Above: bald eagle, spotted salamander, female scarlet tanager, tiger swallowtail butterfly (Virginia’s state insect)
BILL PORTLOCK/CBF STAFF
Cheers to those who had the foresight and
dedication to preserve this beautiful land:
the Mason Neck Citizens Association, The
Nature Conservancy, the federal government, the state of Virginia, and representatives like Congressman Jim Moran (page
24). Originally settled in 1755 by Virginia
Declaration of Rights author George Mason
IV, the peninsula has been the target of
many development projects over the years.
Plans to encroach on ecologically sensitive
Mason Neck have included an “outer beltway” for D.C., an airport, and a landfill.
Thankfully, the spotting of bald eagles in
1965 got the preservation ball rolling.
Mason Neck is now home to three large
parks: Pohick Bay Regional Park, Mason
Neck National Wildlife Refuge, and Mason
Neck State Park. My daughter Helen and I
visited the state park this past summer.
On the day of our arrival, Administrative
Assistant Patricia Paron welcomed us and
became our self-appointed cruise director,
making sure things ran smoothly at every
turn. After an introduction at the visitor center, Park Manager Jess Lowry gave us the lay
of the land, covering the park by truck.
Jess has been with the Virginia park system
for 32 years. His career has taken him
across the state from Natural Tunnel in the
western end of Virginia to the Piedmont
Region’s Smith Mountain to his current
post in the park system’s Chesapeake
Region. He is knowledgeable and speaks of
the park like an old friend. “Mason Neck,”
he says, “is my favorite.” Helen and I
believed him 100 percent.
A plan gelled as we returned to the visitor cen-
ter. The following day would be spent doing
what we began to call our “Mason Neck
triathlon”: a biking, kayaking, and hiking, up-
close-and-personal romp around the park.
Back at our hotel in Woodbridge: culture
shock. We couldn’t believe we were just 10
miles away. Next time, we will reserve a cabin
at Pohick Bay Regional Park. Although with
the water park, pool, and snack bar, Pohick is
not as pristine as our triathlon site, it beats
neighboring the 1.5-million-square-foot concrete jungle that is Potomac Mills Mall.
Patricia greeted us the next morning and set
us up with rental bikes and helmets. We felt
the impending heat as we began Leg 1, an
eight-mile bike ride along the park’s multi-use trail. But as we entered the shaded path,
the air cooled. We were quiet except for the
sound of our bike tires on the barely damp
asphalt. As our eyes and ears acclimated, we
noticed woodpeckers swooping between
the trees and furry critters scurrying along
the forest floor. The trail continued outside
the park, running through a corner of the
National Wildlife Refuge and meeting up
with another trail along Gunston Road.
Before turning around, we stopped at an
archeological dig display that interprets artifacts from Paleo-Indians to early European
settlers. We wouldn’t be doing this had the
“outer beltway” gone through.
Back at the visitor center for Leg 2, Ricardo
Hoyos, our kayak guide, awaited. Ricardo,
the park’s Naturalist, studied ecotourism in
his native country of Ecuador. Before he came
to Virginia four years ago, he was a jungle
guide. Helen and I expected an adventure.
Before we boarded the kayak, Ricardo point-
ed out the tidal pond’s many turtles, their
heads dark and still, resembling the ends of
sticks poking through the green water. We
paralleled the shore of Belmont Bay, pad-
dling north towards Kane’s Creek. We
passed an impressive beaver dam, but the
nocturnal builders must have been safe
inside. Instead, a racoon prowling the beach
acknowledged our presence and a large tur-
tle plopped off a log.
Entering Kane’s Creek, I imagined how
Dorothy felt when she landed in Oz. We
were truly away from it all. Only nature surrounded us and we synched with the caterpillars patiently riding on the water’s surface,
waiting to be taken to the nearest blade of
grass. Landscaped by Mother Nature, the
creek was bursting with purple pickerelweed
and punctuated with yellow lilies. We
stopped often to watch for critters.
Overhead, a bald eagle chased an osprey carrying a fish. At the headwaters, an immature
blue heron, not quite as graceful as his parents, showed us his new fishing skills. We
wished to linger and it was tough to return.
Back on land, Helen and I set out on Leg 3.
Bay View Trail hugs the waterfront and
loops through park’s mature hardwood forest. We played possum now and then until
the critters—birds, frogs, dragonflies, and
squirrels—showed themselves. Otherwise,
all was green and brown. Although we only
covered one mile, we didn’t emerge for more
than an hour. Our triathlon was complete.
With tuned-up senses and lots of great
memories, we headed home.
Loren Anne Barnett—CBF’s
Director of Creative Services
and Editor of Save the Bay
magazine—grew up on
Maryland’s Severn River.