Mount Vernon Column: Time to Visit State Parks

Mount Vernon Column: Time to Visit State Parks


Eighty years ago this month, Virginia created the first state park system in the United States. With 35 miles of Potomac River frontage in the 36th Senate district, our community is lucky to have access to many natural resources, including our state parks.

Our state park system has its origins in the Great Depression. In 1933, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) built numerous park and recreational areas throughout the nation, as well as in Virginia. My grandfather grew up in Franklin County, Va., a county with no public high school so he had an eighth grade education and when he turned 22 in 1933, no job.

He enrolled in the CCC and was directed to report to the Arlington County “countryside” (yes, countryside). Every day, he walked through farm fields to construct trails and plant trees on Analostan Island in the Potomac River, which had recently been renamed Teddy Roosevelt Island next to Rosslyn. The CCC also helped build the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Channeling FDR’s CCC-energy, Virginia opened its first six state parks to the public on June 15, 1936 — Hungry Mother, Staunton River, Westmoreland, Douthat, Fairy Stone and Seashore (now called First Landing).

Eighty years later, Virginians have 38 state parks, and three of them are right here in the 36th District. Coupled with the National Park Service’s George Washington Memorial Parkway, Pohick Bay Regional Park, Bureau of Land Management facilities (Meadowwood Recreation Area) on Mason Neck, three federal wildlife refuges along the Potomac River and Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge on Fort Belvoir, 36th District residents have the best access to low-cost, outdoor activities and opportunities to enjoy nature.

In Fairfax County, the 1,825-acre Mason Neck State Park opened in 1985 after local citizens, led by Mount Vernon-area resident Liz Hartwell, galvanized support to fight development threats on the Mason Neck peninsula. The park has numerous river views, trails and picnic sites and is an excellent spot to view Potomac River wildlife.

In Prince William County, Leesylvania State Park on the Potomac River was dedicated in 1985 and opened in 1989. There are numerous historic sites on the property dating to the Civil War, and the land was once owned by Revolutionary War hero and governor, Henry “Light Horse Harry” Lee, Robert E. Lee’s grandfather. Visitors can hike, fish, launch motor boats and rent canoes or kayak.

Lastly, Stafford County currently has no public water access, but that will change soon. The Widewater peninsula is the northernmost peninsula in Stafford County. In 2006, Virginia acquired 1,100 acres from Dominion Resources and dedicated Widewater State Park. This year, the state legislature approved $11 million to fund Phases I and II of public facilities, which includes the construction of a boat launch, canoe launch, fishing piers, picnic areas, visitor center and numerous trails, including equestrian trails.

Make sure you get outside and take advantage of some of these assets. As a taxpayer, you own them. To add more support, you can join one of our local “friends” groups that partners with these public lands.

Please contact me if you have any questions or need any further information at It is an honor to serve as your state senator.