The Fairfax County Park Authority plans to build a walking trail from the Martin Luther King Jr. Park’s parking lot to the Little Hunting Creek wetlands, park authority officials told a gathering on Nov. 18. The park, in Mount Vernon’s Gum Springs community and dedicated in 1968, is a popular recreational site for its ballfield, swimming pool, tennis courts, playground and picnic area.
The trail’s asphalt part will be 411 feet long and six feet wide or from 10-to-12 feet, including “disturbed areas” on each side. The trail will transition to a 231-foot, wooden boardwalk 30 feet above ground and terminate at an observation platform over the marsh.
Jai Cole, FCPA Executive Director, explained their rationale: “We’re looking to create parks with a variety of experiences that appeal to all members of the community no matter their age, interest, ability or background. We’ve concentrated a lot on the active recreation amenities of Martin Luther King Jr. Park in recent years.
“The Gum Springs Trail will provide more leisure and contemplative activities as visitors will be able to hike the accessible, interpretive trail through the forest to a phenomenal wetlands and water view. Allowing safe access from the park to Little Hunting Creek has been a priority for this community for some time and I’m thrilled to be able to bring this dream to reality.”
Fairfax County park staffers have prepared a conceptual design and this winter will start preparing permit applications. They predict that construction will start in the spring of 2025. The cost will depend on the final design.
Jim Corcoran, Trails Manager, told the group gathered that FCPA would choose “an alignment with the least impact on natural resources” and will “try to avoid big trees.” Asked how many trees they would take down, he answered, “the least amount possible.” They will plant some trees to have a canopy over the trail, he said.
Corcoran noted that some state endangered and threatened plants have been identified in the area. In completing the final design, park authority will conduct more studies to more thoroughly identify historic, cultural and natural resources, he said.
Newly re-elected Mount Vernon Supervisor Dan Storck supports the trail because it “helps people better understand our natural world. Our natural world is under threat and we need to protect it,” he remarked.
Betsy Martin, president of the Friends of Little Hunting Creek, applauded the project. “There is very little public access to the creek for its entire length,” she commented. “The Friends promote low-impact access that will enhance local residents' ability to visit the creek, enjoy its beauty and find respite in nature. We are very pleased that the county appears to be taking great care to reduce the impact of the trail and its construction and to protect this sensitive wooded wetland and the wildlife habitat it provides."
Mateo Dunne, newly-elected Mount Vernon School Board member, urged that the trail connect to Mount Vernon High School to help students walk or bike to school. FCPA Board member Linwood Gorham joined the group.
What Will Visitors See?
On Saturday, with U.S. 1’s traffic soundtrack humming about one-third of a mile west, the wetland’s fuzzy cattails shimmered in the afternoon sun.
“We have all this nature out here,” commented Queenie Cox from the Gum Springs Homeowners Association, representing 285 households. “What are cattails? What do they do?” she asked rhetorically, stressing that being outside in nature is “good for your health.”
With two-foot tides, part of the creek is wetland habitat. From the future platform, visitors may see beavers and waterfowl like great blue herons, great egrets, Canada geese and ducks. The online eBird reports 140 bird species observed on the creek.
Some residents have put up wood duck nest boxes east of the proposed platform in hopes of attracting these birds in the spring. Male wood ducks have exquisitely patterned iridescent green, blue, purple, black and white heads and red eyes. In the spring, ospreys and bald eagles will likely return and build nests and dragonflies will zip around the water’s surface.
Locals have also spotted red foxes and turtles. Virginia wildlife officials have documented invasive snakehead fish in the creek.
Little Hunting Creek is a tributary of the Potomac River bordered largely by residential communities. A George Washington Memorial Parkway stone bridge spans the creek’s mouth. Much of the land along the creek was once owned by the Washington family, originally George Washington’s great-grandfather, John, who named his property the Little Hunting Creek Plantation. Lawrence Washington, George’s half-brother, changed the name to Mount Vernon in the 1750s.
Gum Springs Trail Project
Send comments to Parkmail@fairfaxcounty.gov.
Martin Luther King Jr. Park, 8115 Fordson Road, Alexandria 22306, https://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/picnics/martin-luther-king-jr.
The Friends of Little Hunting Creek seek partners. Visit https://www.friendsoflittlehuntingcreek.org/news/access.htm.