G. Winslow's 100 Points of Action!' Among those on his list:

  • Involve youngsters with horses, dogs, and cats.
  • Parents or caretakers should read to small children for 30 minutes daily.
  • Tap senior citizens clubs immediately. Many would be thrilled to get involved and they just need a little leadership or suggestions about what they can do to help.
  • Young people should be told that education is one thing that no one can take away from them.

With a little more flex in his schedule now, Winslow hopes to spend time with the three daughters he and his wife, Ann, raised. Like their parents, they love the outdoors, and the oldest daughter, Dawn, was married in the middle of Bull Run Park as the sun came up. Guests feasted on country ham and biscuits.

Nearly three decades of accomplishment notwithstanding, Winslow is most proud of the fact that no drowning has ever occurred at any of the park pools. He was terrified that one would and instituted every safety measure he could think of, including mandatory 10-minute breaks on the hour.

Winslow said he'll spend his retirement the same way he spends his days off: in the parks. On a recent weekend, he went to three, jotting ideas in his little green notebook.

"I always kind of had a vision," he said. "I always kind of knew what I was going to do. And I never doubted it was going to be fun."