Whether it’s from the Saylor Grove fishing pier or the highest point on the Pawpaw Trail, one of the most cherished features of Piscataway Park is our view of Mount Vernon. In late winter, bare branches frame the blue Potomac River and the red and white of George Washington’s iconic home. But Mount Vernon’s view of Piscataway Park is just as important–and what led to the park’s authorization more than 50 years ago.
While the Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has since the 1850s dedicated itself to the preservation of Washington’s estate, the protection of the view from his piazza would prove a different story.
“George Washington enjoyed the view across the Potomac from his home at Mount Vernon for some 40 years,” says Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association President James C. Rees.
“When you take a seat on the piazza or stand on the hillside today, it’s easy to understand why he was always eager to return to this special place. The Mount Vernon Ladies’ Association has worked diligently with its Maryland neighbors over the years to preserve the viewshed so that visitors today can admire the same view that Washington so dearly loved.”
Indeed, Washington once wrote of his beloved home, “No estate in the United America is more pleasantly situated than this.” In the years that followed World War II, a coalition of both local and national conservationists embarked on a mission to protect the tract of land in Prince George’s and Charles counties that Washington once overlooked. As former Foundation president Robert Ware Straus writes in his book on the subject, these conservationists, himself included, “dreamed of creating a better environment in which to live.”
In the face of persistent development pressure–an oil farm and a sewage treatment plant were two proposed plans for the land–Piscataway Park was finally dedicated on the clear, cold afternoon of Washington’s birthday in 1968.
Thanks to continued conservation efforts by the Accokeek Foundation and our partners, the view from Mount Vernon remains much the same as it was in Washington’s time. And as Washington’s 280th birthday approaches, a walk on the Pawpaw Trail reveals that these efforts have been worth it, in colors that echo the white of the sycamore tree and the ruddy red of a bluebird’s breast.
Trail Treks is a monthly column that explores the walking trails in Piscataway Park. This year, we will highlight the Pawpaw Trail, which is located at the western edge of our grounds and leads through a mature forest. Look for more reflections from the Pawpaw Trail as 2012 progresses.