Guest Commentary, Local Commentary

A Penny for Your Thoughts

Fairfax County, and much of Northern Virginia, is a relatively “wet” area – lots of creeks, runs, streams, springs and, of course, the Potomac River (which is part of Maryland under centuries-old laws) – but there are few lakes, and even fewer publicly owned lakes in our 400 square mile area. Lake Accotink Park, which celebrated its 60th anniversary last week, is just minutes from Mason District’s southwest boundary. The 55-acre lake itself is much older; originally formed by damming Accotink Creek, it served as a reservoir in the early 1900s, and was rebuilt as a drinking water reservoir for Fort Belvoir during World War II. Some evidence of Civil War fortifications has been found by history buffs.

Following the war, the increase in local population growth created challenges for the reservoir, as it became polluted with run-off and sewage from overburdened treatment plants. Rather than disposing of the lake and surrounding acreage as surplus property, the federal government leased 242 acres of land to the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1960. Boating facilities and concessions were added, along with trails, picnic shelters, and a playground. In 1962, the lake itself was added to the lease and, in 1965, the Park Authority was able to purchase the previously leased land area for $88,250 through the Federal Lands to Parks Program. In August 1965, Lake Accotink Park opened, officially, to the public.

The lake is surrounded by wetlands and forest, and provides opportunities for outdoor recreation and enjoying nature across its now 449 acres. You can hike and bike miles of trails, fish from the shoreline, and observe the changing of the seasons. From May through October, the park offers bike, canoe, and paddle boat rentals, as well as tour boat rides around the lake. A miniature golf course, historic carousel, and playgrounds provide family fun, and free summertime concerts are held on Friday evenings. Lake Accotink Park plays an international role, too, as the site of the annual CROP walk each October, that raises money to fight hunger at home and abroad. This year’s Fairfax County CROP walk will be held on Saturday, October 15, starting at 8 a.m. The mist rising off the lake, the trees changing colors, the sun rising feebly through the leaves, and the crunch of the forest duff underfoot on park trails make it a magical, if sometimes, chilly, walk/hike for a good cause.

All is not rosy for Lake Accotink, however. Stormwater runoff from a large watershed adds sediment, trash, and other pollutants to urban and suburban lakes, and Lake Accotink is no different. Periodic maintenance and dredging provide temporary relief, but is very expensive, and finding a repository for the dredge soils is a challenge. A previous dredging pumped dredge soils to an industrial quarry in Mason District, but that site is full and not available for future use. Allowing the lake to fill in with sediment, resulting in a much smaller, shallower lake, was soundly rejected by the community and the Board of Supervisors, and plans are underway for a multi-million-dollar renovation, using Stormwater Local Assistance Funds from the Commonwealth of Virginia. It will be a lengthy and expensive process, but well worth the environmental and community benefits for now and future generations. Access to Lake Accotink Park is free; some activities require a fee. The park is located at 7500 Accotink Park Road, Springfield, Virginia 22152.

Monday, September 5, is Labor Day, the nation’s recognition of the social and economic achievements by American workers and the labor movement. Many of today’s workers enjoy benefits first advocated by the union movement decades ago: health care, the 40-hour work week, retirement plans, workplace safety standards, and paid time off. Both of my grandfathers were hard-working union members who raised their families on union wages and retired with adequately funded pensions. I reflect on their shared experiences, and what they meant to me growing up, every Labor Day.

 Penny Gross is the Mason District Supervisor, in the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. She may be emailed at mason@fairfaxcounty.gov.