Remarkable Beauty Preserved
Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is one of only a few nature preserves in the Fairfax County Park Authority system. It is a remarkable place of rare plants and splendid beauty. Yet that beauty is challenged by urban pollution and human destruction. It is a classic clash of land use between suburban sprawl and natural areas.
Visitors have flocked to Scott’s Run for years to witness the spring wildflowers that carpet the forest floor. Trailing arbutus, Virginia bluebells and sessile trillium bloom on steep hillsides and create a small oasis of rare, fragile plants. Remarkable and rare species grow along precipitous cliffs, in steep valleys and throughout a mature, hardwood forest that is comprised of large oak and beech trees, ancient hemlock and wild cherry trees that stand as tall as the oaks.
A grove of ancient hemlocks, whose ancestors migrated here during the last ice age, stands in the nature preserve as a reminder that this region once had a subarctic climate. The park's southern boundary is a major fault zone, a relict geologic feature from a distant past some 520 to 570 million years ago when the rocks were created out of slabs of ocean floor pushed up onto this continent.
Hiking in the Park
There are two entrances into Scott’s Run off of Georgetown Pike. Both have small parking lots and trailheads that lead into the park. One entrance sits alongside the stream, and the other has trails leading to the bluffs above the Potomac River. Some of the park’s trails are gentle and wind quietly through forest. Other trails require hiking up and down precipitously steep hills and cliffs. Hiking the trails of Scott’s Run can be challenging, requiring a hardier constitution than possibly any other park in Fairfax County.
Some trails descend sheer bluffs, and visitors must carefully pick their way down rocky cliffs. The rugged terrain is part of the park's charm. Austere, rocky crags and bluffs are covered by delicate wildflowers and sit beside soft gurgling streams. It is a dichotomy that entices hikers to explore the hollows and ridgelines in order to experience firsthand one of Fairfax County’s most diverse natural landscapes.
Perhaps the greatest dichotomy is Scott's Run, the main creek that runs through the site. The shimmering creek bouncing through the tranquil hollows actually begins directly below the parking lots of Tyson’s Shopping Center, which is one of the highest elevations in Fairfax County. Flowing east through business parks, condominium complexes, and degraded stream valleys along the Beltway, the stream enters the deep forests of Scott’s Run before it spills over a small, magnificent waterfall and enters the Potomac River.
River and Stream Safety
Scott's Run Nature Preserve is part of the Potomac Gorge. This is one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic. Floodplains, rocky cliffs, and narrow valleys were carved by the erosive forces of the Potomac River. This dynamic union of rocks and river, home to many unusual plants and animals, also creates quick, dangerous currents and underwater hazards. The appearance of the creek and the river can be deceptive. Scott's Run flows into the Potomac River, and rapidly-rising water creates dangerous situations.
- Spring wildflower walks
- Warbler walks and other birdwatching programs
- A Geology of Scott’s Run
- Meaningful Watershed Education Experience programs for several hundred schoolchildren
- Watershed programs for homeschooled children
- “Rain on my Watershed” school programs for students
- A Wetlanders week-long summer camp
- Programs for McLean High School’s AP biology class
There are informational signs at the park’s entrance and some directional signs at select locations along the trails. There are no other facilities of any other kind in the park.
The Potomac Heritage Trail Association maintains some of the trails at the park, in particular the section that corresponds with the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail. The Nature Conservancy has conducted volunteer group activities to combat invasive plants. A dedicated group of Weed Warriors for many years has consistently fought the park’s invasive plants, and Boy Scouts have conducted Eagle Scout projects at the park. The Park Authority occasionally holds volunteer events at Scott’s Run. Information about volunteer programs at Scott’s Run is available through the Park Authority’s volunteer page or by calling Riverbend Park at 703-759-9018.