The urban jungle of Northern Virginia has grown out of control. This doesn’t involve vines, primates, nor serpents, although from what I’ve heard there are a lot of those on Capital Hill. No this jungle has to do with development on a massive scale, as in the past twenty years the population of people has increased expodentially. Its not just the highways that are clogged now, but also the side roads, and the commutes around here require you to read the paper, shave, and have that cup of coffee while driving. I’ve lived here for almost thirty years, and have watched this change to my environment, much to my chagrin. While retirement is far away, and I will be living in a more serene locale, at least there’s one place I can go to regain some semblance of sanity.
That would be the Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge. True, I cannot go hunting or fishing here, but its not nice to hear gunshots while taking a walk. There’s no need to bring that blaze orange jacket and hat, just in case. In this federally protected land, that is managed by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, you can “just take a hike.” That’s what I do, and there’s a trail that juts in either an Eastern or Western direction. Its pretty simple, as there’s only two choices, but it all depends on what you want to see. My preference is the Eastern direction, because of the Potomac River.
I don’t think you can set this part of the Potomac on fire, like the section that runs through D.C., and it looks picturesque walking by it. Here the waters are relatively calm, and its a good spot to just bring a comfortable chair, and a good book. Its fairly shaded, so there’s no need for serious sunblock, and the wildlife viewing here is phenomenal. I have yet to see one of the bald eagles that congregate here, but I’ve observed osprey diving into the water for fish. That is a sight to behold, along with the ducks, geese, and other critters that you can see by the riverbanks. There are a fair amount of snakes here, and while I haven’t seen any poisonous ones, the Northern Water Snake can be confused for one by its appearance and rather nasty disposition. Thankfully, the majority I’ve seen are the harmless black rat snakes, and you might see some furry creatures, like a opposum or raccoon.
If you take the western trail, its a bit hilly, but not so rough that it will require serious hiking boots. Here you will walk into an area that has oak trees that are probably hundreds of years old, and some of them have enormous trunks. The height of these trees is breathtaking, and there are also some maple and pine trees that you can see up close. Its in this area that you will see smaller birds, such as blue jays, cardinals, and robins. In fact, since the cardinal is Virginia’s state bird, I’m always happy to see these beautiful red creatures. You might catch a few deer if you get here early enough, or if you are walking out to your car in the evening hours.
Parking here is easy to find, as there are plenty of spots. It can get a bit busy during the summer months, so if you are going on a weekend, I’d recommend getting here early. There are no admission costs, and just remember this is a refuge, so no fishing or hunting. Rangers patrol this park regularly, and can and will arrest for wildlife violations. However, as long as you are obeying the law, they are friendly and more than happy to answer your questions about the fauna that can be seen throughout various parts of this location. This park’s address is 7603 High Point Road Lorton, Virginia 22079, and you can reach the staff at 703-490-4979. Being close to Interstate 95, its an easy stop for residents and travelers alike, and you can easily spend a couple of hours here.