Location: Dumfries, Virginia
Webpage: National Park
General Description: Prince William Forest Park was established as Chopawamsic Recreational Demonstration Area in 1936 by the Works Progress Administration after the Great Depression. Chopawasmsic was the first of these parks established by the National Park Service because of its proximity to Washington D.C. The goal of the program was to provide relief to farmers on poor and marginal land during the Depression by purchasing and relocating them to better farm land, provide work for the CCC and WPA workers, and establish parks near urban areas to provide outdoor camps for city youth. Four camps were created, numbered 1-4 in Chopawamsic within the remnants of Joplin, Hickory Ridge, and Batestown and included roads, bunkhouses, and kitchens. These camps were in operation as summer camps for children until the advent of World War II in 1942. During the war it was a secret military installation with guard towers, patrol dogs, and nameless recruits being trained in intelligence operations by the OSS. These camps were kept a secret from the public, who believed Chopawamsic had become a prisoner of war camp. For a half century after the war, NPS rangers only knew that it had been a secret military operation. The fact that it was the major training location for the OSS has only been recently rediscovered. Following the war, in 1945 it was returned to the National Park System and renamed Prince William Forest Park. Today it is over 16,000 acres of wooded hillsides and streams with numerous hiking, biking and horse trails located near Washington D.C. and Alexandria, Virginia.
1) The Visitor Center is very small with a small exhibit about the wildlife and plants you will find in the forest. The most interesting feature was the extensive use of old chestnut wood in the panels, which use to be the dominant tree in the forest but is now gone to the chestnut blight.
2) There are 37 miles of hiking trails in Prince William Forest Park to choose from. We began with a short hike near the picnic area that had numerous interpretive signs as the path wound down to the creek and back up.
3) We also explored the Laurel Loop trail that was listed as a moderate trail that is 1.4 miles long that left from the Visitor Center.
4) There is also a scenic drive that loops through the forest that is a favorite biking route for all ages, especially since most of it is one-way.
5) Finally, we took the 1.0 mile trail (one-way) down to the remains of the iron pyrite mine. You can see the remains of the buildings that made up the mine back in 1889-1916. Interpretive signs provide and a trail brochure provided information about the remains, the most interesting being the reclamation conducted by the NPS to clean up the stream from highly sulfurous trialing from the mine operation.