Prince William Forest Park Overview
Enter Prince William Forest Park and you know it is a special place. Sunlight filtering through the trees forms luminous freckles on the forest floor. Birds and bubbling streams give shape to nature's music, and the woodsy fragrance of moist vegetation fills the air. It is a place you can enjoy alone or with friends. But Prince William Forest Park does not exist in splendid isolation. For nearly 300 years the woodland watershed suffered from intense logging and over-cultivation. Today it is located in one of the Nation's most rapidly developing regions. Bulldozers, asphalt, and shopping malls compete for space at the fringes of this woodland watershed.
Quantico Creek and its major tributary, the South Fork, flow through the park collecting water from rain, springs, and small side streams. Together they drain more than 20 square miles within the park. About midway through their courses the creeks cut deep valleys and cascade over steep erosion-resistant rocks as they leave the Piedmont Plateau and enter the Atlantic Coastal Plain. Near the park's eastern edge, the South Fork joins the main branch of Quantico Creek, and, with greater force, the creek flows across the compact Catoctin greenstone. A few miles downstream Quantico Creek enters a three mile-long bay as it meets the tidewaters of the Potomac.
The Piedmont forest of the Quantico Creek watershed, most of which lies within the park's boundaries, serves as a sanctuary for plants and animals threatened by Northern Virginia's encroaching urban environment. White and red oak trees are found on ridges and in hollows. Beech and yellow poplar grow in the rich, damp soils of the creek valleys. The woodlands and creeks are home to white-tailed deer, wild turkey, and beaver, and migratory waterfowl stop seasonally at park ponds. The transition between the rolling hills of the Piedmont and lowlands of the Coastal Plain, marked by waterfalls and rock outcroppings, creates a varied habitat that shelters a diversity of plants and wildlife. Native Virginia plants and animals, some threatened and endangered, are protected within the park.
Simply put, a watershed is a valley between ridges and the network of streams flowing through it. In Prince William Forest Park the watershed is cloaked in hardwood forest and laced with springs, fens, and creeks, forming a vast drainage basin that eventually deposits runoff waters in the Chesapeake Bay. But water is only part of this complex ecosystem. Underlying rocks, soil composition, rainfall and evaporation, density and type of vegetation, and human intervention determine the amountand qualityof water that finally reaches the sea. To understand this watershed community, you need to travel its main streetsthe streams that run through it.
Trails wind 37 miles through the park, giving opportunities for quiet reflection, nature study, and physical challenge. Major trails are marked with color blazes. Pine Grove Forest and Farms to Forest trails have self-guiding signs or brochures. Pine Grove Forest trail is accessible for wheelchairs and baby strollers. Check the park map and watch signs along park roads for trail locations.
Watching dawn and dusk are best for seeing deer, wild turkey, and beaver. Watch for migratory birds in the spring and fall and a variety of songbirds throughout the year. A checklist of bird species found in the park is available at the visitor center.
The park offers miles of scenic roads through the Piedmont forest. Stop at the visitor center for a free bicycling guide, which suggests paved and unpaved routes and provides information on restrooms, water, and parking.
Bass, bluegill, perch, pickerel, crappie, and catfish are found in the park's lakes. A Virginia fishing license is required. State and federal regulations are available at the visitor center. The park does not sell fishing licenses.
Hiking, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing are popular. Open views along ridges and into ravines provide opportunities to see animals as they move through the winter landscape.
Pine Grove and Telegraph Road picnic areas are located near the visitor center and within a mile of I-95. Each area has tables, cooking grills, trash containers, water, and restrooms. Pine Grove has a first-come, first-served picnic shelter.
Rangers lead interpretive walks and give evening programs throughout the year. Check the Turkey Caller activity schedule, park bulletin boards, or the visitor center for program times and locations. Groups may schedule activities by calling the visitor center.
The Turkey Run Environmental Education Center offers hands-on activities, instructional tools, and lesson plans to groups and others who want to learn about the natural and historic resources of the park. Call ahead for information and reservations.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication