In contrast to the southern California adventure posts I’ve been doing lately, I thought I’d talk about a wetland park in Alexandria, Virginia. Be sure to stop by next time you are in the area for some bird-watching, beaver-befriending, and general tortoise-loving.
E and I had the pleasure of living in Alexandria, Virginia for two years with several other fine ladies (including Miss Machi of Babbling April fame). We called our home Winterfell and the parties were just as sublime if more flame-retardent and slightly less murder-y. There weren’t any children thrown out of towers, but there was the occasional holiday cookie party (with cookie numbers creeping into the thousands) and many great book clubs, dinner parties, and backyard barbecues were hosted. Winterfell continues to house some fine ladies (and one gentlemen, if the stories are to be believed) and we love to get out and visit with them whenever we can.
Alexandria has an historic downtown that we love and the slightly more off-beat Del Ray is home to a few of our favourite coffee shops (St. Elmo’s, M.E. Swing Coffee Co.), restaurants (Taqeria El Poblano, Del Ray Pizzeria, and Del Ray Cafe are all crowd-pleasers), and a vintage clothing shop that is at the top of our list. I am sure we will be gushing about Alexandria on this blog for many years to come but today I’d like to focus on Huntley Meadows.
I didn’t discover this freshwater wetland park until I’d been living in Alexandria for about a year and a half. It was a little off-the-beaten path for us not being near enough to a Whole Foods or a Goodwill for us to come into constant contact with it. It’s entrance is somewhat hidden down a residential neighbourhood, but it’s famous locally for its bird-watching.
There’s a sweet little nature center near the entrance to the park. After a five or ten minute walk through the trees, which were just the brightest green in the early spring when I was last there, you hit the park’s boardwalks. The boardwalks lead you through a tour of the park’s central wetlands, which are carefully maintained by a team of beavers who you can spot, if you are vigilant.
I went two times in the space of about a month after discovering the park. The first time, it was near the end of the day so I didn’t have too much time before the park closed. This prompted a second trip not too long after and I was sure to get there with plenty of daylight hours to spare.
The park’s wetlands were formed many moons ago by the Potomac River. The park supports over 200 species of birds as well as the beavers and tortoises, who do enjoy the sunbathing the park affords. In general, healthy wetlands support more life, acre for acre, than almost any other habitat. Some people may have the occasional bad experience in the wetlands, but I’m a definite convert.
Sadly, the central wetland at Huntley Meadows is in need of a little conservation work. Silt and debris have been steadily trickling into the land, but there’s a project to restore the wetlands if you’re curious. If you live locally and are an avid ornithologist, there are also tours of the park headed by local groups.
The land that is now Huntley Meadows was turned into a public park in 1975 and the beavers came back slowly to restore the wetlands. The boardwalk opened in 1982 and now over 200,000 people visit the park every year. A success for the beavers, I’d say.
When you are in Huntley Meadows, it seems almost impossible to believe that downtown Alexandria is just a few miles away and DC just a few beyond that. It’s wonderfully quiet. I’d highly recommend it for any DC-area readers who’ve done Great Falls (hello Billy Goat Trail) and Rock Creek Park to death and are looking to venture out.
I plan to visit as soon as it gets warm. If you live anywhere in the eastern half of the North American continent, then you are aware of how crummy the weather has been here lately. While I’d like to check out the National Arboretum in winter and may document that trip in a future post, a trip to Huntley Meadows may have to wait until spring. I have such strong memories of it and of where I was in my life during my last visit that I hesitate to go back before I am ready. It’s enough, for now, to know that it’s there. I hope the beavers are staying warm.