President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 President’s Commission on American Outdoors evolved into a recommendation later named “Trails for All Americans”. Proposing that “all Americans should be able to go out their front doors and within fifteen minutes, be on trails that wind through their cities or towns and bring them back without retracing steps,” the report was the catalyst for the American Hiking Society’s first National Trails Day in 1993. Since then, National Trails Day has been celebrated in all fifty states, many U.S. territories, and even Canada. The annual event, held on the first Saturday of every June, encourages people everywhere to visit part of America’s network of over 200,000 miles of trails, and to thank the workers, volunteers, and agencies who make them possible. Each trail takes many hours of planning, coordination, and hard work, but finished paths ultimately give explorers an opportunity to breath fresh air, learn about nature, improve their physical health, and manage life’s stresses.
To celebrate National Trails Day Chris and I planned a visit to Government Island in Stafford County, Virginia, just a few minutes from our home. In spite of it’s name Government Island is actually a seventeen acre isle, located near Aquia Harbor. The land was purchased by the Brent family in 1694 and used as a sandstone quarry, producing stone used in many of the early colonies’ architectural details and gravestones. When Pierre L’Enfant purchased the property on behalf of the federal government in 1791, stone was excavated for use in the White House, the U.S. Capitol, and other buildings making up the nation’s new capitol. In November 2010, Stafford County opened the land as a county park. Today, Government Island is a designated site on the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail, and features interpretive exhibits, historic artifacts, and access to local flora and fauna. The trail is approximately 1.5 miles from start to finish, and is made up of a paved portion, a boardwalk bridge, and footpaths.
We had a busy and productive day today, and capping it off with a visit to the park was the perfect end to our evening’s adventures. Our cousins, Joey and Emily, joined us for our nature walk, as well as our two oldest dogs, Sage and Iris. Joey, Chris, and Emily had explored the area in their younger years, but none of us had visited the recently opened trail. The evening was mercifully cool after the recent heat wave, and the shade covering the majority of the path made it an enjoyable little hike. As we walked I marveled over the beauty of the area, and we all kept talking about what an ideal little shangri la it was.