Get on your bikes and ride! Vol. 1 – W&OD

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As we enter our first spring like week of the year I am starting a series of profiles of area bike trails. I begin with my personal favorite, the Washington & Old Dominion Regional Park trail. In 2005 I rode the length of the trail from west to east in one afternoon.

An early example of the “rail-to-trail” phenomenon, W&OD was simply known as the “bike trail” to me and my friends when I was growing up. Now forty-five miles long, the flat, straight trail starts in Arlington, near Shirlington, and extends all the way past Leesburg to Purcellville. In actuality, the trail is part of W&OD Regional Park, which is the old railroad and current Virginia Power right-of-way (hence the high tension power lines), giving it dimensions of about 45 miles by 100 feet. Those 100 feet provide a buffer of nature through the most populated region of the commonwealth. Much of the Arlington portion traverses Four Mile Run Park while it parallels the windier Four Mile Run trail. Think of W&OD as I-95 to Four Mile’s US 1 and you get the idea of how the two trails exist together.

As it approaches Falls Church, W&OD joins the Custis Trail as part of the I-66 multimodal corridor (I-66, Metro Orange line, bike path) for a few miles before breaking off onto side streets briefly. A beautiful bridge spanning Broad Street (VA 7) keeps the trail moving. At the foot of the bridge there are displays chronicling railroad and Falls Church history. Some of these displays are repeated along the trail, providing an interesting historical context.

After Falls Church, the trail parallels local streets and climbs up to the Virginia Lane overpass of I-66, before paralleling I-66 up to the Capital Beltway (I-495) interchange and into Dunn Loring. Once past the Beltway, the trail returns to separate right of way into Vienna where users are greeted by a small Civil War marker near the community center as well as the last opportunities for food and refreshments until Reston. Highlighting the Vienna portion is Vienna Centennial Park, home of a vintage red caboose, as well as an old train station, home to a large model railroad that is open to the public on some Saturday mornings. A local business park has also painted a large railroad mural facing the trail, giving the town a nice ambiance.

Beyond Vienna, the next four to five miles feature a few ridges as well as soccer fields and wetlands. One of the most substantial hills along the trail is just beyond Hunter Mill Road as you near Reston. Once down the hill, a more business oriented suburbia emerges with more boulevards to cross (mostly on recently built overpasses) as you pass through one of the “edge cities” of D.C. Fast food and convenience stores are also available, allowing you to fill up. One interesting note is the trail passes Michael Faraday Square, which includes the “monkey house” from the book, The Hot Zone, though it is not distinguishable from any of the other business park buildings.
Past Reston and closer to Herndon, W&OD once again takes on a character that is more residential than commercial. Downtown Herndon reveals itself to be quaint as you pass through with more refreshment options and another caboose. It the last concentrated downtown that you pass through along the trail, since west of Herndon was until recently fairly rural.

The end of Herndon means the beginning of Loudon County, starting with Sterling. Again, the trail travels through residential and light industrial (or at least the Northern Virginia equivalent) areas. As Sterling comes to an end, the W&OD crosses Sully Road (VA 28 and now Darrell Green Highway) on an overpass and enters a rapidly growing residential area. A decade ago, the housing boom reached these parts (especially north of the trail) and the once rural landscape was transformed into new subdivisions. All has not changed though, with the Ashburn General Store providing a tangible link to days long since past as well as plenty of snacks. This portion of the trail itself can be deceptively steep at times though.

Through Leesburg, the trail bypasses the historic downtown, but not by much. Having not traveled this portion in many years, I cannot recall the specific amenities available, but there are some.

Past Leesburg the W&OD takes on a rural flavor for the rest of the duration; A few trips across VA 7 on overpasses notwithstanding. The highest point of the trail is at Clarks Gap, where VA 9 splits from VA 7. The trail only has a few more miles before it terminates in Purcellville, a pleasant town that seems to be blending its history and emergence as a far suburb well.

1 Comment so far

  1. Mik (unregistered) on March 12th, 2007 @ 2:58 pm

    Great article WYF! I enjoy the CCT here near my office and have yet to take the WO&D trail out past where I live (near the East Falls Church Metro), perhaps next weekend.



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