Mason Neck State Park: Naturalist Talk, Hike, Eagle Viewing, and Bonfire Picnic

 

 

 

 

 

One of the majestic eagles at the park; this one was behind the Visitor's Center

 

 

 

 

 

Let's head out to one of the region's premier parks, Mason Neck State Park.  This multi-activity event will take 12 Noon 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 meet at 11:45 AM inside 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.  Then, we will head to the trails for 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 hike, 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 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 ice 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 at 5:23 PM.

 

 

 

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 January 26th, the sunrise is at 7:20 AM, and the sunset is at 5:24 PM.  IT will be cold, below freezing 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

 

 

 

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.  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.  Remember that it is illegal to bring outside wood into any Virginia State Park. There is a $4 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

 

Here is the contract between our Meetup group and Mason Neck State Park:

Mason Neck Special Use Permit

 

 

Winter Sunset at Mason Neck; when I took this photo, I truly did not want to leave as it was so beautiful there

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is a covered firepit with a safety screen that prevents large sparks from escaping it and flying into the nearby woods

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  • A former member
    A former member

    Thank you, ladies for your kind words about the article that we got in with the Virginia State Parks newsletter. Their parks are first-rate, and it helps them when positive writings are made about them. They just asked me to do one on Sky Meadows, so maybe I will have a retirement gig lined up......

    February 18, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Congratulations on getting published. Thank you for all the hard work you do in putting this and other events for our enjoyment.

      February 14, 2013

    • Cindy G

      Impressive, Bob! You're awesome. Thanks for all you do - sorry I missed this one!

      February 14, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    We've made the big time!! Maybe it will get more people out in winter!

    February 14, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    For those of you who are interested in the lives of bald eagles, we have an eagle cam set up 100 feet up in an old sycamore tree directly above the 6' wide eagle's nest, approved by the US Fish and Wildlife Service. The nest is located upriver from where we put in for our full moon kayak trips. Belle and Smitty are their names, they have two baby eagles ready to hatch, and we all hope that they survive. Belle does gets cranky if Smitty is late returning with the food. The mating and day-to-day affairs are all captured by the cam. As of this morning, all is well. Here are some videos of it, the second egg laid, the first egg laid, Belle upset, Smitty being called home, and the mating:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DurK92RiZPo
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uSzIi44Z7GE&feature=share&list=UUUoIoGaJCIy-pNcWuH1P1hQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lOmzESF9-dk&list=UUUoIoGaJCIy-pNcWuH1P1hQ
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Awdv7Os9mL4&list=UUUoIoGaJCIy-pNcWuH1P1hQ

    February 10, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    That works for me. Thanks

    January 31, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I was told that our event will be featured in a future Virginia State Parks magazine. I will let folks know when it does come out online.

    January 30, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Such a great time. Thank you Bob for a terrific meetup and particularly all your efforts with the challenges of the fire (wind and wood supply, the lecture (ranger substitutions) and trying to keep up with all the changes in RSVP's! It was great to see old friends and meet so many new people! It was just a wonderful day all the way around.

    January 28, 2013

    • Jim P.

      Yes, thanks Bob and to you Julie for hosting. Was nice talking about western skiing. I decided to hit the Utah slopes in 2 weeks.

      January 30, 2013

  • Sheila

    Great fun and , as usual, very well organized by Bob. I thought the rangers did a really good job too.

    January 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    It's Mine. How can I retrieve?

    January 28, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      It was in the woods right behind the benches, and I found it during the post-event cleanup when the posse left. It is now safely in my car. I will be at Sky Meadows for the hike if that works for you......

      January 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This was my first time w/this very nice group of people. Looking forward to the next event.

    January 28, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I found a black Minolta case, either for a camera or for binoculars. Shoot me an email if it is yours.

    January 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Joe and I had a wonderful time. All winter we've been kind of penned up or me just showing home for real estate. It was nice to do something together out of doors. And Bob... The hot apple cidar with that bonfire was a real hit! Thank you!!!

    January 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I also want to say THANK YOU to Sarabeth and Meghan for sharing their gloves and earmuffs with me! And, I'd like to send Bob a big hug for keeping us nice a toasty with that amazing fire and hot cider.

    January 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    It was fun meeting everyone!

    January 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    This was a great hike, this is a great group of people. Met quite a few first timers like myself. I am looking forward to more. Bob - you did a fantastic job and the bonfire was terrific

    January 27, 2013

  • John C

    Thanks, Bob, for organizing providing a bonfire and hot cider.

    January 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    The weather turned out to work with us, and the area roads got cleared up in time for the event. We listened to an eagle presentation, hiked, strolled long the beach, ate, and had some hot apple cider while socializing. It turned out to be a great day in the woods and along the bay. Thank you, all, for chipping in to cover our expenses - we made out just fine.

    January 27, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    We had a great time today as always. It was nice to see folks again. The cold weather wasn't so bad after all. Everyone was shedding layers before the halfway point of the hike! The fire felt great when we got back. Thanks Bob, for setting this up. Looking forward to seeing everyone again soon. The eagle talk was interesting, and the "Eagle cam" from Ft. Meyers, FL was cool!

    January 26, 2013

  • Michelle

    It was alot of fun!

    January 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Super fun! It was my first so I only gave it 4 stars b/c I have nothing to compare it to. Looking forward to lots more in :-)

    January 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    It was a fun hike and it was not too cold once I started walking

    January 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Very informative

    January 26, 2013

  • Cindy G

    My son needs rides today - & it's too far for me to 'squeeze' it in. Sorry, I was hoping to be there - take lots of pictures please!

    January 26, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Don't forget your binoculars too!

    January 25, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Folks - I hope that all got home safely tonight. Here is an update to our activity: We are good to go. I had a conference call with the park superintendent, and he told me it was beautiful at the park today. He has been sitting in the Visitor Center watching eagles and other birds running across the frozen Belmont Bay and playing on the ice. Now, the fact that the leaves are snow and ice covered drastically reduces the danger of a wildfire, so, unless Mother Nature has it in for us, the bonfire is a go. Early tomorrow, the staff will be plowing and salting the roads on the park property. It will be a beautiful winter day tomorrow. We are still having a problem finding a backup nature interpreter to give us a talk, but the Visitor Center has an excellent multimedia display to make up for it. And, as you know, the full moon, the Wolf Moon, is set to appear Saturday night. Please, take your time getting to the park, as there is no rush.

    January 25, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    It certainly is cold out. The latest predicted weather forecast for Mason State Park State Park on Saturday is for a sunny day:

    11 AM: 32 degrees and a NW wind of 6 MPH
    12 Noon: 32 degrees and a NW wind of 7 MPH
    1 PM: 33 degrees and a NW wind of 8 MPH
    2 PM: 33 degrees and a NW wind of 8 MPH
    3 PM: 34 degrees and a NW wind of 8 MPH
    4 PM: 34 degrees and a NW wind of 8 MPH
    5 PM: 32 degrees and a NW wind of 7 MPH

    If this holds, it looks like the bonfire will work. Please be careful driving because of black ice and have proper footwear for the trails therein. Of course, you should wear proper clothing as indicated in the information all received on winter hiking.

    Bring food to share in a cooler that you can leave at the fire pit, folding chairs, a camera, and s'mores.

    There is no rush, and people will be coming and going. Stay safe, and Godspeed. If you have any questions, please contact me at [masked]

    January 25, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Here is the real time weather report for our activity area updated with each Doppler sweep: http://forecast.weather.gov/MapClick.php?lat=38.643941906294984&lon=-77.1973443031311

    January 22, 2013

    • Jennifer

      If it snows, will we need traction gear / ice cleats? That is something I don't own.

      January 24, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      You definitely want to wear sensible hiking boots. Ice cleats are optional and a personal choice; they are sold at Walmart and sporting goods outlets. You should read the Letter To Hikers - Winter Hiking Gear, that is provided above.

      January 24, 2013

  • Cindy

    I am hoping my friend Susan can still attend with me. She was a ranger at Mason Neck a few years back and created one of the display cases near the visitors center. I am sure she can answer questions re eagles if anyone has questions.

    January 24, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    The nature interpreter, Kevin, who was going to give us the talk on the eagles had his grandfather pass away so he had to rush to New York to be with the family. Accordingly, I am having the park superintendent get us another official from an adjoining park to give us a presentation. Plus, Don, the ranger who was getting us the firewood, had to go off-site over the weekend, so the park superintendent will be getting us the firewood himself. I will be putting up a charity can for the apple cider and the firewood and the park permit to ask for donations, strictly on a voluntary basis. Any funds that we get that go above my actual costs will be donated to the park in our name.

    January 24, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Right now, the long term (and quite fluid) weather prediction for Saturday is: Sunny, with a high of 37 degrees and 9 MPH winds. If it stays like this, we are good to go with the bonfire; if the wind speed is higher, then we will have multiple firepits. Remember that this is a wildlife refuge and a sensitive ecosystem, which is why the park is so careful about wildfires.

    January 23, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Meetup, in its efforts to assist organizers, limited the total attending to the prior event from which the activity was copied. The problem is that some people got bumped into the not going list without my knowing it. If this happened to you, write to me offline and I will add you manually by re-editing the event.

    January 9, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      thanks Bob...just saw you added me to the group.

      January 9, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Per Karin, shown above...... Car Pool request: I live near GMU (Patriot Center side, off of Braddock Road. I am willing to either give a ride or ride with someone (up to 3 for my car) to this event in a carpool based on weather conditions. My email address is: [masked]

      January 23, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I have a pair of women's Timberland hiking boots (size 8) for sale. I've only worn them a few times and they're still pretty clean (I needed a larger size). Will send a pic to anyone who's interested. I'm asking $50. If you're interested please email me at [masked]. Thanks! (Posted with Bob's permission.)

    January 22, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Folks - There is a good possibility that a Red Flag Warning will be issued on Saturday, as the winds may be high enough for a chance of a wildfire to occur. If a Red Flag Warning is issued, we need to have the fire covered. Look above in the activity narrative, and take a look at the bottom picture of the firepit. This firepit has been approved for use in Mason Neck State Park during a Red Flag Warning. If you have a firepit like the one shown, and you can bring it with you on Saturday, please contact me offline by email at: [masked]

    January 22, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Do not bring any fire-making apparatus (grill, stove, firepit, or anything else) unless you clear it with me first, because it has to get listed on the revised site permit and then get approved before use.

      January 22, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    The long term weather prediction for Saturday calls for a mostly sunny day, with a high of 29 degrees, and a low of 16 degrees. Since the night before will have freezing rain and sleet, I will cover our wood pile before our event. This also means that the trails may be ice-covered. For those of you who have never been outside on a winter activity, I strongly urge you to dress warmly and sensibly. There is a link in the activity narrative describing suggested clothing to use, particularly for your hands and feet.

    January 22, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I'll be coming from Sterling, taking the FFX Co Pkwy S to 123 S. If you live in Reston or close to that route, I can take 2 more.

    January 20, 2013

  • Sheila

    I'll be driving from the Bethesda/Rockville are and can take 3 more.

    January 18, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    I am coming from the South (Fredericksburg area) and have room for carpoolers if anyone needs a ride to Lorton!

    January 17, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Please do not bring any outside fire-making items (charcoal, wood, or fuels). The park has a strict fire ban and our permit for the event is very specific to our bonfire and the propane stove in the fire pit. If you have any questions, ask me offline by email before you bring any items relating to the fire. Of course, any type of food that may require heat such as s'mores or tubesteaks on a stick are fine.

    While the details are still being worked on, below is the general plan of our shindig:

    The eagle talk in the Visitor's Center is at 12 Noon.

    Tom and Sarabeth will lead the main hike after we are done in the Visitor's Center.

    I will stay at the fire pit and base camp during the main hike so folks can leave their gear there (folding chairs and coolers).

    Those who want to go on pictorial expeditions along the beach and coastline, I will show them where that is while the main group is hiking.

    People will be coming and going, so there will be groups all over.

    January 17, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Folks - I am going to close this event, as we have a good-sized group, and I suggest that folks work on their carpooling arrangements at this time (rather than wait until the night before the event). If you have any questions, just send me an email.

    January 14, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    We are looking forward to this. If anyone needs a ride from the Midlothian area, let me know!

    January 13, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Leaving from Upper Marlboro--does anyone want to carpool? Email me

    January 10, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    Folks - I urge members to carpool if possible, and this time would be appropriate to reach out to one another on the carpooling plans. Also, please remember that there is no alcohol allowed in the park, all pets must be on a leash no longer than 6 feet at all times, and no outside wood may be brought into the park. The fire pit area next to the water line has been rented solely for our use, so we are set for our base camp. Sarabeth and Tom (as they did last year) will lead the hike, and I will stay at the bonfire the entire time. Members are free to hike, stay at the base camp, or go on independent photographic journeys. More information will be promulgated as the activity date nears. Godspeed to all.

    January 9, 2013

    • A former member
      A former member

      Also, if there are any changes to the event or new information from the ranger, I will post it by 9 PM on the night prior to the event.

      January 10, 2013

  • Jennifer

    Is anyone coming from the Rockville area? I'm interested in carpooling and can either drive or ride.

    January 10, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    We just got the permit signed for our event, and the link is provided above. As you know, our bonfire will be in a wildlife refuge, so the activity had to be cleared. This permit takes care of any applicable fire ban restrictions.

    November 18, 2012

  • A former member
    A former member

    Bob, you do such a great job posting these events! As a new member, I was assuming there wouldn't be outdoor events til spring, so I'm delighted to know there's an outlet to thwart the onset of winter blues. Hope to see you guys in January!

    1 · October 27, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      Pat - I go outdoors year-round. Once, back when Moses was still wearing pull-ups, I had a mentor who showed me (initially against my will, since he wanted to go ice fishing in upstate New York, and I thought I would be sitting inside a cabin all week) the beauty of nature that appears in all the different seasons and throughout our fair land. Returning to the area were we walked upon on a July stroll, and seeing it snow-covered in a wintry repose, gives one a renewed sense of perspective and belief of being part of the cycle of nature. This Mason Neck event, for example is unique, and I hope you as well as others can make it. Of course, if there is serious inclement weather, we will postpone it - but if there is snow on the ground, that is the reason to go. Godspeed.

      1 · October 27, 2012

    • A former member
      A former member

      Pat, this event is an annual favorite. Sign up quickly before it's full; you can always cancel if your plans change. Bob makes the best bonfires, and at the winter events, he dresses properly (no skivvies when there's snow on the ground). Plan to stay for the sunset - I've been twice and haven't done that yet, but I'm clearing my calendar this time. :)

      October 27, 2012

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