Two Belgian draft horses from Harmon’s Hayrides pull people around Lake Accotink Park in 2010.
Photo courtesy of Fairfax County Park Authority
One day a year, Jim Hickey does a different kind of volunteering at Lake Accotink Park. The Springfield resident works at the Merrifield Post Office and gives a lot of his time to the park as a member of the Friends of Lake Accotink Park organization. For 20 years he’s done various things, and currently does announcing for the popular Braddock Nights summer concert series, as well as the cardboard boat regatta.
But on Dec. 13, Hickey will take on a different public persona: Santa Claus. For over half a decade, Hickey has donned a park-provided red suit and white bushy beard and met with children and families at the Lake Accotink Park Holiday Horse Drawn Hayrides event.
“The hayride is a way to get people to the park during the winter,” said Hickey. “They don’t think about it all that much, even though it’s a very beautiful place in the winter. In Fairfax County, there’s not a whole lot of places with nice woods, a lot of animals and nature. Here you’re not far from the Beltway and can go and get on a horsedrawn carriage and ride through the woods.”
The park has been offering hayrides since 2005, according to supervisor Julie Tahan.
“It’s really family-friendly,” said Tahan, “especially for people looking to do something to get away from shopping madness and do something that’s wholesome, that really connects to traditional value of the holidays.”
A flatbed carriage pulled by two Belgian draft horses will pick people up from the park’s marina, trot down the main park road, turn around at the parking lot by the dam, and amble along the creek. The horses are provided by Harmon’s Hayrides out of Brandy Station, Va.
“It’s not an exceedingly long ride,” Tahan said, “but it’s like stepping into a holiday card.”
Rides begin every 20 minutes and riders must register for a time slot prior to Saturday, between 12 and 2:10 p.m.
Tahan echoed Hickey that the event is an opportunity to remind people the park is still there for them as a community gathering place, even in the off-season.
“It’s a way to extend the value of the park to the community,” she said. “We want it to be a place where people can come out and enjoy the beauty on quiet days, come together and enjoy different aspects of the park.”
Hickey said there is still a lot of wildlife to see around the park, making the naturally quiet hayride great for spotting.
“There’s a pair of bald eagles that nest in the back of the lake somewhere, they’re magnificent,” said Hickey. “Sometimes you see them if you’re at the lake at the right time. There’s also beaver, deer, squirrels and occasional foxes.”
Though if none of them are out and about, there will at least be horses, and Santa.
The hayrides, Santa meetings and lakeside campfires run Dec. 13, $10 per person. Register over the phone at 703-222-4664 or online at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/parktakes. Lake Accotink Park is located at 7500 Accotink Park Road in Springfield.