One of the majestic eagles at the park; this one was behind the Visitor's Center at our prior event there
Let's head out to one of the region's premier parks, Mason Neck State Park. This multi-activity event will take place from 11:30 AM to 5 PM. The 1,800 acre Mason Neck State Park is on a peninsula formed by Pohick Bay on the north, Belmont Bay on the south, and the mighty Potomac River on the east. Bald eagles roost in the park and fish in the waters surrounding the peninsula. The park also attracts several other migrating and non-migrating species of birds, including tundra swans, various species of ducks, and great blue herons. The park encompasses one of the East Coast's largest heron habitats, and it has an adjacent wildlife refuge that is first-rate. The park also boasts several hundred acres of hardwood forests consisting of oaks, holly, hickory, and other species of trees. Moreover, several wetland areas are found therein, home to many wild creatures.
Another shot of an eagle behind the Visitor's Center
We will first meet at 11:30 AM at the fire ring where our base camp is.
At 12 Noon, our members can either hike or go to the Visitor's Center, in the Explorers' Hall, check out the place, talk about eagles, and distribute information on these amazing raptors in a brochure. We will be given a naturalist talk about the eagles and their habits at Noon. We will also head to the trails for stroll to the beach or boat launch as well as a five-mile level hike that will encompass the Eagle Spur Trail, the Kane's Creek Trail, and the Beach Trail. The trails are primarily on flat land, and we will visit every eagle viewing location in the park. No one will be left behind on the hike. We will have a hike leader and a sweep, and they will be in contact with one another.
A bonfire is a perfect way to warm the heart and the body on a cold winter's day
After our hikes and naturalist presentation, we will gather by the fire ring right at the water's edge, and near our parking area, which is a truly beautiful site. Here, we will have a bonfire. We have rented the fire ring area, so it is all ours. We will enjoy a picnic, and we will have hot apple cider (made with real apples). You will need to bring your own picnic (food and non-alcoholic beverage). Please bring s'mores (and skewers) to have over the fire! From the fire ring, all you have to do is walk a very short distance to get the best view of the eagles, as they hunt on the water (or ice if it is frozen over) while you are comfortably on shore. The parking lot is close to the fire ring, so you will only have a short walk there with your cooler. Help, as always, will be available. Bring folding chairs.
The Belmont Bay may be covered with ice, and, if so, that is an amazing sight in itself. Dress for the cold, as right before dusk is when the eagles are most active. Note that we have to be out of the park by 5 PM, as the sunset is just after 5 PM on this date.
There's nothing on a cold day in our great outdoors like making s'mores over an open fire
So, bring your cameras, your binoculars, your picnic, and your enthusiasm for watching our Nation's Bird. The park is in southern Fairfax County, about 20 miles from Washington, D.C. Access to the park is via U.S. 1, then five miles east on Route 242 (Gunston Road) to the park entrance.
At a prior hike here, some took the high road while others took the low road, but all got there okay
Please note that on this date the sunrise is at about 7:30 AM, and the sunset is at about 5:00 PM. It may be cold or windy on this date. Accordingly, we should all dress warmly. Here is a link to ideas as to what one should wear for outdoor activities during the winter:
Letter to Hikers - Winter Hiking Gear - What to Bring and Wear
Here is the weather report updated in real time:
At a previous bonfire party we witness a highly technical scientific explanation taking place, whereby Andy explains to Julie that as the temperature decreases the need to get closer to the fire increases.
We have the park permit, we purchased the wood, and I will make hot apple cider with real apples by the fire. The wood has to come from inside the park to prevent the spread of parasites in the wildlife preserve, so no outside wood may be brought into the park. We will have a donation bucket out by the bonfire to defray the costs for the event; any funds that we get above the actual costs, will be donated to the park. Again, please remember that it is illegal to bring outside wood or outside combustibles into any Virginia State Park. There is a $5 admission per vehicle to the park, so carpooling is encouraged. Pets may be brought into the park, but they must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times. Now, you know your pet best; therefore, if you have a dog who loves to yap, that noise will impact our ability to view the wildlife, so make sure that it is a good decision to bring your dog to this event.
Soaring over the state park, searching for a meal
Children and guests are welcome. This event will take place if there is no dangerous weather, as our safety is always our prime concern. Accordingly, all will be notified the night before the event no later than 9 PM if there are any changes in our plan.
Our members like to eat well after a hike
Here is a general information brochure for the state park that also has the trail maps:
Mason Neck State Park Information and Map
We will be receiving a special-use contract between our Meetup group and Mason Neck State Park. Since this is a wildlife refuge, and there are fire bans, we need a permit to have the bonfire. When it is signed off by the Virginia officials, I will post it here for all to see.
Winter Sunset at Mason Neck; when I took this photo, I truly did not want to leave as it was so beautiful there
Here is a photo from a prior bonfire that we did. Yes, it will be warm at our fire ring, no matter how cold it is on the bay
Even with snow on the ground, the trails are accessible to our hikers
And if you look up while hiking, you never know what you may see