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Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge was specifically created to protect essential bald eagle nesting, feeding, and roosting habitats along the Potomac River. Along with active eagle nesting, the refuge hosts a rookery containing more than 1,200 nests for great blue herons.
The 2,276-acre refuge, adjacent to Mason Neck State Park, contains about 2,000 acres of hardwood forest, the largest freshwater marsh (285 acres) in Northern Virginia, and nearly six miles of shoreline.
Visitors can view the refuge along two trails, one through woods and one in Great Marsh. In the spring, wildflowers fill the woods as songbirds migrate through the area and various types of ducks feed along the creeks and marsh. In the summer and fall, birds such as egrets and herons dominate the marshes before many of them travel south for the winter. From November to February, bald eagles breed and lay eggs.
Elizabeth Hartwell Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge is open year-round, including federal holidays, from 7AM - 5PM October 1- March 31 and 7AM-7PM from April 1 - September 30. Staff temporarily closes the refuge during managed deer hunts in November and December. Call the headquarters office or check this website for scheduled closures.
(Note: Many places fill to capacity on busy, nice weather days, especially holiday weekends. Please call ahead or visit the official website to get the most up-to-date information before visiting.)
There are no fees to access the refuge. Annual parking passes are available for $36.
The Mason Neck refuge supports two trails for hiking, bird-watching, and wildlife observation. Interpretive kiosks at the head of the Woodmarsh Trail and Great Marsh Trail provide information on the recovery and management of the bald eagle and endangered species.
The refuge is renowned for its unique opportunities to see eagles, woodpeckers, and various waterfowl. Wildlife photographers particularly like the end of the Great Marsh Trail to encounter birds on the Great Marsh.
You also can join informative surveys and projects conducted by staff biologists about eagle management, great blue herons, wood ducks, neotropical migratory birds, and white-tailed deer.
The refuge also provides environmental education and photography opportunities, as well as administering a three day deer hunt to manage the deer population.
During the War of 1812, the British navy sailed by Mason Neck several times.
British Capt. James Gordon initially sailed up the Potomac River in August 1814 with his eyes on Washington. But the British grounded several of their ships and suffered through a violent storm.
In Alexandria, the British convinced residents to surrender and spent several days looting the city’s public stores and warehouses.
As the squadron sailed back down the Potomac, American troops fired at it from the White House Gun Battery, located on the bluffs of Gunston Cove across from Mason Neck.
Today the battery site is on the grounds of Fort Belvoir.
Between September 2 and 5, fighting between the battery and British ships escalated, until the American troops were forced to withdraw.