As a new resident of the Woodbridge and Occoquan River region, I was eager to explore what the local running trails had to offer this past summer. On one early morning run in June, I passed a freshly paved blacktop trail veering off from the sidewalk along Rippon Blvd., which hadn’t been there the week before.
I followed the trail for a few minutes to discover a spacious parking lot and a playground. As I continued, I came around a bend in the trail to discover a wide, pristine boardwalk winding like a serpent over Neabsco Creek and the surrounding wetlands.
I ran over the boardwalk, admiring the herons standing knee-deep in the marsh, hunting for fish below, the falcons circling languidly overhead, riding the warm breezes, eyes peeled for prey, and dragonflies buzzing through the tall grasses, alighting on cattails. Already at this early hour, I saw a mother pushing a toddler in a stroller. I also saw a fellow runner. On a clear day looking out from Neabsco Creek boardwalk, you can see all the way out to the Occoquan Bay.
The boardwalk had been in the making for over 15 years. Prince William County Supervisor Frank Principi’s efforts kicked it off. Principi’s term as a county supervisor ends Dec. 31.
“The community satisfaction surveys all clearly showed that Prince William County residents love trails, and they wanted more of them,” said Dianne Cabot Wahl, the county’s Parks, Recreation, and Tourism spokeswoman. “Trails like this one help to increase property values and they improve the quality of life for residents. When you get out on the trails, your heart stops racing and you mind clears. And the best part is, these trails are all multi-purpose. While they’re great to run on, you don’t have to be a runner to enjoy them.”
The paved walkway and boardwalk itself are more steps in realizing the National Park Service’s hopes to connect and extend portions of the currently disjointed Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. You may be familiar with some portions of this trail which run along the Potomac River opposite the C & O Canal Towpath. The goal is to create a continuous trail that extends from the Allegheny Mountains in Pennsylvania, winding through Maryland, Washington D.C. and down through Virginia, totaling over 800 miles.
The process of building the boardwalk was not without challenges.
“Trying to find the right architects with unique experience designing a structure that could be built in a wetland and would hold up long-term was difficult. Even determining the right kind of wood to use for the support pylons was tricky,” Cabot Wahl said.
The park is intended to be used for recreation, conservation, as well as historic and environmental education. Starting this spring, Prince William County will offer educational programming to students with the goal of teaching them about the value and significance of the Occoquan bay and wetlands in general.
“You wouldn’t be able to educate people about what the wetland actually does without the boardwalk, let alone discuss the historical significance of this area. The Powhatan Indians lived, fished, and hunted here for generations centuries ago. This was even the birthplace of commerce in the area,” Cabot Wahl said. “The wetlands are a miraculous place and that, combined with the history here, is one of the things I love about Prince William County.”
At this time, the boardwalk extends for half a mile over the bog, but plans are moving forward to extend the existing boardwalk an additional three-quarters of a mile from the wetlands preserve to Leesylvania State Park. Currently the boardwalk spills out to the south to merge with what was formerly known as the Julie Metz Wetlands Trails, but is now all considered part of Neabsco Regional Park. There you’ll find additional parking at the trailhead and various packed dirt trails on north side of the park, all clearly marked. If you follow the trail that runs parallel to Neabsco Rd. for about a mile, and make a right turn, you can cross the road and enter Leesylvania State Park.
Opened in 1992, local humanitarian Daniel Ludwig gifted the 500 acres of land to the state in 1978. The park offers four trails ranging in distance from less than a mile to over four miles long, each offering varying difficulty levels for runners and hikers. The trails afford various scenic views of the Potomac River and a few Civil War historic sites.
The Potomac Heritage trail is an easy 3.1 mile out-and-back route.
Lees Woods trail is a moderate 1.8 mile loop.
Powell’s Creek Nature trail is a popular 2.2 mile easy trail particularly good for dogs.
Bushey Point Trail is an easy 2.1 mile out-and-back trail.
Combine a few different trails to add more miles. You can also drive into the park and run there, bypassing Neabsco and the wetlands trails, but it will cost you a $10 entrance fee. It’s also worth a trip to the park to go kayaking or fishing.
This series of trails is certainly worth a drive down to Prince William County for a weekend long run away from the commotion and crowds of some of the more heavily trafficked routes closer to downtown D.C.