- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 16, 2005

Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is a place where history and nature converge to tell the story of a former Fairfax County farm.

The 660-acre park, owned and operated by the Fairfax County Park Authority, is the former site of a farm owned by three families. Remnants of the old estate are there, and so are five miles of walking trails. It is a place to enjoy the spring trees and flowers in bloom and to contemplate life off Route 28 way, way before Washington Dulles International Airport came to town.

A visit to Ellanor C. Lawrence Park — named for the Washington hostess who willed the property to the county upon her death in 1969 — should begin at the Walney Visitor Center. The visitor center is located in the 1780 stone farmhouse, which was the residence of the families who farmed the land in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today, the house holds exhibits about the park’s history, from the American Indians who roamed 13,000 years before European settlers arrived through the damage that Civil War battles did to the farm and surrounding area.

The James Machen family lived at the farm, known as Walney, during the Civil War. The family had to retreat from the area after the Battle of Second Manassas. Family members later returned and switched from growing tobacco and other crops to a dairy operation.

Ruins of other Walney outbuildings can be found on the property in an easy one-third-mile walk. There are an icehouse, a smokehouse and the remains of the dairy used from 1850 to 1890.

Nature enthusiasts also should start at the visitor center, where there is a touch table for young children and some native live animals are on display, including a Northern copperhead snake and a Northern tree frog.

Naturalist Karen Waltman says the park is a good place to see live animals in their natural habitat, too.

“Kids can see fish and ducks in the pond,” she says. “We ask that they not feed the ducks, but they can bring their fishing poles and catch little perch. It is a great place for a spring walk, to look at the buds and listen to the frogs in the pond.”

Careful observers and quiet hikers also might spot chipmunks, deer or opossum, too.

Along the paths, there are bird and squirrel feeders, with no shortage of either animal. With 133 species of birds documented here, the park is a popular spot for bird-watchers. A pamphlet available at the visitor center lists varieties of birds and the best season to view them.

Later in the spring, the park’s butterfly garden will attract the colorful creatures. The park has beehives, as well as beekeeping programs that will run later in the season, Ms. Waltman says.

The park is a popular spot for Scouting, school and nature programs. Preschoolers accompanied by an adult can attend Kids’ Korner classes, which run nearly every weekday, with monthly themes such as April’s planting potatoes or May’s butterflies.

Upcoming programs that may interest older children include a serpent search April 30 and a bird hike May 7.

At the serpent search, for children ages 12 and older, participants will help a naturalist with a reptile survey by searching, capturing, identifying and releasing snakes. Reservations are required, and the event costs $5.

The bird hike is a 2.5-mile naturalist-led hike through the park. Reservations are required, but the hike is free.

When you go:

Location: Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is located at 5040 Walney Road in Chantilly.

Directions: Take Route 66 west to Exit 53B (Sully Road/Route 28 north). Make a right onto Walney Road. The visitor center is one mile up on the left.

Hours: The park is open daily from dawn to dusk. Visitor center hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and noon to 5 p.m. weekends. The center is closed on Tuesdays.

Admission: Free

Parking: Free parking in lot.

More information: 703/631-0013 or www.co.fairfax.va.us/parks/ecl/index.htm

Notes:

• Ellanor C. Lawrence Park is a former working farm where visitors can learn about area history and nature.

• The park contains several old ruins and farm buildings, including the visitor center, which is housed in the 1780 farmhouse. The park features five miles of trails, some of which are paved, but others can be muddy this time of year.

• The visitor center features a hands-on area for small children and several live animals in cages.

• The park offers many nature and Scouting programs, preschool programs and summer nature day camps.

• The park features picnic tables for families who want to bring food with them.

• Young visitors can bring fishing poles and fish in the pond. Visitors older than 16 need a fishing license.

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