An Inside Look into Prince William Forest Park
The National Park Service celebrates its 100th year of service on August 25th! To get people excited to celebrate, we interviewed Chris Alford to get his unique perspective on what makes Prince William Forest Park special – take a look at what he had to say.
1. What Makes Prince William Forest Park stand out from other National Parks?
I don’t know that Prince William Forest Park stands out from other National Parks, but it’s has its own uniqueness that makes it special. This park is unique enough that it has a very rich cultural history and a very rich natural history. We have nearly 175 original Civilian Conservation Corps structures built in the 1930’s that we maintain and operate and that visitors can rent and enjoy either as an organized group or as individuals. On the natural side, as far as the National Park Service goes, we protect the largest segment of Piedmont Forest within our 15,000 acre boundary.
2. What is something that not many people know about Prince William Forest Park?
Probably the Poor House, which was an 1800s version of a homeless shelter. It was designed for indigent individuals and poverty stricken folks in this area. That area is now within the park. It is not something we talk about a lot, but it is part of the cultural history of the park.
Another interesting fact that most people don’t know is Batestown. This was a culturally diverse community in the 1800s and early 1900s. When most of America was segregated, that community here in Northern Virginia was actually integrated.
3. What is your favorite thing to do at the park?
What most everybody else does – just hike and enjoy the natural beauty. But having the pleasure of working here, being able to research its cultural history and understand that particular facet makes this place intriguing. Everyone gets the chance to go out to hike the trails, walk along the streams, and see that natural setting, but until you actually ask the questions and get into the right places, the cultural history remains hidden.
4. One of the things that people love to do in the park is go for a bike ride. How many miles of bike paths are there; and what is the most popular place for biking in the park?
We have 21 miles of biking area in the park. About 13 miles is paved roads and the other 8 miles is gravel. There is only one small non paved or graveled trail that bikes can travel on, that is the Muschette Trail. It leads to some of the gravel roads to travel deeper into the park. The most popular area for biking is the 13 mile Scenic Drive loop.
5. What is your favorite spot in the park?
I have two. One is the Cabin Camp 2 area. It gives the most unique historic setting in the park and there is a lot of history that took place there.
From the natural perspective, anywhere along the creek – North Valley Trail or South Valley Trail. There’s just something about being out in the woods and hearing the water flow over the rocks.
6. What is your most memorable time with a visitor?
Talking to a group of kids and seeing how they react when they make a connection to the park. Something about the light going off in a child’s eyes when they make that connection makes this job worth everything.