By Ralph F. Couey
Words and pictures
Today we were lured to Lake Accotink Park by the rumor of nesting eagles in the area. Alas, we were disappointed by the absence of the great raptors, but had a great hike anyway.
Lake Accotink is a reservoir surrounded by a 500-acre piece of paradise plunked down amidst the urban bee hive of Fairfax County. The park lies less than 2 miles (as the eagle flies) from one of the busiest freeway interchanges in the entire Washington DC area, I-495 and I-66. Stitched through the hills and around the lake are a multitude of trails that branch off the main path which widely circles the lake itself. Accotink Creek was dammed to create the lake and the area has been a government facility, a camp during World War I, an Army officers' retreat, and finally a county park. The main trail follows parts of the old railbed for the Orange and Alexandria railroad, an important Union rail line. Today, a massive concrete and steel Norfolk Southern bridge crosses the creek in the place where a log trestle stood during the Civil War, at least until Jeb Stuart and his cavalry burned it down.
This trail shares space with the Fairfax Cross-County Trail, a conglomeration of interconnected trails which runs some 40 miles from Occoquan Regional Park in the south all the way to Great Falls Park, where it joins with the Potomac Heritage Trail
The weather started out cool, but warmed pretty quickly, although the wind retained a bit of a bite. This would be Cheryl's first time out on the trail, so I thought this might be a good way to start the season for her, especially as she's breaking in a new pair of Merrill hiking boots.
There are several ways to approach the park. We chose the route through the Ravensworth Farm neighborhood off Braddock Road. We parked in the first lot we came to and after gearing up, went down an asphalt path to the marina. Here was a beach, a carousel, a couple of snack bars and several picnic shelters, from the looks of things a very busy place after Memorial Day.
The path leaving the marina was wide and in excellent shape. It undulated a bit as we walked along, but nothing like the steep climbs we had experienced in other places.