Posts Tagged ‘Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail’

Historic Fort Lincoln

Historic Fort Lincoln

After getting temporarily lost on a recent bike ride, I got out a map when I got back to my office to see where I had been.  It turned out that the area where I had been riding, which is just north of The National Arboretum, has as many, if not a greater number of historical sites than practically any other location I’ve seen of comparable size.  While looking at the map I also noticed that I had been very near historic Fort Lincoln, so on this ride I went back to explore.  There was too much too see in one trip, however, so I’ll have to plan to go back again.

Fort Lincoln was a Civil War-era fort constructed by the Union Army in 1861 for use in the defense of the national capital city.  The remnants of the fort are just past the D.C. city limits in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and is located at 3401 Bladensburg Road (MAP) in Brentwood, Maryland.  The fort is located within the boundaries of Fort Lincoln Cemetery, near the Old Spring House and adjacent to the infamous Bladensburg Dueling Grounds.

The area surrounding D.C. had 68 major enclosed forts, as well as 93 prepared, although unarmed, batteries for field guns, and seven blockhouses surrounding it during the Civil War.  This system of forts is known collectively as the Civil War Defenses of Washington, or the Fort Circle Parks.  Fort Lincoln was part of this system of forts.

Much of what remains of the system of forts is now a collection of National Park Service properties, while other forts have become state and city parks in the area.  Forts Foote, Greble, Stanton, Ricketts, Davis, Dupont, Chaplin, Mahan, and Battery Carroll are administered by National Capital Parks-East. Forts Bunker Hill, Totten, Slocum, Stevens, DeRussy, Reno, Bayard, Battery Kemble, and Battleground National Cemetery are administered by Rock Creek Park. And Fort Marcy is administered by George Washington Memorial Parkway.

There is also a trail connecting four of the parks, the Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail, which is also operated and maintained by the National Park Service.

The inscription on the historic marker at the entrance to Fort Lincoln reads, “These earthworks are a portion of the original fortifications which made up Fort Lincoln. This fort was built during the summer of 1861 to serve as an outer defense of the city of Washington. It was named in honor of President Lincoln by General Order No. 18, A.G.O., Sept. 30, 1861. The brigade of Major General Joseph Hooker was the first to occupy this area. In immediate command of the fort was Captain T.S. Paddock. The Civil War cannons have been placed here through the courtesy of the Department of Defense to commemorate this auspicious occasion.”

I look forward to going back to the area near Fort Lincoln to explore more of the history there, as well as eventually visiting all of the other remaining Fort Circle Parks.

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

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

Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail

Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail

The Fort Circle Trail is what’s known as a hiker-biker trail, and follows along part of a route connecting historic sites that are collectively known as The Civil War Defenses of Washington.  The seven-mile trail passes through four of D.C.’s dozens of Civil War era forts which were originally built to defend bridges, naval installations, Capitol Hill and the rest of the city from likely approaches by Confederate rebels through southern Maryland during the Civil War.  Trail end points are at Bruce Place (Fort Stanton) in southeast D.C. (MAP), where I entered the trail on this ride, and at 42nd Street (Fort Mahan) in northeast D.C., where I ended.

The Fort Circle Trail contains surprising expanses of natural open spaces in what is otherwise a highly urban area.  It runs along the traces of old roadways, as well as through forests which are thick with oaks, beech, maples, and pine.  It can also get overgrown with vegetation at times along the route.  There are a few busy road crossings too, and navigating the starts and stops can sometimes get tricky if a rider is not paying attention.  The trail’s surface is mostly natural earth, with some improved sections which are paved with asphalt.  Be aware that the natural surface areas can also get muddy after heavy rains.  But the trail is signed in most places and easy to follow.

The Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail was designated in June of 1971, and was one of the first National Recreation Trails.  It is administered by the National Park Service, and is part of the larger American Discovery Trail as it winds its way from Chesapeake Bay to Georgetown, as well as the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, whose 425 miles of trail stretch between the Chesapeake Bay and the Allegheny Highlands.

The Fort Circle Park National Recreation Trail is unique in that it is the only natural-surface trail within the D.C. city limits that allows mountain bikes.  In fact, a good way to see the trail is on mountain bike guided tours that are offered on the last Saturday of the month during warmer weather, and are lead by a Park Service ranger.  And if you don’t have a bike, the National Park Service will even provide one for you with advanced notice.

Whether you happen upon it like I did and explore the trail at your own pace, or plan ahead and take a tour guided by a ranger from the National Park Service, the Fort Circle Trail is unique among D.C.’s many trails, and worth experiencing in whatever way you choose.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]