Writings and Photos > 100 Parks Project

Prince William Forest Park
#37 Prince William Forest Park

Prince William Forest

Droplets fell from the overhead canopy of emerging spring foliage.

I was on the first leg of my road trip to Virginia Beach, and traveling alone. My boyfriend found the notion of eight national parks in three days too exhausting to participate.

The brightness of the new leaves, the moisture, and the cacophony of birds epitomized springtime. But I wondered: what make Prince William Forest a national park? I couldn’t deny the loveliness – trees, streams, birds – but it was a typical east coast landscape. I tried to see it through new eyes. Just as my west coast cohorts find the desert landscape run of the mill while I find it fascinating, perhaps people who grew up with or lived in a very different landscape would be fascinated by the lush greenery of Prince William Forest.

In the stillness of the morning, I drove the entire scenic drive of the park, stopping at the pond where I closed my eyes and listened to the birds. There were at least five distinct calls, but I could not identify any. I saw no birds at all, no rustling of leaves. But I stood silent witness to this invisible game of call and response. A rustic bridge crossed a creek further down the drive, with a parking area shortly beyond. I walked back to the bridge, walking at the edge of the forest since the road had no shoulder. Again, sound dominated the sensory experience. The water rushed under the bridge, skipping over the rocks and tree limbs scattered across the creek.

Back at the parking lot, I stood at a trailhead. Down the wooden stairs I could see a path, leading to the creek, I presumed. Where, exactly, were my hiking boots? Not in the car, for sure. I must have left them in the foyer, in my haste, and had to accept the fact that I would not be hiking any trails on this adventure.

But still I was confused about why this was a national park. National forests are not national parks. The forests are administered by the Department of Agriculture, while the parks are administered by the Department of the Interior. A ranger explained that the purpose of the park is, like Greenbelt, to provide a nature haven for inner city residents. During World War II, the property was used as a spy training grounds.