Posts Tagged ‘Jones Point Park’

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Jones Point Lighthouse

Stretching for seventeen miles along the Virginia shore of the Potomac River, from George Washington’s historic family home to the city of Washington, D.C., the Mount Vernon Trail has as much history per mile as just about any other trail in the entire country. And one of the often overlooked highlights along the trail is the Jones Point Lighthouse, which is located on a short peninsula of land just south of Old Town Alexandria, directly west across the river from National Harbor on the Maryland shore, and immediately north of the confluence of Hunting Creek and the Potomac River (MAP) in Jones Point Park.  It was this lighthouse that was the destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

In August of 1852, the United States Lighthouse Board received a Congressional appropriation to purchase land and construct a lighthouse at Jones Point. Three years later, the money was used to purchase a narrow tract of land, measuring only 30 by 100 feet, from the Manassas Gap Railroad Company.  The building was constructed in 1855, and the Jones Point Lighthouse was first lit on May 3, 1856.  The lighthouse consisted of a small, one-story, four-room house with a lantern on top that contained a fifth order Fresnel lens, the most advanced lens technology available in the 1800’s.  The lens produced a light beam which could be seen nine miles away.  The light was designed to function as a navigational aid to help ships avoid shifting underwater shoals on the river, and originally served primarily naval ships approaching the Washington Navy Yard, as well as the numerous merchant, passenger, fishing ships traveling into Alexandria, which was at the time was one of the largest centers for shipping, manufacturing, and transportation in the nation.

In 1918 a massive shipyard was constructed at Jones Point to build ships for World War I. As a result, the lighthouse’s beacon light was obscured, making it less useful as a navigational aid. It continued to function in its diminished capacity for a few more years, but was eventually discontinued in 1926, and replaced by a small steel skeletal tower located nearby with an automated light to cut the costs of a manned lighthouse. After being discontinued, the house and property were deeded to the Mount Vernon Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, which maintained the structure as a museum. Then a decade later, in 1936, the Army Signal Corps built a classified communication facility on the former shipyard and closed it to the public. At that time the Jones Point Light went dark, and would remain so for more than half a century.

Although the lighthouse was now closed, the Army reopened Jones Point to the public in 1953. But by that time there was significant damage to the lighthouse from weather, tides, and vandalism. Soldiers had even used the building for target practice during World War II. And after the public was allowed to enter Jones Point again, the damage to the lighthouse only got worse, with vandals further defacing the building, looting it for artifacts and materials, and even burning down part of it. At that point the Daughters of the American Revolution, lacking the funds to restore the lighthouse and not wanting the historic structure to end up being completely destroyed, they chose to deed the property back once again to the Federal government.

With the Jones Point Lighthouse back under the ownership and control of the Federal government, the Daughters of the American Revolution worked with the National Park Service to establish a park on the site and restore the lighthouse. In 1964 Jones Point Park opened, and although the restoration of the lighthouse took longer, it was finally relit in 1995. Today the Jones Point Light is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. It is one of only a few remaining riverine lighthouses in the entire country, and it is the last one remaining in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Although it is only a short distance from D.C., the feeling of stepping back in time makes the Jones Point Lighthouse seem much further away.  So even though it was only a lunchtime trip, it seemed like I travelled much, much further.

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The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge

You would think that a mile and a quarter long, multi-span drawbridge which carries a twelve-lane interstate highway used by more than a quarter of a million vehicles every day would not be a very good location for riding a bicycle, but that is not the case with the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge.

The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, commonly referred to as the Wilson Bridge, was planned and built as part of the Interstate Highway System created by Congress in 1956. Construction of the bridge began in the late 1950s, at which time it was called the Jones Point Bridge. It was renamed the “Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge” in honor of our country’s 28th President in 1956 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower as part of that year’s centennial celebration of Woodrow Wilson’s birth on December 28, 1856. President Wilson was an advocate of automobile and highway improvements in the United States, and during his presidency reportedly spent an average of two hours a day riding in his automobile to relax and, as he would say, “loosen his mind from the problems before him.”

The Wilson Bridge opened to traffic on December 28, 1961. First Lady Edith Wilson, the widow of President Wilson, was supposed to have been the guest of honor at the bridge’s dedication ceremony honoring her husband on what would have been his 105th birthday. However, she died that very morning at the family home they had shared in northwest D.C.

The Wilson Bridge as it was originally constructed was designed to handle between 70 and 75 thousand vehicles a day. But by 1999 the bridge was handling 200,000 vehicles a day. This caused not only traffic issues but serious maintenance problems as well. Despite undergoing continuous patchwork maintenance beginning in the 1970’s, and being completely re-decked in 1983, the overuse took its toll and in 2000 construction began to replace the bridge with two new side-by-side drawbridges. The massive $2.357 billion construction project utilized 26 prime contractors and 260 subcontractors employing 1,200 full-time workers.  The 230 thousand ton, 1.2-mile long structure was completed almost a decade later.

The Wilson Bridge currently consists of two parallel bridge structures, each with 17 fixed spans and one 270-foot twin double leaf bascule span. The northern span carries the Inner Loop of the Capital Beltway, which is comprised of Interstate 95 and Interstate 495, while the southern span contains the beltway’s Outer Loop.  And with eight leaves, each weighing four million pounds, giving the drawbridge 32 million pounds of moving mass, it is the biggest drawbridge in the world.

Connecting the city of Alexandria, Virginia, with National Harbor in Oxon Hill, Prince George’s County, Maryland, the Wilson Bridge also crosses the tip of the southernmost corner of D.C., giving it the distinction of being the only bridge in the United States that crosses the borders of three jurisdictions. The 300-foot mid-span of the western portion of the bridge is also the shortest segment of Interstate Highway between state lines.

But to me, one of the most impressive features of this massive structure was the forethought to make it bicycle friendly. The northern span of the bridge includes a pedestrian and bike passageway known as the Wilson Bridge Bike Trial. The 3.5-mile trail extends from Oxon Hill Road across the Potomac River to the Huntington Metro Station in Virginia. The trail connects to the network of trails, including the Mount Vernon Trail at Jones Point Park in Virginia.  And future plans call for it to connect with the Potomac Heritage Trail in Maryland. The trail has a steel railing on the north side called the bicycle barrier and a concrete barrier with a short steel railing on top called the combination barrier to separate the bikeway traffic from the highway traffic. The trail, which opened on June 6, 2009, is approximately 12 feet wide, with “bump-out” areas where users can stop to observe views of D.C. and Old Town Alexandria.

The Wilson Bridge Bike Trial has a speed limit of 10 m.p.h., which is a good idea due to the bridge’s many steel joints that can damage bike tires and rims at high speeds. The speed limit for bikes is also a good idea since the trail is also used by many pedestrians.  While riding on the trail it’s also a good idea to remember that it is a drawbridge and may open periodically, so paying attention to warning lights and bells is necessary. The trail is closed between midnight and 5:30 a.m.  It is also closed during snowstorms, so much like the D.C. area, it has had a rough go of it this winter.

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Jones Point Park

Jones Point Park

On this lunchtime bike ride I decided to go to Jones Point Park, which is located just south of Old Town Alexandria (MAP) in Virginia. The 65-acre park is operated by the National Park Service as land of the U.S. Department of Interior, and is located in an historic area on the banks of the Potomac River, on land which was a critical piece of the city of Alexandria’s early history as one of the largest centers for shipping, manufacturing, and transportation in the nation. A large portion of the park also is located under the massive The Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge, which crosses the Potomac River and connects Virginia with Maryland.

The park has formal spaces for recreation which include two playgrounds, one for children under age five and one for children ages six to ten. It has two basketball courts, restrooms, water fountains, picnic tables, multi-use recreational fields, as well as the historic Jones Point Lighthouse.

Jones Point Park also includes a small boat launch that offers access to the Potomac River for canoes and kayaks, and two fishing piers, which all provide excellent opportunities to cast for American catfish, rock bass, and American eels. Fishing is permitted with the appropriate license. However, the boundaries for Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia all intersect at Jones Point. So depending on where you fish, the regulations for the different entities will apply. Federal fishing regulations also apply throughout the park. For anyone wanting to fish in this area, they should be aware of the health advisories on eating fish caught in this area of the Potomac River. The advisories may be found on state and municipal fisheries websites.

Less formal areas of the park, including trails through an adjacent hardwood forest, are also available at the park by crossing the multi-use recreational fields. The 80-foot trees that make up the forest offer a haven for wildlife amid the local urban area, and are great habitat for viewing fall and spring birds that are drawn to these woodlands during migration in search of food and cover. And the trail down to the Potomac River offers spectacular views of waterbirds, wintering waterfowl and bald eagles. There is also an interpretive trail which provides information about the human and natural history behind Jones Point Park.  Signs and exhibits along the trail highlight the area’s fresh water marsh habitat, its use by American Indians, and its role in shipbuilding and navigation.

Jones Point Park is easily accessible by bike, because it is located along the Mount Vernon Trail, which actually runs through the park. So the next time you’re looking for a ride that’s a little bit longer, I highly recommend this park. It’s not only a great destination, but there’s plenty to see along the way during the ride from D.C.

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