Improving a Local Treasure - Upgrades on the BROT

contour trail

From Bull Run Regional Park in Centreville to Fountainhead Regional Park in Fairfax Station is perhaps the best natural surface trail in all of Northern Virginia. This 18+ mile trail is the centerpiece of nearly 5,000 acres of contiguous parkland owned and managed by NOVA Parks (Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority).

This was the first big area of parkland purchased by NOVA Parks 50-60 years ago. When the trail was added 50 years ago, there was not an understanding of sustainable trail design. As a result, the old trail goes straight up and down many steep slopes, and the result is erosion, which negatively impacts the water quality of the streams, river and reservoir that adjacent to this parkland.

“The parkland in this area was conserved to benefit water quality. It was very progressive of NOVA Parks leaders 60 years ago to see the need to protect this area. Today, this large forest area serves to filter storm water before it reaches the reservoir,” commented Stella Koch, NOVA Parks Board member and local environmentalist. “I am thrilled we are now taking steps to make the trail more sustainable,” continued Koch.

In the last year, NOVA Parks hired Applied Trails Research, a nationally known trail firm, headed by Dr. Jeremy Wimpey (PhD in Geospatial Environmental Analysis), to study the Bull Run/Occoquan Trail (BROT) and propose a series of trail reroutes that will address erosion issues, and allow the trail to better serve the many trail users over the next 50 years.

The Potomac Appalachian Trail Club (PATC) partners with NOVA Parks and leads the maintenance of the BROT.  Robert Fina, PATC District Manager for this area noted “many sections of the BROT have a fall line trail alignment - the trail runs straight up and straight down the hillsides, exactly the way water wants to run. These fall line trails erode rapidly, are difficult to maintain, and the erosion exposes roots and rocks. Trail users want to avoid the uneven footing, gullying, and muddy patches, so they walk next to the trail, further widening the trail and starting a new cycle erosion, rock and root exposure, and trail widening. In places the BROT has become fifty feet wide by this process. The only long term fix for this situation on a natural surface trail is to reroute the trail so the trail is less steep, and drainage can be incorporated into the design to remove water from the trail before erosion can start. This gentle, serpentine design is called contour alignment, since the trail tends to run along the contour of the land. Contour alignment reduces erosion and the resulting siltation of adjacent water bodies, as well as reducing the trail maintenance.”

The Applied Trails Research study identified 12 areas that should be rerouted, and estimated the total project would cost close to $1 million to complete. In 2018, NOVA Parks applied for and won $400,000 in federal funds to start this project. In addition, over $50,000 plus volunteer were provided by Mid-Atlantic Off Road Enthusiasts (MORE), the leading mountain bike club in the region. 

“Sound trail design has come a long way in the last decade. We are thrilled to be partnering with NOVA Parks and PATC in implementing best practices on this trail,” said Ernest Rodriguez, President of MORE.

In addition to improving the environment, the rerouted trail needs to go around numerous archeological resources. This area is remarkable for its history. There are significant prehistoric resources. The troops of French General Rochambeau passed through this area on their way to Yorktown in 1781. During the Civil War, this area was particularly busy, with an early battle near the point where Rt. 28 crosses the river today, and numerous camps and fortifications. “I have worked with NOVA Parks for decades on the preservation and interpretation of many historic sites on their parkland. They are an agency that puts a high value on preserving the history of our region,” remarked Jim Lewis, local historian.

The first areas of rerouting the trail have begun, and the work will continue for years as the funds are found and priority areas are addressed. 2019 is the 60th anniversary of NOVA Parks, and of the first purchase of parkland at Bull Run. This project is one of many ways NOVA Parks is keeping its parkland well maintained for current and future generations.

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