Eighteen miles south of Washington, D.C., on the banks of the Potomac River, lies a 2,277-acre parcel of land on the Mason Neck peninsula. Here on February 1, 1969, the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service created the first national wildlife refuge specifically established for the bald eagle. The refuges’ hardwood forests and marshes attract songbirds, raptors, and waterfowl that depend on forests and open water for their food, nesting sites, and a place to rest. Visitors share this feeling of respite as they hike trails and watch wildlife attracted to the wooded refuge, an oasis in an urban setting.
Before the world went to shit this is how things should have worked out. Phish announced the release of their new album Sigma Oasis. A few months later Sigma Oasis would be released and then kick off summer tour 2020. This summer tour would open with two nights at Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene. I was stocked to have the tour opener in my back yard and for two nights no less. Not my first time seeing Phish here either so I was looking forward to getting back.
This was originally schedule for July 14th and 15th 2020 but due to covid-19 it was schedule for the following year on July 13th and 14th 2021. As the year went on and the new date came near, things didn’t improve with covid so it was reschedule a second time for fall tour 2021. This time the show proceed and I was grateful to have Phish touring again. With such a long gap between tours staying in town and making this a mini vacation was an easy choice.
I normally don’t hike places back to back. But after last weeks hike with Nancy to Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge I thought I would hike it again and spend a little more time here. So I grabbed a cigar and my camera and set out for my hike. Again the lot was pretty empty. This time around the weather was back to an average 40 degree for February.
I wanted to do a little exploring so I started by hiking the back trails first, eventually working my way to the new observation building. I could see on the map that at the furthest point south there was another “observation deck” and wanted to see what it had to offer. According to the map it over looked another portion of the marsh with more of an cove. When I got there I was a little disappointed by what I found, it was not an observation deck at all. Mearly a bench that over looked the marsh, not even a good section of the marsh.
With a little exploring I found the trail continued on into the marsh. This portion of the trail has long sense been abandoned, but the foot path makes it obvious it once went this way. This section takes you right up to the edge of the marsh, much better view than the bench provided. From this spot you were eye level and I got some really good shots from here. At one time it looks like the trail might have crossed over the marsh to the other bank.
I have a feeling that when the Bald Eagles numbers started to recover they closed off portions of the park to protect their habitat. Part of the loop is actually cut off because of nesting Bald Eagles, glad to know they take this stuff seriously. I love that I can visit this park and walk around, but I wouldn’t want to “kick out” nature for my personal enjoyment. Closing off sections of the park is acceptable to me if I know the Bald Eagle has a better chance of recovery.
Back to my hike. After getting some good shots at the bottom of the loop I headed north to the observation building. I wanted to hang out here with my camera for a while and just relax. Since the park was empty I also wanted to relax with a fine cigar and just enjoy nature, take in the beauty and sounds of the wildlife refuge. I spent over an hour at the new observation building taking photos, chilling, and smoking my cigar. I even ate lunch while I was there.
After a lot of time in the wildlife refuge it was time to head back to my truck. It was a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. I didn’t really get much done, but I felt good doing it!
Had perfect weather over the weekend so of course that means hiking! In the middle of February we had 60 degree highs on Sunday so Nancy and I went to Mason Neck Wildlife Refuge for a quick hike. I have been to Mason Neck once before to hike the State Park, but not the wildlife refuge.
We got a late start on Sunday so I was afraid the tiny parking lot would be filled, on such a nice day there were only 5 other cars in the lot. We started down the Great Marsh loop trail headed towards the observation building. The trail was muddy as hell, even though it had not rained for about a week, but that’s what hiking boots are for.
When we made it to the observation building that over looks the great marsh it was a great surprise. This was a brand new building, so new you could still see wood dust from all the boards used to make it. A covered building about 10′ square, it has a great view of the Great Marsh. The building has some benches so it’s a great way to spend a little time with nature without roughing it to much. On this day the water level was pretty low with not much activity. All that was in the marsh were a few Canadian Snow Geese, just hanging out, sleeping in the mud.
After some time spent at the observation building we walked further down the trail making a big loop back to the parking lot. There is not much variety in the refuge, but as a short easy hike near my house it is a winner. I would love to see this place during migratory season. I can only imagine how many bird species would amass in the marsh at that time. I would also love to come back for a cigar and a little solitude.