That Thing We Do in Great Falls: Hauling the Trash

Residents can bring their rubbish and recycling to the Great Falls Elementary School car park between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Saturdays. Photo contributed

Can you guess the oldest church tradition in Great Falls? 4th of July annual parade? Farmer’s market in the village square? Lighting the Christmas tree?

No It’s the weekly ritual where residents can bring their trash and recycling to the Great Falls Elementary School parking lot between 8 a.m. and 12 p.m. on Saturdays. This inexpensive garbage disposal, also known as “parkout,” has been around since the 1930s when Great Falls was nothing more than farms, a fire station, and Bucks general store. In 2003, Fairfax County transferred operations to a local nonprofit run by unpaid community volunteers.

Still here and strong. And now is a good time to sign up for a one-year permit, which runs from July 1 to June 30, 2022. Visit for more information.

What’s in it for you Much.

  • Good on your wallet: The annual service is only $ 330 – half what most commercial roadside pickups charge. You don’t need a pickup truck. Lots of people pack the backs of their SUVs and sedans (make as many trips as you need). I raised three kids who dragged them along with the trash to the parkout every Saturday morning, followed by a visit to 7-11 for a treat. Even the dog knew the routine and always insisted on going along.

  • Good for your community: Much of Great Falls and McLean remains an idyllic tangle of narrow, winding back roads and privately manicured streets – nightmares for large garbage trucks. This has created tension in many neighborhoods, discouraging some private airlines, driving up prices and complaints of spotty service. By dragging yourself, you reduce road wear and the unsightly piles of trash on the side of the road. The parkout trucks are on site every Saturday in rain or shine. They are only unavailable if the district schools are closed on the Friday of the previous day due to bad weather.

  • Good for the environment: Yes, the parkout is recycled. There are two American Disposal Services trucks – one for trash and one for metal, cardboard, paper, and plastic – with a friendly crew of collectors who do the heavy lifting for you, trying to fit almost anything except paint and hazardous materials. Fairfax County has stopped recycling glass, but there are still glass dispensaries at the Great Falls Library and Baron Cameron Park in Reston.

Membership in the parkout peaked in the 1980s with around 800 apartments. Today there are 260, more than enough to keep the service going. Why the decline? One reason seems to be a lack of awareness among newcomers. When Carolyne Albert-Garvey, a former headmistress, moved to Great Falls two years ago, she was so frustrated with the poor commercial service that she took her trash to her second home in Arlington for pickup every week. “I didn’t know the parkout existed,” she said. She is now the new President of Dranesville Trash & Recycling Inc. and hopes to continue this community tradition for many years to come.

Harbrecht, a retired journalist and 39-year-old Great Falls resident, has volunteered as an unpaid board member of the Parkout for 2021-22.

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