Thursday, May 26, 2011

Prince William Forest Park

Hike Date:  May, 8th, 2011

Pink Lady Slipper
If I (Ann) had to pick my favorite place to hike in the area for the shear pleasure of feeling the ground beneath my feet, this would be it.  Not only does it provide a great hike, there are many opportunities to view wildlife and wildflowers.

Prince William Forest Park is a National Park located in Southern Prince William County, Virginia, adjacent to Quantico Marine Corps Base.  It covers over 15,000 acres and is the largest preserved area of Piedmont in the National Park System.  With 37 miles of trails to choose from,  beautiful streams, and interesting geology we couldn't have been happier.  If you want to make a weekend trip out of it, there are numerous campsites and a few cabins available to use.

Showy Orchid
Along Scenic Drive, there are many places to park near trail heads.  We parked at parking lot A and explored the creek and a small section of the South Valley Trail.  From there, we crossed the road and took the Turkey Run Ridge Trail for a mile and a half through moderately hilly terrain.  About halfway down the trail it crosses the road and continues to another road that connects to Mary Bird Branch Trail.  This half mile trail begins at a low lying area full of wetland plants near the Mary Bird Branch of Quantico Creek.  The trail climbs out of the wetland area up to the ridge and across the east side of Scenic Drive again.

This trail took us to another gravel road that connects to the Quantico Falls Trail.  The Quantico Falls Trail  descends the ridge to Quantico Creek and connects to the North Valley Trail.  The Geology Trail, which begins on the Quantico Creek Trail and continues on to the North Valley Trail, provides information on the many facets of geology of the park.
Quantico Creek
The North Valley Trail, at just over three miles, was the longest leg of our hike today and follows Quantico Creek most of the way.  The North Valley Trail goes along the fall line that defines the boundary between the Piedmont Plateau and the Atlantic Coastal Plain.

After crossing the creek you will come to a boardwalk that follows a swampy area of the park.  From the boardwalk, you can view the old pyrite mine site.  After the mine was closed, the area became polluted and acidic unable to support life.  The area was then reclaimed and replanted.  Now the old mine site is a young pine grove that is now supporting other wildlife.

Pickerel Frog
From there, we finished our hike on the South Valley Trail that lead us back upland past the Turkey Run Ridge Trail for about a mile back to parking lot A.

Because Virginia overlaps northern and southern climates, supports a variety of flora and fauna.  Some species we saw here include orchids, jack-in-the-pulpit, pickerel frogs, multiple species of snakes, lizards, and salamanders.

Remnants of the old pyrite mine
Bear in mind that it is a National Park, which means that there are entrance fees and camping fees.  Plan your hike before you go because there are many intersecting trails, which also intersect paved and gravel roads.  Trail markers can be difficult to read in spots so it is a good idea to grab a map from the entrance booth or visitor center.  The visitor center also has many brochures on the different types of wildlife living in the park.

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