Posts Tagged ‘Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’

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The Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail

I took advantage of the mild weather preceding the storm expected for this weekend and went for an early morning ride today on a scenic portion of one of the southern sections of the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail.  The part of the trail where I explored this morning is located about 20 miles south of D.C., between the northern edge of the Julie J. Metz Wetlands Bank just south of Neabsco Creek, and the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge, in Prince William County, Virginia (MAP).

The trail, also known as the Potomac Heritage Trail or the PHT, is a designated National Scenic Trail corridor spanning parts of the mid-Atlantic and upper southeastern regions of the United States. It is comprised of a network of trails that will eventually connect numerous historic and cultural sites and natural features of the Potomac River corridor in D.C. and the local surrounding area, as well as in the Upper Ohio River Watershed in Western Maryland and Pennsylvania, and a portion of the Rappahannock River Watershed in Virginia.

Unlike many long-distance hiking and biking trails, such as the Appalachian Trail (which the PHT crosses near Harper’s Ferry, West Virginia), the PHT is a general route with numerous side trails and alternative routes.  Some of the routes even run parallel to each other, such as the Northern Neck Heritage Trail in Virginia and the Southern Maryland Potomac Heritage Trail, which parallel each other on opposite sides of the Potomac River.  The PHT includes approximately 800 miles of existing and planned future sections which, when completed, will all be connected. However, at the present time many of these trails and routes are still separated, connected to the others only by roads.

Development, construction, maintenance and preservation of the natural surface portions of the PHT is sponsored by The Potomac Heritage Trail Association in cooperation with other trail advocacy groups, as well as support from the National Park Service and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.   Among the trail advocacy organizations are a number of local groups and clubs, including the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club; Great Falls Trail Blazers; Fairfax Trails and Streams; Southern Prince George’s Trails Coalition; and the Oxon Hill Bicycle Club.

The PHT network follows some of the original paths once explored by George Washington, and you can follow the same routes today.  Whether by bike, on foot, or by horse or boat, the PHT provides almost limitless opportunities to explore the contrasting landscapes between the Chesapeake Bay and the Allegheny Highlands, and the many historic sites in between.  But if you’re looking for biking opportunities on the PHT which are closer to D.C., try exploring the The C & O Canal Towpath and the Mount Vernon Trail.

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

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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]

The Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail

The Washington & Old Dominion Rail Trail

The Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park is one of the skinniest but one of the longest parks in the commonwealth of Virginia. It is a regional park in Northern Virginia that is 44.8 miles long but only about 100 feet wide. The park encompasses the Washington & Old Dominion (W&OD) Railroad Trail, which is a nearly 45-mile asphalt-surfaced paved rail trail that runs through densely populated urban and suburban communities like the villages of Falls Church and Leesburg, high-tech centers such as Reston and Herndon, as well as through rural areas. The park and its trails are administered and maintained by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), with the assistance of The Friends of the Washington and Old Dominion Trail, a non-profit citizens organization dedicated to the preservation, enhancement and promotion of the trail.

The W&OD Trail begins in the Shirlington neighborhood of Arlington County, Virginia, near the intersection of South Shirlington Road and South Four Mile Run Drive (MAP).  At its trailhead, it connects to the paved Four Mile Run Trail, which travels eastward through Arlington along a stream embankment to meet the Mount Vernon Trail at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, near the Potomac River. This makes it easily accessible via the 14th Street Bridge for riders from D.C.  In fact, with the ability to then connect to the Rock Creek Park Trail, and then the Chesapeak & Ohio Canal and Towpath and the Great Alleghany Passage, it is possisble to travel from Purcelville to D.C., and then all the way to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a distance of 380 miles, entirely on trails without ever having to encounter cars or other motorized vehicle traffic.

The trail takes its name from the former Washington and Old Dominion Railroad, whose trains ran along the right-of-way from 1859 until 1968. The trail now travels on top of the rail bed of the former railroad. When the railroad ceased operations, the local power company bought the right-of-way for its electric power lines. After years of trying, the NVRPA was eventually able to acquire the use of sections of the railroad right-of-way for the trail. The first section of the W&OD Trail was opened in 1974 within the City of Falls Church. The multiuse trail proved to be so popular that the remaining sections were built, until its completion to Purcellville in 1988. The final section of the trail and near Arlington’s Bluemont Park was finally added in 2002. But even before its completion, it proved to be so popular that in 1987 the W&OD was designated a National Recreation Trail by the U.S. Department of the Interior.

Along the trail are numerous attractions and sites to keep the ride interesting, including several former railroad stations and cabooses, as well as bridges, museums, an old lime kiln, stores, bike shops, and old Victorian houses visible from the trail. Numerous streams, wetlands, overlooks, culverts, and green spaces are also located along the W&OD, which are home a variety of plant life, including hundreds of species of wildflowers. Over 100 species of birds, as well as mammals such as foxes, river otters and beavers, and reptiles such as turtles and snakes also inhabit these areas. With few hills, the W&OD Trail is a perfect venue for a bike outing. And in stark contrast to riding in D.C., there is no vehicle traffic along the entire route.

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[Click on the photos 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]