Great Green Escape: Daingerfield Island

A version of this story originally appeared in my Green and Simple column on the Old Town Alexandria Patch.

If you live in the D.C. metro area, you have no doubt passed the signs for Daingerfield Island countless times on your way to National Airport, to and from D.C., or on your way up or down the George Washington Memorial Parkway. In all the 15-plus years I have lived here, I have never actually been to Daingerfield Island for the sole purpose of exploring.

Sure, I have been curious … an island off the parkway, really? I have ridden my bike along the Mount Vernon Trail and never noticed any such island as I sped through. But, a few weeks ago, as part of my field work for my master naturalist training, I set off to explore Daingerfield Island. Although it was not my idea to go, I am certainly glad I went. I simply had no idea such lush and fertile grounds were just a brisk walk from Old Town.

Although not an actual island, much of the 106 acre land mass is surrounded by the waters of the Potomac River. When you exit off the parkway, if you stay straight, you will head towards the Washington Sailing Marina and Indigo Landing, a restaurant serving seafood and steak while enjoying sweeping views of the vast expanse of water. While you can rent bikes and boats and endulge in sweet treats, it the southern part of the island that’s a real treat.

If you are simply looking for a great green escape, then bear right at the first opportunity when you take the exit and park in the lot to your left. Then walk back towards the parkway and the Mount Vernon Trail, but keep your eyes peeled as you do. These fertile grounds are home to countless insects, amphibians, birds and more and if you move too quickly, you just might miss them.

I was fortunate to have experienced the island for the first time under the guidance of two highly experienced guides who knew just what to look for and where to look. But, with the aid of a guide or not, with a keen eye and a sense of curiosity, you too can embark on a journey of discovery with amazing results.

In the stretch of land between the parking area and the trail, in the soggy fields boarder by tall wild grass, muddy marshes and traversing trees, life is abundant.

During our journey, which lasted about an hour or so, we saw more frogs than I have ever seen in one place, turtles, a snake, wood ducks, a kingfisher and so much more.

Though the adventure would be quite fun with nothing but a keen sense of curiosity, rain boots, binoculars and a camera certainly wouldn’t hurt, and might enhance your trip. Peer into the marshes to see who is home. Listen to the cacophony of ducks, heron, frogs and insects as they tell you about their lands. Look up into the distant trees for unusual birds and down to the grasses in search of praying mantises, grasshoppers, spiders and more. You might even catch a glimpse of a snake, just as I did.

Make it a more natural experience by walking or biking to the island from Old Town by following the Mt. Vernon Trail northbound. If you regularly walk or bike the trail, leave some time one day to explore. Park the bike under a tree and stand on the boardwalk.

However you get there, you are sure to enjoy the natural treasures that are just a stone’s throw away from town. For years our family has gone to Huntley Meadows (stay tuned for an upcoming Great Green Escape on that great green gem) to connect with nature and to see the variety of life. I had no idea that we could see so much, so close to home.



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