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.
The Fairfax County Park Authority worked cooperatively to complete this project, inspiring a dedicated cadre of volunteers to make the leap from grand idea to the reality of an awe-inspiring trail. Park Authority Director Michael Kane is proud of his staff, thankful for the help of local volunteers and encouraged by support from officials. "This is a remarkable achievement," said Kane. "We have connected diverse interest groups, brought trailside communities together and taken a giant leap forward in terms of providing a common link to all our citizens. The CCT is so much more than a trail. This is common ground that provides a pathway of connectivity for all residents. "
Bluebells and Bluebirds in a Utopia of Green
The 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.
"Much of this green space was wrested from development over the past few decades by the county's forward-thinking Park Authority," said Lynn Tadlock, director of Park Planning and Development. Today, the Park Authority is steward to 23,500+ acres of county parklands and historic sites.
It was in 1995 that hiking enthusiast Bill Niedringhaus walked into the office of Park Authority Trail Coordinator Jenny Pate and presented his idea for connecting existing trails. Pate remembers with a smile, "I already had so much to do and hoped he wouldn't come back. But he came back!"Trail-Blazing 101