Located just miles from busy Interstate 95, Mason Neck State Park is a gem in the area for those looking for some outdoor recreation and an escape from the stress of Northern Virginia. The park’s allure was recognized last week as it received a $50,000 grant from Coca-Cola for being named one of America’s Favorite Parks through the “America is Your Park” campaign.
“Mason Neck is a gem in terms of the conservation it offers and the recreational opportunities that are here on Mason Neck,” said Jess Lowry, park manager at Mason Neck State Park.
Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe joined park officials at Mason Neck to accept the check from Coca-Cola. The grant is being used to open an Outdoor Fitness Challenge.
“It’s a great pleasure and an honor to have Governor McAuliffe as a guest, since it’s only been four years since the previous governor proposed closing this state park, and four others, because of Virginia’s budget problems,” said Richard Kennedy, co-president of the Friends of Mason Neck State Park.
McAuliffe promised he would not close state parks during his time as governor, but rather strive to open new parks.
“I don’t believe in closing parks, I believe in opening state parks,” he said.
Mason Neck received over 270,000 votes and won second place in the contest out of 11,000 other state parks. The first place winner was Veteran’s Park in Moore, Okla., the site of a tornado last year that killed 24 people and injured hundreds others.
Mason is the closest state park to Washington, D.C., Kennedy reminded park visitors, and diplomatic license plates into the park are very frequent.
“It’s a great park for Virginians, but it also serves as an ambassador for U.S. State Parks to the rest of the world,” Kennedy said.
The state park is also the closest one to Fort Belvoir, and Kennedy said the park is looking for ways to connect to Wounded Warriors at Fort Belvoir. In about a month, Kennedy said a special photography and hiking group for wounded warriors is likely to begin.
Mason Neck State Park played an amazing role in the recovery of the American Bald Eagle, said Joe Elton, deputy director of operations of the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation. The park and other recreational areas along Mason Neck were preserved because citizens didn’t want to see everything paved and developed, he said.
“You almost can’t visit this place without seeing the American Bald Eagle,” Elton said.
The Outdoor Fitness Challenge is aimed at young people and will allow them to learn through technology, Elton said.
“Getting young people today to get off the couch and to put down the device that they are attached to like an umbilical cord 8 hours a day and get them launched into the outdoors is the challenge we face today,” Elton said.
McAuliffe joined park officials for a short hike at the park, which he said was enjoyable.