Category: Hemlock Overlook

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.

residential camp tie dye shirts

A few days ago, while interviewing two of our “perpetual” residential campers for a camp video, I heard something that caught me by surprise. When asked what their favorite part about residential camp was, both girls answered simultaneously, “Talking to the other girls at the end of the night.” In a camp where a typical day consists of crawling around a cave 50 feet underground or tip-toeing up a rock climbing route 50 feet above the ground, their favorite part was building relationships with their fellow campers.


Almost every week of residential camp begins the same way. Campers are dropped off, signed in and then thrust into a new-ish world with at least 20 smiling-yet-apprehensive faces they have never seen before. From the time that their parents leave all the way until their parents arrive at the end of the week, campers have each other and their instructors. We do not have a hidden cave of televisions and video games in the middle of the woods or WiFi accessible to our campers.

We do not have a hidden cave of televisions and video games in the middle of the woods


All of our campers sign up for Adventure Links camp for the same reason, the activities. There is no doubt that spending your day kayaking or rock climbing is more fun than a day doing math problems. What campers don’t realize until they leave is that the one piece of Adventure Links that will stay with them forever is the community. By attending residential camp, campers have the opportunity to do all of those cool activities listed in our brochure, but they also have the opportunity to share these experiences with each other. Campers sing together next to the campfire, dine together in the lodge, paddle together at the river, sleep together in the bunks, challenge themselves together and, by the end of the week, transform themselves together.ao1

What campers don’t realize until they leave is that the one piece of Adventure Links that will stay with them forever is the community.


By the end of each week of residential camp, those smiling-yet-apprehensive faces are all familiar and just smiling, without apprehension. Some campers are usually sad to say goodbye to their new friends and bunkhouses, but the majority have already come up with ways to stay in touch and made plans for residential camp next year.


The community that has begun to form around our residential camps is caused by the campfire songs, the post-lights-out conversations, the daily challenges, and most importantly, the shared experiences. The relationships that are developed at camp are one-of a-kind. Each year it is our goal to provide an environment that creates those relationships organically.



eric newmanEric Newman | Program Coordinator

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.



Danny changing the cargo net on the high ropes course


This is my second spring at Adventure links. After a long winter here at the park, some of our new seasonal staff have arrived. It took me a little while to realize that one of the great aspects of my job was going to be meeting new people each season. Working with someone on small projects and training them on equipment and tools really allows you to get to know them quickly.
Remembering names is not one of my strong suits, especially when you are introduced to ten or so at one time. Meeting the staff and learning what their attributes will be for the upcoming season, as it applies to the facility and vehicles, sure does make it easier to remember.
Everyone has something positive to offer, and  that positive attitude and enthusiasm we can work together to get things done. Its hard to imagine a job where you would work with and see the same people month in/month out…or even year in/year out. The guarantee of meeting new faces and getting to know young people from all over the country sure is a nice perk.

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Staff working on a project in the field

danny-main-Danny Stevens | Facility and Fleet Director

One of the things we struggle with here at Hemlock Overlook is dampness and humidity. Especially when it comes to our gear. Anyone who has ever spent time in Virginia during the summer can relate.
One of our winter projects has been to create a storage and supply area for our paddling gear. This Personal Flotation Device (PFD) shed is a ventilated and lockable structure, and is like a normal shed, except for a few things.
As you can see the sides are made of lattice for increased airflow. We are able to hang up to 60 PFD’s on the rack system in the rear of the shed to allow them to air dry and not be exposed to the elements directly. After the vests are dunked into a microbial solution they are hung to dry for the next days use. The rack system allows for the vests to be hung according to size.


We used 1.5 inch PVC tubes that were cut to about 20 inches. The tubes are seated into a hole that was drilled with a hole saw. After applying adhesive on the end of the pvc tube, they were tapped into place using a rubber mallet. The floor area underneath the life vest was left open to allow the water from the PFD’s to drip off and not make the rest of the shed floor wet.

Installing the roof

Determining our cuts

danny-main-Danny Stevens | Facility and Fleet Director

Fall Staff 2014

We are getting both sad and excited around here. Friday November 21st is just two weeks away and it marks the last day of our 2014 program season. We break the week before Thanksgiving so that our staff have the opportunity to spend the holiday at home. Our staff travel far and wide to, places as far as California, Michigan, Florida, and Vermont. Our staff are the faces and soul of Adventure Links and we will miss this year’s crew when they leave for the winter.

That is the sad part, the exciting part is that Monday, December 1st is the opening of registration for Summer Camp 2015. After we have devoured our turkey dinners, shopped our hearts out on Black Friday, and rested up and traveled home over the weekend, we will already be looking towards 2015. We are extremely excited for what is going to be an amazing summer, and we look forward to hiring and planning out the final details this winter and spring.

Make sure to check out our website as we get closer to registration for the posting of the 2015 schedule.

Camp Registration Opens Dec. 1

Here at Hemlock Overlook winters can be beautiful, they can also be long. While we have programming options that work most of the year, many of our programming options require warmer weather. Activities such as Rock Climbing, Caving, Kayaking, Sailing, Watershed Studies, and Ecology Lessons require warm weather, trees with leaves and unfrozen rivers. So we use the winter season to prepare for the epic three seasons of outdoor adventure, education, and fun. Take a look at some of the photos below to enjoy the beauty winter can bring, and check out our video of why we are ready for some Spring Adventures. What will your Spring Adventure be?