Posts Tagged ‘Fairfax County’

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Lake Accotink Park

Long holiday weekends are always a great opportunity to venture outside of the city and go for a bike ride in one of the many nearby state, regional, or county parks and recreation areas.  And on this early-morning, holiday weekend ride I rode the bike trail that goes around the lake at Lake Accotink Park, which is a multi-purpose park located at 7500 Accotink Park Road (MAP), just outside of D.C. in North Springfield, Virginia.  

Lake Accotink is a reservoir in eastern Fairfax County, Virginia, which is formed by the damming of Accotink Creek. The 55-acre park surrounding the lake is maintained by the Fairfax County Park Authority.  But the park was severely damaged not too long ago by flooding in the area.  And although evidence of the damage can still be seen, the trails are usable again.

Running through the park is a trestle bridge for the Orange and Alexandria Railroad, which was an intrastate railroad in Virginia.  The railroad extended from Alexandria to Gordonsville, with another section from Charlottesville to Lynchburg.  The railroad played a crucial role in the Civil War, and eventually became an important part of the modern-day Norfolk Southern rail system.

A sign near the bridge reads, “The original bridge crossing the Accotink Creek was built in 1851 as part of the Orange and Alexandria Railroad. During the Civil War the wooden trestly was an attractive target for Confederate soldiers. In his 28 Dec 1862 raid on Burke’s Station, Confederate Major General J.E.B. Stuart sent twelve men to burn the trestle. Although termed an “inconsiderate structure” by the Union press, the raid was alarming to many because of its close proximity to Alexandria. The trestle was quickly rebuilt, allowing the Union to continue transporting vital supplies along the line for the remainder of the war.” 

The park also has canoes, paddleboats, and rowboats available for rent.  Visitors can also take a tour by boat.  The park’s trail loop around the lake is a multi-use trail that accommodates bikes, as well as walkers and runners.  And there are other trails that stretch beyond the park and connect to the Cross-County Trail, with its running trails and mountain biking trails.  There is also a miniature golf course and an antique carousel near the south entrance to the park.

Accotink Park was one that I had not been to before, and I very much enjoyed the parts of the park that I saw.  However, it is so big that there are still more parts to explore.  So I guess I’ll just have to go back again soon.

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Occoquan Regional Park

I like to take advantage of the opportunities long holiday weekends provide to venture out from D.C.’s city limits and visit some of the places in the metro area which are not as easily travelled to during a workday lunch hour bike ride.  For this Labor Day weekend, I decided to go for an early morning ride and visit Occoquan Regional Park.

Administered by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, Occoquan Regional Park is located at 9751 Ox Road, in Fairfax County, Virginia (MAP).  It is situated on the banks of the Occoquan River, a tributary of the Potomac River, and is directly across from the Town of Occoquan, which is in neighboring Prince William County.  The park is composed of approximately 400 acres of recreational space which is comprised of dense forests as well as open spaces, and includes picnic shelters and gazebos, soccer and baseball fields, volleyball courts, a batting cage, and a marina with a fishing pier, sundeck, boat launch and kayak rentals.  And although it is not mentioned on the park’s website or in any guidebooks, it is one of my favorite places to pick wild blackberries.

The park also contains several attractions of historical significance, including preserved Civil War arsenals, the site of the Women Suffrage Prison at Occoquan Workhouse, and the Lorton Prison Beehive Brick Kiln.  The prison was in operation in 1917, and housed women who dared to speak out in favor of the right to vote for women.  It even house women picketers who were arrested in front of The White House.  And the kiln was in operation from the turn of the century until the late 1960’s, and was a primary local source of the red bricks used in constructing many of the historic buildings which can be seen throughout Northern Virginia.  I hope to visit these places and learn more about them in the future.

And last but not least, the park contains not only a paved cycling trail, but is also one of the few places in the region to serve as a trailhead for and site within multiple routes of regional and national significance.  These include: Park lands, trails and associated waters that are part of the Fairfax Cross-County Trail; the diverse, braided network of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail; an historic journey commemorated by the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail; and the Occoquan Water Trail, recognized as both a National Recreation Trail and part of the Chesapeake Bay Gateways and Water Trails Network.

With all that is has to offer, Occoquan Regional Park serves not only as a destination in and of itself, but as a starting point as well.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

A Tandem Ride at Burke Lake Park

A Tandem Ride at Burke Lake Park

I am still taking some time off from work after the holidays.  And as I’ve written previously in this blog, weekends, holidays and other time off from work provide ideal opportunities to venture away from the city and explore any one of the many local, regional and state parks in the D.C. metro area. For this ride, I took my oldest daughter along and we enjoyed a tandem ride at Burke Lake Park.

Burke Lake Park is located off Interstate 95, approximately a half an hour south of D.C., at 7315 Ox Road in Fairfax Station, Virginia (MAP). The public park is owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority, and was built on 888 acres of land that had been purchased by the Federal government in the 1950s for an international airport. However, when the site where Dulles Airport is now located was chosen as a replacement, the land was developed by Fairfax County as a public park.

The park is open from sunrise to sunset and offers a myriad of activities, including a miniature train, carousel, outdoor volleyball courts, open fields, Frisbee golf, horse shoe pits, an ice cream parlor, picnic areas with grills, three playgrounds, an amphitheater, camping, and a marina and boat rentals for enjoying the main feature of the park, a 218-acre lake owned by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.  The park also includes a miniature golf course, as well as an 18-hole par-three golf course, a driving range, and a clubhouse with snack bar.

As if all of these amenities were not already enough, Burke Lake Park also boasts one of the ten best fitness trails in the nation, as named by the American Hiking Society.  The Burke Lake Loop Trail follows the shoreline 4.7 miles around the lake, with bays jutting out from the main body of water that provide variations in the trail.  Gravel surfaced for most of its length, Burke Lake’s loop trail is not just suitable for walking and running, but is an excellent trail for biking as well.

The Burke Lake Trail Loop is one of the most scenic and enjoyable trails in the D.C. area.  The only thing that could make it better is enjoying it with someone special, like I did.

Leesylvania State Park

Leesylvania State Park

I’ve found holiday weekends are an ideal opportunity to venture away from the city and explore one of the regional or state parks in the D.C. metro area. So for a Columbus Day weekend ride, I selected Virginia’s Leesylvania State Park. The Park is located on the shores of the Potomac River overlooking Neabsco Creek, about 30 miles south of D.C. in the southeastern part of Prince William County (MAP).

The land where Leesylvania State Park is now located has had a rich history. Native Americans lived on this land for thousands of years, and it was once the site of a former Algonquian Indian village. Records indicate that Capt. John Smith also visited the area in 1608 on his voyage of discovery. It was eventually settled in 1747 by Henry Lee, II, who lived there until his death in 1787. He and his wife had eight children at their home there, including Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, a Revolutionary War hero and the future father of Civil War General Robert E. Lee, who was also born there. During the Lee family’s ownership of the land, George Washington is known to have visited there on several occasions, mentioning the visits in his diaries.

Then in 1825 the property was sold to Henry Fairfax. Henry Fairfax was a descendant of Thomas Fairfax, the 6th Lord Fairfax of Cameron, for whom neighboring Fairfax County, Virginia, was named. Fairfax County was formed from the northern part of Prince William County. The land was eventually passed to John Fairfax in 1847. The site was John Fairfax’s boyhood home, and he returned to live on the property in late 1875 after serving as a staff aide to Confederate Lt. General James Longstreet during the Civil War. Fairfax remained there until his death in 1908.

During the Civil War, the land was also used as a small Confederate force and gun emplacement, named the Freestone Point Confederate Battery, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Unfortunately, little remains of the physical remnants of the park’s early history. Only a small cornerstone of the Lee House remains, as well as a restored chimney of the Fairfax House. Henry Fairfax and his third wife are buried on the property, as are Henry Lee II and his wife. These archeological sites and the cemetery are accessible by trail, and are also listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today Leesylvania State Park offers many land and water activities, including hiking, picnicking, fishing and boating. The park includes a playground, four picnic shelters, a small group-only campground, a snack bar, and store and gift shop, and a visitor center. There are also five hiking trails, and a 20-station fitness trail. The park’s water amenities include a natural sand beach, boat launches and a boat storage area, canoe and kayak rentals, and a universally accessible fishing pier. Interestingly, halfway out on the park’s pier is the state line, so by walking out to the end of the pier you are actually in the state of Maryland, which can be seen on the other side of the river, about a mile away by water.  The shortest way to get there by land, however, is over 55 miles.

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Fountainhead Regional Park

Fountainhead Regional Park

There are not a lot of choices for mountain biking which are actually in D.C. In fact, Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail in Anacostia is the only natural-surface trail within the city limits that allows mountain bikes. Seeking more challenging terrain for this Labor Day weekend ride, I decided to venture outside of D.C. to Fountainhead Regional Park in nearby Fairfax Station, Virginia.  Administered by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, it is located at 10875 Hampton Road (MAP), and is situated at the widest point of The Occoquan Reservoir, a 22-mile-long body of water straddling part of the boundary between Fairfax County and Prince William County, west of Alexandria.

Fountainhead Regional Park is perfect for fishing for largemouth bass and catfish, or simply relaxing on the calm waters. The park offers a ramp for private boat launching, marina facilities, as well as canoe, kayak and Jon boat rentals. On land, the park also offers a handicap accessible fishing pier, as well as a picnic area with shelter, and a no-frills, 18-hole, par-36 miniature golf course. With the trailhead located in the park, Fountainhead also serves as one of the major access points for the popular Bull Run-Occoquan Trail, which givers hikers and horseback riders (no bikes allowed) the chance to discover more than 4,000 acres of scenic woodlands along the 17-mile trail.

But the real draw of Fountainhead, at least for me, is the park’s mountain bike trails, which include some of the most challenging trails in the mid-Atlantic region. Fountainhead Regional Park offers 4.5 miles of single track mountain-biking trails, composed of two loops and an out and back, that are accessible year-round. Comprised of beginner, intermediate, and expert sections (coded and marked by green, blue, and black), it is also directional so you won’t have to worry about someone coming at you from the opposite direction. Depending on the portion of the trail where you’re riding, expect to encounter a little bit of everything, including some seriously steep hill climbs, fast downhill descents, and flowing rhythm sections. There are also enough banked turns, bridges, and ledges to keep your eyes locked on the trail ahead of you and your adrenaline level up.

Nestled in a hilly and dense forest setting, the seclusion of the trails can make you forget that you are just minutes away from D.C. and the heavy traffic of Interstate 95 leading back to the city. The trail is well maintained, and updates on trail openings and closings, as well as current conditions, are always readily available on the park’s Facebook page or by calling the park. I highly recommend the park, especially for its challenging mountain biking trails.

However, I’d also offer a word of caution.  Know your own limitiations.  The trail is located within a mountain environment, and requires alertness, common sense, and caution.  Changing weather conditions, variations or steepness of the terrain, natural and man-made obstacles, and other dangers or conditions that may be encountered are inherent risks that are part of the challenges of mountain biking.  So be careful, and always ride within your own ability.

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