If Hansel and Gretel lived in Great Falls but lost their way to their grandmother's house in Lorton, they could now follow the Cross County Trail to get there.
Thousands of hikers, cyclists and runners participated in dozens of events on Saturday, May 6, as part of Trailfest, the county-wide celebration and opening of the Cross County Trail. After more than six years of planning, the 41-mile trail, which stretches from the Potomac River in Great Falls to the Occoquan in Lorton, was officially opened with activities and parties at a dozen parks along the way.
“We should all take a moment to realize we’re making history,” said Lake Accotink Park manager Tawny Hammond during a ribbon cutting ceremony at the park early Saturday afternoon. “If the land, rocks and trees here could talk, they’d tell the story of remarkable events … of soldiers in 1918 building a damn for Fort Belvoir and a Park Authority, only 10 years old, taking a chance and leasing the vacant land to establish a park that is now in its 46th year,” she said.
From the first bird walk, which began at 6 a.m., through a windy closing ceremony at the Laurel Hill Golf Club, nature enthusiasts across Fairfax County had the chance to go on birding walks, hear presentations on environmental conservation and enjoy a sunny spring day outside with pets, children and friends.
“The Cross County Trail runs right through one of the jewels of the Park Authority,” said Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), standing just a few feet from Lake Accotink where visitors were enjoying the first official day of the park for the 2006 season. Nodding to the handful of canoes and paddle boats already in use on the lake, she added, “this place really rocks all summer and into the fall.”
CITING A PARK AUTHORITY needs assessment survey conducted in 2003, Bulova said people had an interest in trails, especially ones which linked smaller trails to larger destinations.
“Someone can walk along the trail up here to the pavilion and every Friday night during the summer hear great music during Braddock Nights,” Bulova said.
Supervisor Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) took a moment to thank Board of Supervisors Chair Gerry “Big Daddy” Connolly (D-At-large) for his dedication to making the trail a reality.
“Gerry is the legitimate father of this trail,” Kauffman said with a laugh as Connolly beamed at his new nickname. “He was the first of all of us to recognize that transportation in Fairfax County isn’t just about roads and vehicles but pedestrians and bicycles too.”
When the trail was first mentioned as a board matter in 1999, the county was a different place.
“Seven years ago, we didn’t have Lorton,” said Connolly, who was the Providence District supervisor at the time. “This is the legacy that we are leaving behind and I’m awfully proud of that.”
Three brave cyclists took the opportunity to bike the entire length of the trail on Saturday, staring early in the morning at Great Falls and concluding their ride shortly before sunset at Occoquan Regional Park.
“We’ve been biking since 7 a.m.,” said Mike Berdu, a member of the MORE, the Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts, from Herndon.
“There’s something along the trail for every kind of biker,” said MORE member Randy Kerr, an Oakton resident.
Along the way, Mason Neck resident Joe Chudzik said the cyclists were accompanied by frogs who were “just singing their butts off” near a pond. “It was really nice to see that this morning,” he said.
At the end of the day, a large group of people had gathered at the Laurel Hill Golf Club for cake and the final ribbon cutting ceremony of the day.
OPENING OF the trail was another part of “the transformation of this area from its past history to its future,” said Conrad Meehan, representing the Lorton Construction Landfill, which has submitted a proposal to include pedestrian and biking trails on the landfill once it closes in a few years. “People use these trails and they’re even better in a natural setting like this,” he said.
Serenaded by the Annandale Brass, the group that gathered on the lawn in front of the not-yet-completed Laurel Hill Golf Clubhouse wrapped themselves in blankets as the afternoon winds grew stronger.
Tim White, a member of the Park Authority, applauded the volunteers who put countless hours of work into the preparation of the trial and the groups that set up information booths along the way.
“Before we even had a name for this day, the trail people and equestrian groups were already planning their events,” White said. “I’ve never seen such an outpouring from the community.”
U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11) stopped by to share his congratulations as well, adding that, “as an avid jogger, I’m looking forward to using this trail a lot.”
Supervisor Penny Gross (D-Mason) spoke of the county’s dedication to environmental preservation, announcing that in the past three or four years, Fairfax County has purchased the equivalent of eight Central Park’s worth of open space.
“Laurel Hill is a gem in Fairfax County, one we’re still polishing to make available for the rest of the county,” said Supervisor Gerry Hyland (D-Mount Vernon).
Beverly Dickerson of Fairfax 4 Horses, one of many groups that will benefit from the trail, said the equestrians, hikers and cyclists have been using the smaller tributary trails in harmony for years.
“There are several pockets of horses in Fairfax County, in Great Falls, Clifton, Vienna and here in Mason Neck,” Dickerson said. “We look forward to being able to share the trail with the mountain bikers and joggers without problems. Everyone’s always been very respectful."