- The Washington Times - Sunday, July 21, 2002

Fairfax County is known for its recreational areas, and the 478-acre Lake Accotink Park in Springfield is a favorite. Its trail, picnic facilities and carousel draw families, naturalists, historians, hikers and cyclists. The jewel in the crown is the glistening 77-acre lake.

The water's wooded shores are bound for four miles by a wide trail. On a recent summer morning, moms strode by pushing strollers. An older woman power-walked. Two mountain bikers glided past. Down a steep path, a couple of young boys with fishing poles tried their luck hooking the catfish, bass and perch that inhabit the lake.

"We're looking for anything we can catch," one boy said. "Nothing wants to bite, though."

Another young fisherman said he recently caught a catfish in Lake Accotink. How big? His hands spread out to 1½ feet.

Some visitors to the park are interested mostly in the flora and fauna, and some are drawn to the history, says park manager Tawny Hammond. Park personnel and programs address all.

"There are a couple of fawns here, red fox, blue herons, white egrets. We have interpretive nature programs, night critter walks, fishing programs and herb walks," she says. The park also offers art classes. canoe and kayaking classes and summer camps for children.

Adventurers and history buffs might wish to take to the water via a canoe, paddle boat or rowboat, all available at the park.

Each hour during the summer months, park staff members launch a pontoon boat that seats two dozen or so visitors. They conduct a 20-minute tour of the lake with information about the geographical and historical significance of the park and surrounding areas.

Every other weekend or so, the park offers several sunset boat rides, which last an hour and include an extended version of the narrative.

"The park is really history-rich; people don't even realize it," Ms. Hammond says. "We take visitors all the way back to the Algonquin Indians; we bring them up to where the white Europeans came. We talk about Colonial history, then to the Civil War period and explain how Robert E. Lee's wife actually came to live on this property and passed away in a house that's no longer standing. Two of his sons and his mother died in the same house, too."

The park's ducks don't care about any of this. They crowd in at the paved marina area, begging from passers-by, certainly unaware of a sign that says, "Notice: Keep the 'wild' in wildlife. Feeding ducks and geese prohibited." The lake is off-limits to human swimmers.

"Swimming is prohibited at all urban lakes because it's runoff," Ms. Hammond says. "It's not like we're out at Uncle Fred's farm or something."

Friends and fellow stay-at-home mothers Juliet Brundige and Rosa Davidson were enjoying the park with their small children, who tossed pebbles into the water.

"This is a great place," said Ms. Davidson, who lives nearby in Springfield. "We like the lake and the playground. There's lots of trees for the summer months, and when you go into the woods, you feel safe."

"Fairfax County is great with the park system," added Ms. Brundige, who lives in Alexandria. "There's lots of variety, and a lot of thought and money are put into them. If you have a family and kids, you want to be here. The goal when we come is to get the kids tired, so we go for a walk in the woods."

Children will especially enjoy the carousel a nice, long bargain of a ride at $1.25 per ticket. A small miniature golf course nothing fancy but OK if you're not too fussy surrounds the carousel. Just next door is a wood-chip-carpeted playground area with slides and climbing equipment.

We decided to wait for the ticket booth to open at 11 a.m. About 10 minutes after, a few teenage employees strolled up. They entered the ticket booth and languidly rolled up the shade, seemingly impervious to the line of parents, grandparents and children.

"This place is run by teens, and they'd really rather be in bed," remarked one mother, in line with her small daughter.

Sure, Accotink Lake Park seems like a sleepy place not much excitement for a teenager but it's perfect for families and those who want to enjoy the outdoors.

"This place is terrific," said Nancy Evans, a stay-at-home mom from Springfield. "I come at least once a week. I've been coming here for 20 years. I have a 22-year-old and a 1-year-old that's why."

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