Wandering in the Marshes

I love the multitudinous parks in the Washington, DC area. All I have to do is open Google Maps to find somewhere new to explore. Today, we were headed to Alexandria to check out a house and have lunch, so I picked Dyke Marsh Wildlife Reserve for the day’s nature fix. Despite spring in DC giving me ALL THE ALLERGIES, we had a great time.

Located on the Mount Vernon trail just south of Alexandria, the park encloses 485 acres of protected freshwater marshland. The name “Dyke Marsh” refers to the fact that the area was once enclosed by a dyke and used as farmland. After the Civil War, it became known as “Hell Hole,” and was home to brothels and bootleggers. Later, it was abused even more as a gravel mine. The park service is now working on reverting the marsh back to its native state, in which it serves as a natural filter and flood protection along the tidal Potomac river.

An old mining road through the marsh is now a nature trail with beautiful views of the marsh, the river, the DC skyline, and lots of wildlife. Birds were everywhere: cardinals, swallows, wrens, and blackbirds. We even saw bald eagles (we think)!

Afterwards, we visited Jones Point park on the Alexandria side of the river. A small lighthouse there once alerted ships to the shoals of the Potomac and marked the entry to Alexandria. It also happens to be located at the southern corner of the diamond that was once the District of Columbia. The boundaries of the original District were surveyed and stone markers placed by Andrew Ellicott and his free black assistant, Benjamin Banneker, in the late 18th century. 37 of the 40 stone markers still exist, in backyards and parking lots all over the area. They even have their own website. Now that’s some cool DC trivia!


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