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Exploring the New Frontier ... in Tysons Corner

Columbus Day has never meant so much to us, as we explored "Tysons' Last Forest" for the first time — and hoped that it wouldn't be our last chance.

Some people have to work on Columbus Day. Some get to stay home, sleep in, go to the movies, go shopping, heck, I don’t know … buy a mattress on sale? (Do mattress stores have sales on Columbus Day, as they seem to for all other American holidays?)

Anyway. My husband and I decided this year it should be a day we would go explore a new world with the kids. We thought about corn maizes and pumpkin patches, or maybe just a little hike at a nice park near our house.

But then I remembered an article I read the other day in The Washington Post about a coalition of citizens who were working to help save "Tysons' Last Forest." The article said that in looking at ways to alleviate traffic in Tysons, Fairfax County's comprehensive plan includes an "Option 3," which basically means running a four-lane connector road for the Dulles Toll Road right through the heart of the forest and stream valley.

Now I have to admit something: I've lived in Northern Virginia for a really long time, and I've been hearing about this secret little forest in the midst of Tysons Corner for what seems an equally long time. But I've never been there, and for reasons I can't quite put a finger on, I never really pursued trying to find out where it was. I had my own favorite places to hike in the woods, and I guess I just thought of Tysons as the place to sit in traffic while trying to get to The Container Store.

But this article stuck with me, and I suggested to my husband we go check it out. We weren't quite sure where to park, but with some explanations from my mom, who has lived here for 40+ years, our GPS and an iPhone with Google Maps still loaded on it, we hopped in the car. A few wrong turns later, the minivan was parked and we were curiously poking through the forest's edge.

Twenty seconds later, my husband yelled he found the trail, and off we went, headed west through the woods.

The woods. In Tysons. This was insane. To our right, we could see glimpses of the elevated Metro track and the backs of some random commercial buildings. To our left, we could see backyard playground equipment from neighboring houses. But as far as the eye could see ahead of us, all we could see was huge, old-growth trees. A gorgeous carpet of ferns along the forest floor. A twisting little stream the boys couldn't resist. (It had awesome rocks, perfect for boys to toss into the water with great, satisfying plunks.)

We scrambled under fallen trees, jumped over piles of deadwood from a recent storm, came upon an old paved path and some Parcourse equipment I imagine some corporation installed years ago for their employees.

I. was. stunned.

Eventually, the boys got tired, and the oldest started asking when we were going to turn back. I begged for just another minute ... and then spotted a huge, massive tree. It had to be well over 100 years old, and I simply had to see it. As I hopped up the bank to get closer, I saw something perhaps even more incredible: A huge old farmhouse, shutters hanging at crazy angles, an old brick outbuilding tucked behind it. "Ash Grove," a historical marker read, circa 1790. Built by Thomas Fairfax.

Um, OK, well. Wow.

Suddenly, I started picturing a bunch of little Fairfax kids running around the very forests my boys were now running, and this whole entire day went from being a really exhilarating, exciting experience to a heartbreaking, painful one. Would the powers-that-be really, seriously, destroy all of this — indeed, Tysons' last remaining forest — for an exit ramp? Could they?

On the way back, we came across an orange marker with a sign stapled to it that read, "See the stakes? Two rows of stakes cross this trail, 140 feet apart. This is roughly the width of proposed exit ramps per "Option 3." Imagine everything between the stakes destroyed — gone forever. Check out what we are doing and what you could be doing to help prevent that from happening at: www.savetysonslastforest.org”.

"But Mom," my son said as he looked out at the ferns and the forest and the stream we had just hiked, "that would mean that all this would be gone."

(Yes, my sweet baby, that is true. It would all be gone.)

"And look at all those houses over there," he said, pointing to the backyards we could see through the trees. "I guess the people who made this decision don’t live here, and that's why they don't care.”

(I'm afraid you might be right, my sweet, perceptive, 7-year-old boy. Perhaps that's true, too.)

As we neared the end of our hike, two deer raised their beautiful heads and gave us a quick look before bounding away. My son stared after them, surely the closest he's ever been to a deer. And I vowed I would try, too, to do what I can to help save this forest. It's too important to not even try.

(Read up about the issue in general, and then consider signing a petition for its protection. Please?)

Disclaimer: What I am not: I am not a homeowner in the Tysons Corner area, nor am I am a member of the coalition working to preserve it. In fact, I don’t even live in Fairfax County anymore (I live in Falls Church City).

What I am: I am a lifelong resident of Northern Virginia, and I grew up in Fairfax County during a time when cows still lived in McLean (corner of Swinks Mill and Georgetown Pike). I am a girl who once cried as I watched, from the window of my third-grade classroom at Spring Hill Elementary, hundreds of trees being cut down for what would become the Summerwood neighborhood. I am a woman who loves to hike, loves being outdoors, loves wildlife and trees and clouds and water and wind. I am a mom to two boys—a mom who feels like I’ve done my job well if they come home with muddied knees, stones and acorns in their pockets, and the perfect, most excellent stick they’ve ever found clutched in their dirty hands.

amy October 11, 2012 at 05:57 PM
Wonderful article by my kind of Mother! Long live the green space!
Becky October 11, 2012 at 07:20 PM
I read and now I want to go for a hike!! Can anyone tell me where to park coming from Vienna?
Shreff October 11, 2012 at 09:59 PM
Stephanie: Thanks for taking the time to comment on this important issue. As you clearly understand, it is not important that one lives in the immediate area to be affected by the loss. We are all connected by how we treat our waterways.
Dave Gibson October 12, 2012 at 02:33 AM
Wonderfully humane perspective, thank you. Should remind us all that the very bond between people and nature is being exterminated by lopsided development. When the only option for a Sunday outing is a shopping mall we will have won the human race to the bottom.
11 October 12, 2012 at 01:56 PM
Amrish wrote: " Last month I spotted a 20 lbs turtle, a hawk, and two cranes in the woods. It would be truly sad to see all this go." If option 3 goes through, you'll be right about turtles and hawks ... but we'll surely see more cranes in Tysons Corner!

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