Accotink Creek snakes through Springfield, inching its way to the Potomac River. Along the way, the creek serves as a haven for wildlife and an outdoor escape for hikers.
Originating in western Fairfax, the creek enters Fairfax County near the City of Fairfax, makes a pit stop at Lake Accotink and continues under Old Keene Mill Road, the Springfield-Franconia Parkway, through the U.S. Army's Engineer Proving Grounds (EPG) and Fort Belvoir before emptying into Accotink Bay, which is surrounded by a wildlife preserve.
The creek is one of many in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. It qualifies as a resource protection area in the Chesapeake Bay Preservation Ordinance because the creek is "a water body with perennial flow," which is defined by a Chesapeake Bay Foundation pamphlet as water that always flows in the stream except during periods of drought.
For Daventree resident Dana Reilly, having a vast green stream valley out her back door was a must.
"That was one of our criteria, that we back up to the woods," Reilly said. "We like that nobody can build back there. That's the main reason we bought here."
RORY GRENZ likes the wildlife that he's spotted while walking on the Accotink trail by his Daventree neighborhood.
"I've seen deer down there," Grenz said. "I've heard there's a fox. People go jogging all the time [along creek the]. Considering where you're at, it's nice."
Deer, snakes, turtles and fish also make the creek their home, but some features along the stream remain invisible to many. The stream continues after the spillway at the Lake Accotink Dam.
Downstream off the southern end of the Lake Accotink lower parking lot, the trail abuts the stream for two miles. An area for mountain bikes and a footpath border the creek. The creek is stocked in the early spring with trout, but as the warm weather sets in, the trout that aren't caught usually die, since they are a cold water fish.
The path ducks under the bridge at Old Keene Mill, and the trail vanishes shortly after. At the Fairfax County Parkway bridge, with its graffiti underneath, a smattering of deer paths extend, and patches of paved trails lead past the ruins of a house, a swimming pool and rock formations that look straight out of Great Falls. It hardly looks like Springfield.
When establishing the preliminary plans for the EPG, Accotink Creek was looked on as the dividing line between an area marked for development and open space. To the east of the creek is Lee District and was planned by Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) for a section of retail and residential development. The western side of the creek is in the Mount Vernon District, dedicated to open space, parkland and the remaining stretch of the Fairfax County Parkway.
ACCOTINK CREEK was first put on the map in 1608 by Capt. John Smith, an English explorer. Along with Dogue Creek, Pohick Creek and Long Branch in the Springfield area, Accotink was used in the early days for fishing and commerce. The town of Accotink, which is currently off Richmond Highway surrounded by Fort Belvoir, originated alongside the creek as a fishing and lumber town. In 1801, Daniel McCarty Chichester applied for permission to build a water grist mill on the creek. In the War of 1812, British cannonballs destroyed the Belvoir Mansion on Accotink Creek.
During the Civil War, a majority of Accotink's residents were from the North, and they opposed secession. In 1879, the town was put on a post office map, with a handful of residents, a grist and saw mill, two stores and the post office. In 1910, Accotink was the site of a railway connection from Camp Humphries with the Richmond-Fredericksburg steam line.