Situated on the edge of the densely populated Washington metropolitan area, the comparatively vast woodlands of Prince William Forest Park offer an inviting retreat. Prince William Forest Park consists of approximately 13,000 acres on the watershed of the Quantico Creek. It is approximately 35 miles from Washington, D. C., in Prince William County, Virginia. About twelve percent or 1,600 acres of privately owned lands, or inholdings, lie within the boundaries of the park.
Prince William Forest Park is roughly bounded by Route 619 on the south and west, Route 234 to the north, and Interstate 95 to the east. Two provinces of the Appalachian system, the Coastal Plain and the Piedmont, fall within the park. The fall line separating the Piedmont from the Coastal Plain crosses the park near the eastern boundary of the Quantico Creek. The highest elevation is 387 feet above sea level, the lowest slightly greater than 100 feet.
The Quantico Creek watershed is a major resource of the park. The north and south branches of the creek run parallel to each other, flowing northwest to southeast through the park. The two branches of the Quantico Creek meet at the confluence near the old pyrite mine. Several impoundments and reservoirs create surface water features (six lakes). (See map below.)
The park was built on submarginal farm land. Before reclamation the land was badly eroded by poor soil management practices spanning more than two centuries. American Indians first utilized the area thousands of years ago to gather plant food and hunt. In 1756 the town of Dumfries was founded by Scottish immigrants. The newcomers rapidly cleared the land and began the intensive farming of corn, wheat, cotton, and tobacco. The resulting soil erosion led to the total siltation of the port of Dumfries by 1785. Intensive farming continued through the early 20th century leaving the area depleted of nutrients. Remaining farmers were barely able to make a living on the sub-marginal land.
Today the park is a natural oasis in rapidly urbanizing Northern Virginia, providing a variety of outdoor experiences for the visiting public. The watershed of Quantico Creek is almost entirely forested with one of the finest examples of a Piedmont deciduous forest on the eastern seaboard. Pines and mixed hardwoods and various stages of natural succession are apparent. The lush stream valleys and rolling terrain associated with the fall zone between the Piedmont and Coastal Plain physiographic provinces create diverse wildlife habitats and recreational settings. Deer, beaver, ruffed grouse, fox and wild turkey can all be observed in the park.
Preserved as a tranquil setting for the study and interpretation of its natural and cultural resources, Prince William Forest Park represents a significant asset to the entire Washington metropolitan area. It is administered through the National Capital Region of the National Park Service. Small by comparison to the great national parks, Prince William Forest Park serves a unique mission reflecting the idealism that created the national park system.
Last Updated: 31-Jul-2003