Papi “Van” Winkle
Papi “Van” Winkle
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For as long as people can remember, bald eagles have nested at Virginia's Mason Neck State Park. In the 60s, when people became aware that the eagles’ numbers were dwindling, they realized that the encroaching development would potentially endanger these nesting grounds. The locals lobbied the state of Virginia to begin purchasing land. Virginia began purchasing parcels of land in 1967 and quietly adding the acreage over the subsequent years. Mason Neck State Park was officially established and opened to the public in 1985.
In the ‘90s, archeologists conducted digs around Mason Neck and found several sites of interest. Of particular notes are two sites, which have been listed on the National Register of Historic Places: the Lexington Site, which is where the plantation was built by the original owners of Mason Neck, and the Taft Site, which is where a proto-Native American village was situated. This village is believed to have existed between 2000 BC and 1560 AD.
The closest large town to Mason Neck State Park is Mount Vernon, VA, which is about 15 miles to the northeast. The small town is, quite possibly, best known as the site of President Washington and his wife, Martha Washington, home, the Mount Vernon Estate. One of the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s houses are found in the town, also.
Encompassing a little over 1,800 acres, a mix of wetlands, ponds, forests, and meadows comprises Mason Neck State Park. This little slice of heaven is on a peninsula that juts out into Potomac River. As hikers explore around 10 miles of trails, three of which are paved, they should keep a sharp eye out. Overhead, there are anywhere between five and 10 massive nests built on treetops each year. Typically spanning between six and ten feet wide, these nests look like a hodge-podge of twigs from a distance. With a little patience and time, eagles will alight upon these nests, bringing more savory delicacies for their mates to enjoy while they brood. Mason Neck State Park is considered one of the best spots for observing bald eagles in Virginia.
Ospreys, which are keen hunters of fish, are frequently sighted soaring the skies over Potomac River. Great Blue Herons are also common sights, delicately picking their way through the wetlands and shallow banks of the river.
White-tailed deer don’t seem to discriminate when it comes to choosing the terrain for foraging. Adventurers can just often find them browsing wild grasses in the wetlands as in grazing on ferns and mosses in the forested region. They are notoriously flighty and easy to spook and are often only recognized by the tell-tale flash of a white tail as they dash away.
Mason Neck State Park’s visitor operates a small boat rental program at which people can rent a canoe, a kayak, or a bicycle. There is also a small boat launch that allows for easier access to Potomac River. Fishermen are required to have either a Maryland or Virginia fishing license. Anglers can expect to catch bass, muskellunge, walleye, and pike. The northern snakehead, which is an invasive fish, should be removed and killed if caught, but anglers should be certain that the catch is not a native bowfin or lamprey, both of which can seem similar at a glance.
A common reason to rent an Airstream is to skip a noisy hotel and sleep surrounded by nature. Unfortunately, RV camping at Mason Neck State Park isn’t possible because it is a day-use park. However, there are a few options within 15 miles.
Pohick Bay Regional Park Campground near Lorton, VA, may be a good option to consider. Just outside Mason Neck State Park, Pohick Bay Regional Park Campground offers hot showers, restrooms with flush toilets, and an on-site laundry facility. Wifi also is available.
Alternatively, RV camp near Dumfries, VA, at Prince William Forest RV Campground. In addition to full hookups, this campground has several amenities like a swimming pool, free hot showers, and a camp store.
Washington, D.C. is a short drive to the north, and traveling to the historic city is a breeze in a travel trailer rental. However, visitors should be aware that finding street parking that will accommodate a large rig may be a challenge. Instead, park in one of the metro stations’ parking lots and take the metro into the city. In the heart of the city, there are endless activities and places to see. The Smithsonian has several museums. There are dozens of art galleries and theaters. Though the cobblestones once lined the streets of the city are long gone, many homes date back to the 1700s and are in good condition to this day.
Hit the links! There are dozens of public golf courses in the area. The Forest Greens Golf Club in Triangle, VA, is open to the public. A Clyde Johnson design, this par-72 fairway has been granted four stars by Golf Digest. Forest Greens Golf Club also has a driving range and putting greens for golfers seeking to polish their skills before hitting the greens.