From the Field

Summer Explorations - Douglas Point Natural Area

  • A view of the Potomac River from Douglas Point Beach.

  • Lots of exciting beach discoveries to be made!

  • A zebra swallowtail butterfly makes an appearance.

  • Unfortunate carvings in the river bank - don’t do this; help save it for generations to come!

  • A park visitor demonstrating how to appreciate the fossils - look but don’t touch what’s still in the banks!

  • A sunny view of the trail by the beach.

  • The well-maintained trail includes a boardwalk for muddier and wetter hikes.

  • “If it’s hairy, then it’s scary” - the best way to remember to not touch poison ivy vines!

  • Douglas Point is a great spot to hang out!

Growing up in the Chesapeake Bay watershed has come to be one of the most defining parts of my career path. Spending my grade school years growing up near Yorktown, Virginia, and being lucky enough to be a part of a family of kayakers, I was always biased towards the York River and its many inlets. I always thought of the Potomac as the far-off river that went through urban Washington, D.C. and frankly, that’s where my experience ended. When I moved to the DC area in 2018, I quickly realized the Potomac deserves a lot more credit than I gave it! I absolutely loved to paddle with my family at nearby Mallows Bay, checking out the “Ghost Fleet” of the Potomac. After a kayaking trip there, I got curious about other spots in that area. Turning to the ever-helpful Find Your Chesapeake website, I decided on Douglas Point Natural Area, a few miles south of Mallows Bay.

With COVID-19, time outside is more important than ever, but needs more planning to ensure health and safety for all those who are out recreating. Douglas Point’s appeal definitely lies in being off the beaten path! After some background research and planning with two friends, we took a trip down to enjoy a socially-distant beach day in 90 degree weather. We chose a short trail (temperatures being the consideration) from the well-marked parking area. Simply putting “Douglas Point in your GPS is not advised – try these coordinates, 38.4564240, -77.2505120, instead, to reach the first of several parking lots with beach access. The trail was well maintained and well-marked, and we got there early enough to enjoy the morning trills of birds. I was particularly excited to identify a northern parula by call – a new bird ID for this still-learning birder! Pausing to listen to the birds on a section of slightly-elevated boardwalk was a pleasant water break, but do be aware of the plentiful poison ivy alongside the trailand climbing up trees. “If it’s hairy then it’s scary!” is the most memorable way to avoid it!

The path slopes a bit and we found ourselves on a narrow beach on the Potomac. We immediately noticed Quantico across the river in the distance. We meandered down the beach a bit, with a few other folks around fossil hunting. The towering cliffs along the beach made for an impressive spectacle of the fossil record. While shell and shark tooth collecting is fine at the waters edge, it’s important to help preserve this site for future generations and not contribute to the erosion of the bank walls. Further down the beach and over a few logs and driftwood, we made ourselves comfy with a blanket and snacks and were early enough to enjoy shade from the low angle of sun and tall trees. As the day wore on it got hotter,  inspiring some of the beach visitors to  take advantage of the swimming opportunity. I mostly spent time enjoying the gently lapping waves, the cardinals, an osprey, and searching in vain for shark teeth. We noted a few treasure hunters with much more determination and success than we had! Overall it was a quiet, peaceful spot that was definitely family friendly (though no bathroom facilities, worth mentioning). I guess we’ll just have to return to look for those shark teeth!

Douglas Point Natural Area

Douglas Point Natural Area encompasses over 800 acres of forest and the Potomac River

Emily Wiggans

Emily's work as a Senior Geospatial Analyst includes participation in the Water Data Collaborative, a group of NGOs working to make community science water quality monitoring data more accessible. When not working, Emily spends lots of time around the Chesapeake Bay watershed kayaking, geocaching, and hiking. She enjoys sharing views of the night sky with her telescope, traveling, podcasts, and exploring Washington, D.C.

September 8, 2020

Main image: Emily Wiggans / Chesapeake Conservancy
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