Category: Fun Stuff

A Historic Hike Around Hemlock Overlook

One of the things I love most about working at Adventure Links at Hemlock Overlooking Regional Park is that I count all 400 acres as my backyard. When I’m not working in the office or facilitating programs, I often take to the trails to explore this gorgeous property. I wanted to be able to share with you some of the special places off the beaten path that are worth exploring with your family.

Park at the end of Yates Ford Road and walk past the yellow gates and into the Adventure Links parking lot area. Once the road turns to gravel you will see a small walking path off to your right heading parallel to the road. Take that and it will lead you on today’s adventure and many more. Troops marched along this path during the Civil War to the battle of Manassas/Bull Run. On the right side of the path, you can see trees that have grown around the old fence line.

Take the steep paved road down towards the pond. Walk either to your right along the wood boardwalk or take a left for a quicker but sometimes flooded path. You will reach large steps heading all the way up until you reach the farmhouse that Adventure Links uses as its office. The farmhouse has been around since the early 1900s and the owners of it built the first hydroelectric dam in Fairfax county which is located on our property along the blue trail and Bull Run river.

Just to the left of the farmhouse, you will see two gravestone markers. One is dated back to the Revolutionary War and marks the resting spot of Aaron Wickliffe. The memorial marker on the left is for the Wickliffe and Kincheloe burial sites that were destroyed when the Federal army camped in that exact spot. The Kincheloes have been a prominent family in this area for many years. You would have driven down or across Kincheloe road on your way to Hemlock Overlook Regional Park. The Kinchloes once owned all the land for miles around here. To this day the owner of Paradise Springs Winery is a Kincheloe.

Left of the gravestones you will see an ancient barn foundation from the late 1800s. Other foundations can be found in the area if you are up for further exploration.

Before heading back down the steps to the pond look to your right. You should see a break in the trees with a small trail. Follow that to one of my favorite spots on-site; Ye olde Beech tree. This has been a spiritual gathering place for many over the years. This beech tree is one of the oldest in this forest. It’s about 190 years old and based on the marks of decay won’t be around much longer. Look around you and imagine what this land would have looked like 150 years ago. Only this mighty beech and a few other trees stood. Everything else you see would be rolling hills used as pastureland.

Head back the way you entered. You will have seen just part of the beauty and history Hemlock Overlook has to offer.

April 16–24: Visit for free!

Throughout National Park Week in 2016, every national park will give you free admission


At last count I have visited 23 of the U.S. National Parks which may sound like a lot, but when you realize that there are currently 58 total, I’m not even half way there! Life goals should be big though, right? So that’s mine, visit all the National Parks during my lifetime.


My love for the parks started when I was in high school and was accepted to take a summer science class that traveled from Ohio to the Pacific Northwest and back again stopping at National Parks along the way. We stopped spent time at Theodore Roosevelt NP, Glacier NP, Mt. Rainer NP, Olympic NP and Crater Lake NP, it was a whirlwind! Those three weeks were a very impactful experience for me in my teen years, not only because I was so far from home, but there was so much to see and learn about our natural world and why protecting it all is so important. We did a lot of hiking and guided tours with the park rangers and we also learned the basics of camping and outdoor cooking (which turned out to be a very important skill set that I have needed in my chosen profession.) The next summer I was lucky enough to do it all again but this time in Alaska!

Grand Tetons 2009
Grand Tetons 2009

The summer after I graduated from high school, I hopped on a plane to Wyoming where I became a member of a trail crew in Grand Tetons NP. Our team of six high schoolers and two adult team leaders were stationed in Death Valley, contradictory to what it’s name may lead you to think of it, the valley was beautiful and full of life. There was a glacier fed stream that ran through and the occasional moose who would stop by for dinner from time to time. We worked hard maintaining the trails, fixing the roofing on a cabin and replacing a 3-stringer bridge, but we also got time to pack a lunch and explore our surroundings. The freedom and trust that I was given by my leaders to make good choices was somewhat new and awesome! I climbed up under a small glacier, got caught between a mother moose and her baby, battled my way up a skree field and chased a pack of young weasels down the trail. We learned how to take care of ourselves in the backcountry including the frequent need for wilderness first aid skills. It shouldn’t be that surprising, we were a bunch of teens wielding axes, saws and pribars, of course we all managed our fair share of blood loss and bruises that summer. Looking back, my summer as a trail crew member was really the perfect lesson in taking responsibility for my needs and other that helped to prepare me for college life.


In 2009, I packed my car and started driving west. A little out of character for me, I didn’t have much of a plan, just a National Geographic road atlas themed around the national parks. Some big changes were happening for me both personally and professionally and the best way I could think to work through that was to go see some new parks. I focused mainly on the southwest including Canyonlands NP, Arches NP, Zion NP and Bryce NP. I was also able to collect a few California parks, Yosemite NP and Redwoods NP. And on a total whim, I went back to the Grand Tetons to revisit good old Death Valley. Again the sites, sounds, smells and interactions that I had over those two months transformed me so much that when I returned to “real life” I felt stronger, more confident and ready for the new challenges ahead.


I went to college with the intention of becoming a park ranger, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead I found Hemlock Overlook Regional Park. Now I know it’s not a “National” park, but I very much care for this land and the history here and I know I am not the only one. One of our core values is “celebrate place, tradition and memories”, to me that has so much to do this beautiful chunk of eastern forest and the river that runs alongside of it. These protected spaces have positive effects on countless of lives every year, especially mine.






rachel doodyRachel Doody | National Park Explorer

I have the kind of mother who loves to cut little articles out of the newspaper about things to do, places to see and her favorite, places to eat in Washington DC and then give them to me. The most valued one of these little bits of paper she has clipped for me was the one about 14 years ago that introduced me to something called “Letterboxing”.

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Top 3 things I love about letterboxing:

1) It’s Inclusive: I have taken friends and family of a variety of skill and interest, including my lovely mother who likes to whine on the up hills, but still loves finding the boxes. Hiding places are also not limited to the woods, I have found boxes in all sorts of urban spaces including libraries, national monuments, cemeteries, shops, and a few bars.

2) Art + Adventure: Letterboxing is a combination of designing and carving beautiful intricate stamps along with little scavenger hunts that may need to be decoded and you will most likely get lost on a few times.

3) It’s FREE!: Other than the stamp, inkpad and logbook the little adventures are completely free. It seems so rare these days to find a fun hobby that really only requires the gas money to get there.

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A wee bit of history:

The Washington Post had done a piece on this hobby that had started in Dartmoor, England in 1854 by a Victorian guide named James Perrott who hid a bottle with his calling card in it along the banks of the Cranmere Pool. He encouraged visitors to try to find it and then leave their own calling card in the bottle. Soon the bottle was switched out for a tin box and those who found it left a self-addressed postcard for the next person to visit the letterbox to mail it back to them.

For more information on the history of Letterboxing:

Today, what you will more commonly find in a letterbox is a rubber stamp, often which has been hand carved to follow the theme of a story or the location it is hidden. When you find a box you take the stamp from the box and use it to mark your personal logbook, then mark the box’s logbook with your personal stamp. Much like those who frequently hike the Appalachian Trail, Letterboxers create a new name for themselves and use it in the design of their personal stamp.

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Getting Started:


Here are some of the important pieces of equipment that I bring along while “boxing”: our notebook with all of the stamps of boxes that we have found, a compass for when a clue uses directional degrees to lead you to the box, and a hitchhiker (a stamp and notebook that doesn’t have a permanent home, but instead travels from box to box as it is found and dropped off by letterboxers).

Once you have your equipment ready, you can visit one of two websites to find clues for boxes in your neck of the woods. The first site in the US was Letterboxing North America (, which has recently gotten an upgrade and is much more user friendly. As the popularity of the hobby grew, a second website has been created Atlas Quest ( which is what I use more mainly because I find that it is easier to sort and find what you want. As you start to become as obsessed with this as I am, you will need to create an account so you can track your finds, chat with other “boxers” and complain to the “planter” when you checked every tree where they said to and there was no box!

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Advice to the newbies:

  • Bring a snack and some water, some of these boxes can be much further distance and difficulty than they sounded.
  • Be ready to poke around in deep dark dirty holes looking for a Tupperware box. You will not remain clean when boxing.
  • Work the clues backwards if you get stuck. Sometimes there is a better landmark further in the clues that you can use to track where you are.
  • Nature changes all the time! Live trees fall over and die, dead trees rot away and wind and water often change the landscape.
  • Plan out a few boxes for the day, that way if you are not able to find one you wont feel to let down because there is sure to be another one somewhere close by. This is why I love the here search button on the Atlas Quest Location-Based Search, it’s amazing how many boxes are in the same location.



This is one of the boxes hidden here at Hemlock Overlook next to its hiding location. We took a dorky hobby and dorked it out further by making a Doctor Who themed series of 4 boxes. I’m proud of my dorkdum.



rachel doody-Rachel Doody | Letterboxer Extraordinaire

Ryan and Eric Cleaning Bull Run
Ryan and Eric Cleaning Bull Run

We get busy sometimes, busy planning summer camps, busy planning team building programs, busy training our staff, busy getting our fleet ready for camp… The point is sometimes the things we care about get pushed to the back burner. While our daily goal is to get people outside and to interact with the environment our direct environmental stewardship often gets pushed to another day.

So when a few months ago two of our senior staff members approached the leadership team with an idea for a Bull Run Cleanup event we fell in love with the idea and encouraged them to run with it. Our awesome staff members Ryan and Eric planned and executed a terrific day of river cleanup on The Bull Run and partnered with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation to make it happen. They also wanted the day to be educational and brought out Earnie Porta the Former Mayor of Occoquan, to speak about the history and importance of local rivers that feed the Chesapeake Bay.

In total the volunteers last Saturday removed over 1500 pounds of trash! That included a dozen tires, countless bottles and styrofoam, a boogie-board, and a tricycle. We went back down to the river the following day, and while you wouldn’t have previously thought about all the trash along the water it was evident how much cleaner the shoreline now was.

Thank you to our “tree hugging” staff Ryan and Eric and the wonderful volunteers that came out to help keep Hemlock Overlook and Bull Run a local treasure. You definitely carried your weight last weekend.



adam-headshot-Adam Trautenberg | Marketing / IT Manager

In order to get to our Zipline participants have to traverse one of two cables between what we creatively refer to as platforms one and two. Here is what it looks like when 100 adult participants head to platform two from platform one.