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Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is one of only two nature preserves in the Fairfax County Park Authority’s holdings. It is a remarkable place of rare plants and splendid beauty. Yet that same beauty is being challenged by urban pollution problems and human destruction. It is a poignant match-up that has many people concerned.
A grove of ancient hemlocks, whose ancestors migrated here during the last ice age, stands in the nature preserve as a reminder that this region was once subarctic in its climate. A major fault zone cuts right through the park, a relic of a much more distant past some 520 and 570 million years ago when the rocks were created out of slabs of ocean floor pushed up onto this continent.
Visitors have flocked to Scott’s Run for years to witness the spring wildflowers that grow there. Trailing arbutus, Virginia bluebells and trillium blooming on the steep hillsides create a small oasis of rare and fragile plants. Remarkable and rare species grow along the precipitous cliffs, in steep valleys and throughout the mature hardwood forest of very large oak and beech trees, ancient hemlock and wild cherry trees that stand as tall as the oaks.
Hiking the trails of Scott’s Run can be challenging, requiring a hardier constitution than possibly any other park in Fairfax County. There are two entrances into the valley park, one along the stream and the other leading to the bluffs above the river. Some trails are gentle and wind quietly through the forest. Other trails require hiking up and down very steep hills and cliffs.
The trails down the bluffs to the Potomac River are sheer in many places, and visitors must very carefully pick their way down the rocky cliffs. This ruggedness is part of the charm of Scott’s Run, creating almost a paradox between the rugged terrain and the fragile beauty of the blankets of wildflowers.
Ironically, the beautiful creek that spills over the waterfall right before it enters the Potomac River actually starts directly below the parking lots of Tyson’s Corner Shopping Center which sits atop a very large ancient gravel deposit that is the highest spot in Fairfax County. Flowing east, through many business parks and condominium complexes, it ends its journey at the waterfall.