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Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Crows Nest Natural Area and Aquia Landing

 Our morning dawned frigid -- 28F! -- but it started warming up in late morning, and by the time we were able to haul our aged bodies out to the trailhead (more accurately, after David finished giving Ruby her mandatory morning walk), it was in the mid-50's, which was very pleasant for some hiking.

Kathy found mention of the Crows Nest Natural Area Preserve nearby in the estuary of the Potomac River.  Named after a schooner that anchored off the peninsula in the 1800's, Crows Nest is one of the last, great undisturbed areas in the Mid-Atlantic.  The Preserve's website explains in part:

Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve was established in 2008 with the first acquisition of 1,762 acres. In 2009, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation and Stafford County added 1,110 acres. The Northern Virginia Conservation Trust (NVCT) dedicated their Potomac Creek Heronry parcel as an addition to the preserve in 2018 and their Potomac Hills parcel in 2020, bringing the total area to 3,055 acres. Funding for the original two tracts came from a variety of sources including DCR, Stafford County, the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality and the Aquatic Resources Trust fund of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, The Nature Conservancy, and the Virginia Land Conservation Foundation.

Crow's Nest is, simply, a beautiful place and considered highly significant from numerous standpoints. Topography is varied, with the high narrow ridgeline rising 160 feet above two tidally influenced creeks: Potomac and Accokeek. The peninsula is deeply dissected on both its northern and southern flanks by a series of deep ravines cutting into ancient coastal plain marine sediments and feeding tidal marshes along the bordering creeks.

Crow's Nest Natural Area Preserve supports:

- 895 acres of tidal and non-tidal wetlands. The wetlands on the Crow's Nest peninsula account for 60 percent of all the marshes in Stafford County, and represent some of the best examples of diverse and intact wetland habitats in the Potomac River drainage;

- 23 miles of stream, riparian and wetland buffer;

- 2,310 acres of mature hardwood forest including two forest types that are recognized as globally rare by DCR's Natural Heritage Program;

- nesting bald eagles, habitat for the federally listed short-nose sturgeon, and habitat for twenty-two plant species that are significant for the Coastal Plain of Virginia;

- habitat for about 60 species of neotropical migratory songbirds, nearly 60 percent of which are experiencing population declines, including ten species that are high global priority species of Partners In Flight;

- spawning, nursery and/or feeding habitat for 49 species of interjurisdictional fish and seven species of mussels and commercially valuable shellfish;

- lands and waters that have played important roles in the Native American, Colonial and Civil War histories of Virginia.

The Preserve boasts two paddling boat launches that facilitate an almost-5 mile paddling trail which, in better weather, we certainly would have ventured.  However, with the cooler weather, we contented ourselves with some hiking.

Here we are at the trailhead near the road-accessible boat launch:

We walked out the boardwalk, across the wetlands, toward the launch.  The landscape was draped in wintery browns and tans:

At the launch, Kathy checked the water depth.  It was close to low tide, and it was uncertain whether it would be too shallow for us to cast off in our kayaks:

Returning from the launch, we found the Accokeek Overlook Trail entrance, where we turned east toward the water:

Accokeek means, "at the edge of the hill" in Algonquin, and our trail, indeed, skirted the edge of the hill as it reached out toward the water:

At the Overlook, we caught sight of the estuary, just a bunch of mud due to low tide, but still impressive in its expanse:

Kathy took the opportunity to perch on a bench and scan the estuary for great blue herons and other bird life:

Meanwhile, David was lost in nature-land, noticing this uniquely bubbly burl:

We finished our hike, returning to the Jeep, and drove over to Aquia Landing, a park perched on a peninsula jutting into the Aquia Creek bay of the Potomac River.  

A Patawomeck Village existed at this site in the 1600's.  The Patawomeck Tribe, a member of the Powhatan Confederacy, greeted Captain John Smith as he sailed up the Potomac in 1608.  Pocahontas, who was visiting the Patawomeck in this area, was kidnapped in 1613.  Over 200 years later, Aquia Landing was the gateway, during the Civil War, for slaves who sought freedom with the Union forces.

The first thing we spotted, when we arrived at Aquia Landing, was a quartet of white swans, en route from who knows where to who knows where:

The shoreline at the park offered an expansive view of the bay and the river:

The park road offered a quarter-mile stretch of beach, which we walked after a picnic lunch.  Kathy searched the margin of the water for polished stones and sea glass --

-- while David combed the beach for photos of such things as unique rocks --

-- and leaves, among the sand and pebbles on the shore:

Kathy found a few collectibles, and we returned to the Jeep, heading home so that we could walk the kitties in the late afternoon sun.  We had thought of another short hike to round out the afternoon, but decided we'll defer that hike until another day.

We finished it all off with some spectacular baby back ribs that Kathy nestled in a crockpot with Sweet Baby Ray's BBQ Sauce and some strategically-added Cinnamon Dolce Ale.  Wow, such a caramel flavor for those ribs!  

We'll have another adventure for you soon.

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