I, personally, have never done the Cross-County Trail all the way across the county, though I’m sure somebody out there has. I do know, though, that every time I’ve tried to travel an extended, continuous length of it, I’ve run into a road block somewhere. Currently a portion of the trail that passes beneath the Dulles Toll Road, according to Fairfax County’s website, is closed thanks to construction delays caused by snow. During a recent jog I also had to dodge traffic crossing Pickett Road in Fairfax thanks to the tunnel being blocked.
The Cross-County Trail, though, is a marvelous idea even if the actual execution isn’t perfect yet. A 40-mile trail connecting the length of the county, from the Occoquan to the Potomac, it passes through some of the best county park land there is and unifies a trail system that always seemed as if it should be connected anyway.
Growing up in Annandale, for example, we would frequently ride bikes along a portion of the trail at Eakin Park which followed the Accotink Creek stream bed. While that particular section began at Rt. 50 near Nutley St. in Fairfax and ended at King Arthur Rd. in the Camelot neighborhood, my brother and I both ventured well beyond, going as far south as Lake Accotink. While nobody had yet had the idea to mark the entire route with trail markers and declare “this is a trail,” it was there nonetheless, and you could typically follow any stream bed in the county in a similar manner, provided you were willing to get muddy.
That is one of the great things about Fairfax County, in fact – the restriction against building along flood plains has left it with extended creek beds that can be followed uninterrupted. I am always coming across articles that marvel breathlessly over the miracle of finding a quiet natural stroll in the midst of Fairfax, whether they are talking about the Cross-Country Trail or the Bull Run to Fountainhead Trail or Cub Run, but in actuality these quiet natural strolls are everywhere. The park system in Fairfax is replete with such opportunities, because so much green space has been preserved. It’s a model that other municipalities would be well-served to follow.
The Cross-County Trail especially follows two creek beds, Accotink and Difficult Run. During those in-between times it can get a bit awkward, running for a portion along Route 123 in Lorton and Blake Lane in Fairfax. In the Lorton area it crosses what the county has deemed “Laurel Hill Park” but which for many of us who grew up in the county will always be the Lorton prison complex. Currently that’s my favorite part of the trail experience, as the abandoned prison largely stands as it always has, and hasn’t yet been fully converted into whatever it will one day become. It’s an ominous, sobering place.
The trail can accommodate hikers, bikers, joggers and horses, depending on where you are. To learn more, go to http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/cct/.