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Mason Neck State Park, VA Day Hike

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This hike occurred on Saturday, April 6, 2019. Participants were Tom O'Brien, Dave McIntyre, 3 Cub Scouts, 4 Scout parents, and 2 younger siblings.

Mike C was at a Good Sam Club RV Rally in Gloucester Point, VA for the weekend so Tim Young, the Cubmaster of POPUMC's Cub Scout Pack, volunteered to lead this
month's hike. Tom and Dave carpooled from POPUMC, and arrived at approximately 8:30 to meet up with the Scout families. The drive to Mason Neck from I-95/Route 1 goes through some pretty backcountry scenery on Gunston Road and High Point Road.

Mason Neck State Park began as a Nature Conservancy for bald eagles that was adjacent to the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. From the Mason Neck State Park website: In 1965, the Mason Neck Conservation Committee was formed after two bald eagle nests were spotted at Mason Neck. The committee, concerned about impending development on the peninsula, recommended part of the area to be used as a site for a state park.

There are several parking areas and trailheads in Mason Neck State Park, and our group met at the Bayview Trail Trailhead (Where, conveniently, there are restrooms and a playground). It was a perfect morning for a hike, with temperatures in the low 60s, almost no wind, and a very slight overcast that would burn-off as the morning progressed.

After consulting the trail map, the group decided on a 3.25 mile route that would cover the Bayview Trail loop, the Dogue Trail loop, and the Wilson Spring Trail that connects the two loops. The trails at Mason Neck State Park are very well maintained and make for easy hiking. After stopping at the edge of the parking lot to look at a Cardinal perched in tree, the hiking group a set off along the northern portion of the Bayview Trail loop, which runs along the shoreline with intermittent views of Belmont Bay.

Tom, Dave, and Tim remarked that the group could clearly see Occoquan National Wildlife Refuge, the site of last month.s hike, directly across Belmont Bay. In fact, a small island with a wooden hut that is conspicuously situated in the middle of the bay, was very clearly visible from the Bayview Trail. The group realized this is the same island that the hiking group discussed while viewing it from the other side of the bay during last month's hike.

The first .75 miles of the Bayview Trail had numerous wooden bridge crossings over streams and inlets that characterize the wetland habitat along the bay. The marshes were particularly full with rainfall from the previous evening. While there was not a significant amount of wildlife visible, the trees and plants were very obviously beginning their spring bloom, with new buds popping out on many branches and twigs.

The southern portion of Bayview Trail has a short scenic loop that leads to an overview of a large marsh. Tom, Dave, and Tim took this loop, while the rest of the group pushed forward onto the Wilson Spring Trail. The Wilson Spring Trail heads inland with a small elevation increase, which causes the habitat to change from wetland to temperate deciduous forest. The .65 mile Wilson Spring Trail ends at a trailhead along High Point Road, the main road through the Park. The rest of the group paused for a water break there while waiting for Tom, Dave, and Tim to catch up.

Once the group was re-assembled, we set out along the .85 Dogue Trail Loop, which continues farther inland towards the border with the Elizabeth Hartwell National Wildlife Refuge. After completing the loop and returning back to the Dogue Trail / Wilson Spring Trail trailhead, two of the Scout families decided to bid the group farewell and head back along High Point Road to their nearby cars. Tom, Dave, Tim, and Tim's two children elected to keep to the original plan and continue back down the Wilson Spring Trail to the last portion of the Bayview Trail loop.

The remaining portion of the Bayview Trail Loop included more bridges and a long elevated wooden walkway over the marsh. The group also found a tree that had split towards the base, forming a tunnel large enough for the children to crawl through. After a brief pit stop for pictures by the tunnel tree, the group continued the last eighth of a mile to the hike.s starting point, the Bayview Trail trailhead.

This was a very nice hike in perfect conditions along nicely maintained
trails in a beautiful state park. Although the group did not observe much in the way of wildlife, it was very interesting to observe the ecosystem perched at the transition from winter dormancy to spring bloom. In only a matter of weeks, the park will be teeming with new life and have a very different feel from the still and peaceful atmosphere the group experienced on this hike. We do day hikes the first Saturday of each month. All are welcome to join us.

Tim Y

Cardinal perched in a tree...
  Cardinal perched in a tree...
   By Tim Young
Trail map at the start of the Bayview Trail   Map at start of the Bayview Trail.
   By Tim Young
View looking west...   Looking west from Bayview Trail.
  By Tim Young
View of Belmont Bay...
  View of Belmont Bay
  By Tim Young
Close-up of the island with wooden hut...
  Close-up, island with wooden hut
  By Tim Young
The hiking group walks along Dogue Trail
  Along the Dogue Trail.
   By Tim Young

Tom and Dave on the wooden platform...
  Tom and Dave on wooden platform
  By Tim Young

Tom, Austin, and Colton inspect the tunnel tree

  Tom, Austin, and Colton inspect the
  tunnel tree.  By Tim Young

Colton peeks out from inside the tunnel tree

  Colton peeks out from inside tunnel
  tree.  By Tim Young

A nesting platform near the visitor center

  Nesting platform near visitor center.
  By Tim Young

The 'Spirit of America' bald eagle statue...

  'Spirit of America' statue
  By Tim Young

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