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Fairfax County Park Authority - The Cross Country Trail


The Cross County Trail: It's All About Connections

Cross County Trail By anyone's reckoning, it's a unique and glorious achievement for one American county -- a trail over 40 miles long connecting the entire county from one end to the other -- the Cross County Trail (CCT of Fairfax County, Virginia.)

Just as the trail itself connects hill and vale, stream, meadow and urbanized landscapes, its very creation united government agencies with trail enthusiasts, environmentalists, citizen activists and the private sector, no small undertaking for bustling Fairfax County.

Fairfax County is an increasingly urbanized community. It's also becoming a national tourist center, famous as FXVA! Interspersed with colonial and Civil War landmarks are famous attractions such as The National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center featuring scores of aircraft (including the space shuttle Enterprise), Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts; George Washington's Mount Vernon estate; and popular shopping centers such as Tysons Corner Gallerias.

Bluebells and Bluebirds in a Utopia of Green

BluebellsThe Cross County Trail runs through some of the county's most scenic areas, beginning at Great Falls National Park on the mighty Potomac River and extending south to the Occoquan River and Laurel Hill, formerly known as Lorton Prison.

Here, hikers, joggers, equestrians, strollers and cyclists can discover a natural wonderland. Springtime finds the woodland floor adorned with carpets of wildflowers including bluebells, cut-leaved toothwort, trout lilies and harbinger-of-spring. Increasingly rare, many of these plants grow only in protected stream valley environments. The trout lily, which blooms for only about two weeks in mid-April, takes seven seasons before it is able to put forth a flower.

Trees in the stream valleys like to get their feet wet. River birch, sweetgum, pawpaw and species of willow and alder all thrive in the rich, moist soils found in the trail's floodplain. But the noblest of all must be the sycamore, whose smooth, light bark stands out in sharp contrast to the darkness of the surrounding forest. The sycamore may grow to a diameter greater than that of any other deciduous tree of North America, reaching a span of 10 feet. Wildlife thrives on trail lands. Birds (including rare raptors), deer, muskrat, fox and other critters abound.

It was in 1995 that hiking enthusiast Bill Niedringhaus walked into the office of the Park Authority Trail Coordinator and presented his idea for connecting existing trails.

Flora of the Cross Country Trail

Flowering TreeThen Chairman Connolly summed it up this way, "I think we're going to be leaving behind for future generations a real gem. And it's a gem that's going to be protected - a natural environment that's very surprising in a county as rapidly urbanizing as Fairfax County is." 

Most of our Cross County Trail lies within stream valley parkland. This parkland serves many purposes, but one of the most important is to protect our streams. The vegetation near streams helps to intercept nutrients carried from surrounding land before it enters a stream, and the roots of the vegetation help to prevent erosion.

A happy benefit of this for folks enjoying our trails is the rich diversity of plants that adorn the trailside. Wood frogs, spring peepers, American toads, and spotted salamanders are a few of the amphibians that take advantage of vernal pools for reproduction. The benefit of laying eggs in a vernal pool is that there are no predators such as fish to gobble up the nearly defenseless tadpoles or larval salamanders. Nature's gamble is that these amphibians will develop fast enough to leave the pool before it evaporates. If the gamble fails and the puddles disappear early due to a dry spring for instance, a whole generation of amphibians may be lost.

This is just one example of how important it is to protect our wetlands. We try to locate our trails away from sensitive areas like vernal pools. When using our trails, please stick to the path. Nature's amphibians need all the luck they can get!

Trailblazing 101

Volunteers "Citizen's advocacy is really the precursor to action."

Gerald E. Connolly, Then Chairman, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors

 

The Cross County Trail is a strong symbol of community connections for its involved citizens. Hundreds of volunteers give irreplaceable time and talent to county non profits, fire stations, schoolrooms and the Park Authority (the agency's eight nature centers and historic sites boast 700+ volunteers, making it the envy of the nation). And sometimes, citizens blaze trails.

Niedringhaus recalls, "In 1997, I got interested in trails more broadly around Fairfax County. I did my homework. I learned how to do the research in the courthouse and looked up records."

He obtained a large map of the county and highlighted all of the public land green. It was then he saw a continuous green line snaking down from the north to the south across the county with maybe three or four gaps. With friends, he formed a group called Fairfax Trails and Streams and spoke at the park bond hearings in 1998. "I think that was the first time they'd ever had anybody testify for trails," he said. But Board of Supervisors Chairman Gerry Connolly was very supportive and instrumental in keeping the ball rolling at the top. With Fairfax Trails and Streams working from the citizen activist standpoint, it all began to take shape."

"I realized that Fairfax County had a jewel in its midst," Connolly said. "Why not work to connect these existing parcels of land, acquire and obtain needed pieces of property and easements to make one long trail?" The next day he introduced a resolution to create the Cross County Trail. The county's entire board supported it, providing additional resources and obtaining federal support.

Bikers and Riders Jump on Board

CyclistBeverly Dickerson, former president of the Hunters Valley Riding Club and a member of Fairfax for Horses, remembers when she first heard of the trail, "The county has been farsighted in setting aside places like this, very proactive in trying to obtain the property and establishing recreational uses."

Randy Kerr of MORE (Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts), became involved in the effort. Kerr said that one interesting aspect of watching the Cross County Trail take shape was the role volunteers played. "It's all about connections," Kerr said. "Bikes, hikers, neighborhood dog walkers. Not only using the trails, but in maintaining the trails. Trails provide obvious benefits throughout the county."

The Trail's Exquisite Stream Valleys

Snow Covered Stream PathMuch of Fairfax County's Cross County Trail lies within green, shaded stream valleys. Off limits to developers, the county's stream valleys support biodiversity and wildlife. It offers a rough Appalachian Trail-like experience. Some of it is stone dust. In some places there is a lot of mud. "People call and complain that there's snow on the trail. Well, we don't plow the trail. Get your cross-country skis out. It's a natural, outdoor environment. It's maintained, but it's not groomed. That's the beauty of it. That's why it's great."

Stewards and Stream Valleys - The Trail Takes Shape

Bridge Construction"We see ourselves as stewards of the natural area, stewards of the land. We work very hard to choose plant life we had to remove for the trail. It's always a challenge, but then when we get a look at the trail's end it's always been well done. It looks awesome. We're happy to have been able to make it happen."

Manager of Park Authority Mobile Crew

By the fall of 2000, the planning team developed a blueprint to connect the stream valley trails. The Park Authority Director and the Park Authority Board worked closely with the Board of Supervisors to secure funding. The board allocated $900,000, and the county realized significant savings by doing things in house.

In the shadow of the Beltway in the Accotink Stream Valley, staff from Park Planning and Development designed and managed the largest construction project in the Park Authority's history, building over a mile of asphalt and concrete trail, and installing three concrete stream crossings. In swampy areas, volunteers and staff brought in stone to stabilize the wet ground. Some areas required stepping stones over creeks or culvert pipes under the trail to provide dry places to walk or ride.

Park Authority area managers oversaw the trail markers. The signs are made of recycled plastic and fiberglass, marking the trail from one end to the other. The signs are durable and are buried deep to deter vandals, one of the scourges of the park system.

CCT TRAIL MAPS
(ordered North to South)

Difficult Run Stream Valley Trail - 10
Leigh Mill Road to Potomac River

Difficult Run Stream Valley Trail - 9
Dulles Access/Toll Road to Browns Mill Road

Reston/W&OD Trail - 8
Lawyers Road to Dulles Access and Toll Road

Difficult Run Stream Valley Trail - 7
OakMarr Park to Lawyers Road

Accotink Stream Valley To Oak Marr - 6
Pickett Road/Blake Lane/Jermantown Road

Accotink Stream Valley Trail - 5
Rt. 236 to Picket Road

Wakefield Park Trails - 4
Braddock Road Underpass to Underpass at Route236/Beltway Interchange

Lake Accotink Park - 3
Lake Accotink Park to Braddock Road at Wakefield Park

Accotink Stream Valley Trail - 2
Fairfax County Parkway to Lake Accotink Dam

Pohick Stream Valley - 1
Pohick Road to Fairfax County Parkway

Laurel Hill Greenway - 0
Pohick Road to the Occoquan River

OTHER TRAIL MAPS

Cub Run Stream Valley Trail
Route 29 to Compton Road

Lake Fairfax Park Trails
Lake Fairfax Park

Long Branch Stream Valley Trail
Wakefield Chapel Road to Olley Lane

Riverbend Park Trails
Riverbend Park

Rocky Run Stream Valley
Ellanor C. Lawrence Park to Fairfax County Parkway

Scotts Run Nature Preserve
Topography Map including trails

South Run Stream Valley
Burke Lake to Southrun Road

Sugarland Run Stream Valley
Sugarland Road to Town of Herndon

TOP REASONS TO USE THE CROSS COUNTY TRAIL (CCT)

  • Traveling the CCT is a beautiful way to see the variety of stream valleys in Fairfax County and a good opportunity to view a cross section of the county's topography and development.
  • You can access both the Vienna Metro and the Franconia/Springfield Metro from connectors to the trail.
  • You can access the Washington and Old Dominion Trail from the CCT.
  • It's an excellent exercise venue away from the noise of the city traffic.
  • You can run with your child or your leashed pet, ride a bike or a horse, skate, skip or take a leisurely stroll.
  • It's free.
  • It's close by, running from the Occoquan River in the south to the Potomac River in the north.
  • You can find a wide array of wildlife and fauna along the trail.
  • You will almost always see a deer, hear a bird or recognize a favorite flower in bloom.
  • It's the perfect place to meet other trail enthusiasts and discover opportunities to volunteer.
  • It's fun, and it makes you feel good!

FAQs – Cross County Trail

  What is the Cross Country Trail?

The Cross County Trail is the primary multi-use north/south trail in the county, passing through woodlands and open space along much of its length. Users can experience a variety of landscapes, from remote wooded terrain to ballfields and developed parks, from wide stream valleys to rolling hills. The trail surface varies too, with parts of the trail wide, paved formal paths and others stonedust or even natural surface trails more appropriate to hikers, mountain bikers or equestrians. The trail crosses several streams and many of the county's main east-west roads. Where no off-road route is possible, the trail follows roadside trails or sidewalks. The trail has multiple points of vehicular, bicycle, and pedestrian access. There are maps of each section, available on line or through the Park Authority trails office. Interpretive and directional signs are being installed to assist users in understanding what they are observing and directing them to parking, drinking water, points of interest, etc. This facility crosses through all nine supervisory districts and the City of Fairfax and is an important recreational amenity for all citizens and visitors to Fairfax County.


  What is the total length of the trail?

The trail is more than 40 miles in length, from the Potomac River in Great Falls Park in the north to the Occoquan River in Occoquan Regional Park in the south.


  How long does it take to walk/ bike the trail?

The time on the trail depends on your traveling speed. The paved parts of the trail are also easier to traverse than the more rustic sections. A moderate rate of walking the trail is between two and three miles an hour. There are groups who walk or run the entire trail in one day. There are locations along the trail where it is necessary to walk or carry a bike -- these include an extremely rocky section in the Pohick Stream Valley as well as a number of unimproved and fair-weather stream crossings.


  Does the trail link with other trails?

The trail is a north/south "spine" that connects numerous trails throughout the county. Other trails will be connected in the future. For example, the CCT route uses a portion of the W&OD trail, providing a link to that major east/west trail. The three stream valley trail systems (Pohick Stream Valley, Accotink Stream Valley, and Difficult Run Stream Valley) that are part of the trail continue into other areas of the county beyond the connections of the CCT. The CCT links to the Fairfax County Parkway trail. A connection into Prince William County will be provided when the Lorton/Laurel Hill extension is completed. Links to the Route 1 Bikeway Trail and the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail to connect into Loudoun County and into Prince William County are also anticipated.


  What other parks and park facilities are accessible directly from the trail?
  • Occoquan Regional Park
  • The Laurel Hill parks will all be connected to the trail as they are developed
  • Two recreation centers -- one at Wakefield Park (Audrey Moore RECenter) and the other in Oak Marr Park
  • Lake Accotink Park
  • Athletic fields at Laurel Hill, Byron Avenue Park, Wakefield Park, Eakin Community Park, Thaiss Park (the City of Fairfax), and Oak Marr Park
  • Open play area at Tamarack Park
  • Picnic areas at Great Falls Park, Eakin Community Park, Wakefield Park, and Lake Accotink Park
  • W&OD and Reston trails
  • Colvin Run Mill Park -- an early 19th-century operating water wheel and gristmill
  • Great Falls National Park

  What other parks or facilities are accessible from the trail by side trails or other trail links?
  • South Run RECenter and Burke Lake Park can be reached via the South Run Stream Valley Trail from Pohick Road
  • Both Franconia Springfield and Vienna Metro stations are accessible from side trail connections to the CCT
  • Nottoway Park is accessible from the W&OD/City of Fairfax Connector trail
  • Lake Fairfax Park and the Water Mine Swimming Hole lie along the Rails to River Trail via a connection just south of Route 7
  • Clarks Crossing Park with athletic fields and trails is a short distance east on the W&OD from Tamarack Park
  • Riverbend Park can be reached from the northern end of the trail by following the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail through Great Falls Park

  Where are drinking water, restrooms, and food available?
  • Drinking water, restrooms, and food are available at Occoquan Regional Park, Lake Accotink Park, Wakefield Park, and Oak Marr Park
  • Drinking water and restrooms are located at Colvin Run Mill Park and Great Falls National Park
  • Portable restrooms are available seasonally at Byron Avenue Park, Eakin Community Park and Thaiss Park

  What are the rules of etiquette on the trail?
  • Share the trail -- respect others
  • Maintain proper control of bicycles at all times
  • Faster users pass on the left
  • Announce your passing -- "passing on your left."
  • Stay on existing trails
  • Stay off single-tracks when raining or muddy. Traffic on wet trail causes damage.
  • Do not disturb vegetation or wildlife
  • Dogs must be leashed at all times
  • Trails and park closed at dark

  What type of use is allowed on the trail?

The trail is multi-use in various sections. Pedestrians, joggers, bikers, skaters and equestrians share different parts of the trail. Some of the trail sections will not be appropriate for some uses. For example, much of the Difficult Run portion of the trail will not be surfaced and is frequently muddy, with steep slopes and narrow passages. Many parts of the Accotink Stream Valley portion of the trail are paved and not appropriate for equestrian use. Motorized vehicles are not allowed on any part of the trail. The exception is for Electric Personal Assistive Mobility Devices (Segways and similar devices).


  What is the surface of the trail?

Different sections are surfaced differently to meet a variety of needs. Pedestrians, hikers, joggers, bikers, skaters, and equestrians share the trail as it is appropriate to their activities. A large portion of the trail in the Accotink Stream Valley is asphalt or concrete, while many sections along Difficult Run remain natural surface or stonedust. Sections along the roadways are concrete sidewalks or asphalt roadside trails.


  Which sections are paved?

Starting at the southern end of the trail:

  • One mile along the entrance road into Occoquan Regional Park is an asphalt trail
  • Approximately 1 ½ miles of trail between Silverbrook Road to Creekside View Lane is an eight foot wide asphalt trail with several steep slopes, then a sidewalk and roadside trail to the footpath down to the trail along Pohick Creek
  • One mile in Section 1 along Pohick Creek is paved from near mile marker 34 to the Fairfax County Parkway.
  • Approximately 2 ½ miles of the trail is paved along the Parkway and all the way to Old Keene Mill Road --The trail then uses a sidewalk along Old Keene Mill Road and Byron Avenue into Byron Avenue Park
  • Approximately four miles of paved trail runs from the north end of Wakefield Park (Americana Park) to Thaiss Park in the City of Fairfax. From Wakefield to King Arthur the trail is either eight foot wide asphalt or 10 foot wide concrete. Beyond that point to Thaiss Park, the trail is mostly six to eight foot asphalt, but there are a few sections of stonedust.
  • All 3.2 miles of section 6 of the trail are paved -- most is sidewalk along roads, the final quarter mile in Oak Marr Park is an asphalt trail
  • Approximately 750 feet of trail follows Vale Road, using the old road alignment which is now an asphalt trail.
  • Approximately half a mile of trail that runs from Lawyers Road to Twin Branches Road is asphalt
  • The three quarter mile section of trail that uses the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Trail (W&OD) is a dual surface trail -- asphalt with a parallel stonedust trail
  • Approximately ½ mile of trail from the Dulles Access and Toll Road to Browns Mill Road is asphalt

  What roads are crossed by the trail and with what type crossing?

Starting at the southern end of the trail:
Lorton Road crosswalk (to be added)
Furnace Road underpass (historic barrel bridge)
Silverbrook Road crosswalk (to be added)
Paper Birch Drive crosswalk (to be added)
Laurel Crest Drive crosswalk (to be added)
Bluebonnet Drive crosswalk (to be added)
Pohick Road crosswalk (spring 2006)
Fairfax County Parkway pedestrian signal
Rolling Road pedestrian signals
Hunter Village Drive crosswalk
Old Keene Mill Road pedestrian signal
Braddock Road underpass
Little River Turnpike (Rte. 236) underpass
King Arthur Road underpass
Woodburn Road crosswalk
Prosperity Road crosswalk
Barkley Road crosswalk
Pickett Road underpass (or don't cross)
Arlington Blvd (Rte. 50) pedestrian signal
Lee Highway (Rte. 29) pedestrian signal
Depending on which side of the road you travel along Blake Lane, you will cross different streets, but all either have a pedestrian signal or crosswalk and fairly light traffic
Five Oak Road pedestrian signal
Route 66 overpass
Chain Bridge Road (Rte. 123) pedestrian signal
Miller Heights Road crosswalk
Vale Road crosswalk
Lawyers Road crosswalk
Glade Drive not marked
Twin Branches Road crosswalk
Buckthorn Lane crosswalk
Hunter Mill Road crosswalk
Dulles Access and Toll Road underpass
Browns Mill Road crosswalk
Leesburg Pike (Rte. 7) traffic signal
Brian Jan Lane dead street/cul-de-sac, not marked
Leigh Mill Road crosswalk
Old Dominion Drive underpass
Georgetown Pike underpass


  What sections of the trail are appropriate for families with small children?

Any section of the trail could be walked with children; however, some areas are rougher and require more care. Also, there are some road and stream crossings that are difficult. The following sections would be especially suited to families with young children.

  • Accotink Stream Valley trail between Pickett Road and Wakefield Park is flat, mostly paved and all stream crossings are bridges. There are a number of road crossings that are marked with crosswalks.
  • Lake Accotink Park trail between Braddock Road and the marina is fairly level, stonedust surface, with bridges at stream crossings. There is the added bonus of the fun activities at the marina, including rental canoes and paddle boats, tour boat rides, a carousel, and miniature golf.
  • Difficult Stream Valley trail between Miller Heights Road and the right-ofway extended of Miller Road is stonedust surface, gently rolling with lovely views of the stream valley.
  • Pohick Stream Valley trail just south of the Fairfax County Parkway is paved, but has some steeper slopes and fair-weather crossings. It is more appropriate for older children, and is a wonderful stream valley experience.

  How do I get to the trail?

The individual section maps show neighborhood connections, parking, and amenities such as restrooms and water fountains. Parking at major parks, such as Oak Marr, Wakefield, and Lake Accotink is shown. There is also access to the trail from other trail systems, such as the W&OD and the Reston trail system. The CCT is connected to the Franconia/Springfield Metro station via the Franconia Springfield Parkway Trail and to the Vienna Metro station via the W&OD/City of Fairfax Connector Trail. It is also accessible by Metrobus along most east-west roads, including Georgetown Pike, Leesburg Pike, Lawyers Road, Vale Road, Route 123/Jermantown Road, Lee Highway, Arlington Boulevard, Little River Turnpike, Braddock Road, Old Keene Mill Road, and Rolling Road.


  What kind of maps have been created for the trail?

The trail has been divided into ten sections (plus an additional section for the Laurel Hill Greenway - LHG) for purposes of mapping. There are separate maps for the trail within Lake Accotink Park and within Wakefield Park.


  How is the trail marked?

Four types of signs are used to mark the CCT. All have the CCT logo in red. There is a tan recycled four by four plastic post with the logo -- these signs are installed so that the logo side faces the trail, parallel to it. There are brown fiberglass markers that are installed perpendicular to the trail and may include red arrows, indicating angle of turn on the trail. If there is a fork or intersection in the trail, these signs should show you which way to go. If there is no sign, generally stay on the trail you are on. A shorter brown fiberglass marker looks the same as the markers described above, but includes numerals to indicate the distance in miles from the Potomac River, southbound. Both miles and half-miles are marked except where the trail is not located on FCPA land. A fourth type of sign is a six inch by six inch aluminum square that is used along road right-ofways and on the grounds of Great Falls Park. Additionally, the brown markers with road names are installed near roads that don't have another easily visible sign identifying them. Trailhead signs for each of the ten sections have been installed, with an additional sign planned for the LHG. These signs include a map of the trail section and a "you are here" star. Interpretive signs are also located along the trail on FCPA land and additional directional and informational signs will be installed in the future.


  Where are access points to the trail?

The trail is easily accessible from many neighborhoods in the county. There are a number of connector trails from subdivision streets and trails within the neighborhoods. Major connections are shown on the trail map.

The trail also crosses several major roads and can, of course, be accessed directly from any of them.

There are also trail connections within Laurel Hill Park, Byron Avenue Park, Lake Accotink Park, Wakefield Park, Eakin Community Park, Thaiss Park (the City of Fairfax), Blake Lane Park, Borge Street Park, Oak Marr Park, Tamarack Park, Clarks Crossing Park, Colvin Run Mill Park and Great Falls Park.


  What should I do if I am injured on the trail?

If you have a cell phone, you should always carry it while on the trail. For emergency assistance, call 911. If you have a digitized cell phone, the emergency dispatcher can locate you.


  Who do I call if I see a problem with the trail -- like a tree down on the trail or a washed out crossing?

The Park Watch number is 703-PK-WATCH (703-759-2824). You will reach a recording that allows you to determine how you want to direct your call. During working hours, the Park Authority will answer if you select our number, or after hours, your comments will be recorded and forwarded for action when the offices re-open.


  How is the trail funded?

Various sources of funding are being used to develop the trail. The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors committed $950,000 which has been used in initial development of the trail. A Federal Transportation and Community and System Preservation Grant of $233,842 has also been designated for the trail. Fairfax County Park Authority bond funds of more than three million dollars, approved by voters, have been used for the trail development and stream crossing improvements. Additionally, Federal Transportation grants in excess of one million dollars have been designated for implementation of sections of the trail. Additional funding will be sought through grants and bond programs to continue trail improvements. Much of the trail has been built and will be maintained by volunteers. The assistance of dedicated volunteers has been invaluable.


  How can I help with the trail maintenance and building?

Contact one of our trail partner groups listed here. They have adopted sections of the trail and are responsible for oversight and routine maintenance for their individual sections. Re-routings and other trail improvements are also coordinated through these groups, so if you want to help, there are plenty of opportunities.

  • Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE) www.more-mtb.org
  • Fairfax Trails and Streams (FTAS) www.fairfaxtrails.org
  • Great Falls Trails Blazers (GFTB) www.geocities.com/greatfallstrails
  • Hunters Valley Riding Club (HVRC) 703-620-4689
  • Washington Area Bicyclist Association (WABA) www.waba.org
  • Trips for Kids -- www.tfkmetrodc.org
  • Clifton Horse Society -- www.cliftonhorsesociety.org


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