It was only after I started a job where I drove the George Washington Memorial Parkway between Rosslyn and the Beltway exit that I began to wonder about Turkey Run park. We in the Washington metro area have a wild urban river in our midst, a rare, 15-mile stretch of one of the most diverse ecosystems in the country, called the Potomac River Gorge. Most people have experienced it in Great Falls, along the C&O Canal towpath, or in Georgetown. Its diverse ecosystems, plant and animal varieties result from its position at a geographic confluence of north, south, east and west. Turkey Run park sits in this stretch of river and has become one of my favorite local escapes.
First, for those of us who don’t get out of the strange monoculture of Arlington County very often (willow oaks, anyone?), a real hardwood forest has astonishing diversity.
I saw walnut, hickory, tulip poplar, ash, red and white oak, beech, and sycamore trees, not to mention some I wasn’t sure about. And they were big. The tree canopy is high. On a sunny day, you will find your camera flash popping because of the deep shade.
The forest floor here has the things you would expect: trillium, may apple, Solomon’s seal, varieties of trout lilies and dogtooth violets, and bluebells, not to mention the largest colony of wild ginger I have seen since childhood.
There is also wildlife, from toads and skinks to chipmunks and on a larger scale, deer, of course. Then there are the birds. Up in the woods, mostly you hear them or catch a glimpse of some flashy feathers: woodpeckers, flickers, warblers and more. Then as you get closer to the river, looking up you see the swifts, and on the river, the herons, egrets, and ducks. On the right day, you might glimpse eagles or hawks as well as a vulture or two.
There are picnic areas near the parking lots and well marked trails.
You’ll meet people with and without children and the occasional dog off the leash, but it’s not crowded in the way Great Falls, for all its grandeur, can be. It also feels “away,” with its deep shade and filtered sunlight. Even though the sound of the Parkway is never too far off, the chance to see so much woodland diversity so close to home is a great gift.