Gum Springs to get long-awaited access to Little Hunting Creek


New Gum Springs Civic Association President Queenie Cox at Martin Luther King Jr. Park in fall 2022

For nearly 40 years, residents of Gum Springs, the oldest African American community in Fairfax County, have been waiting to gain trail access to the waterfront along Little Hunting Creek. Within the coming years, Gum Springs community members will get their wish.

According to Queenie Cox, president of the New Gum Springs Civic Association, the Gum Springs Conservation Plan approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors (BoS) back in 1984 stated that the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) would “develop the flood plain of Little Hunting Creek as a stream valley park, including a recreational trail which would link the community to Mount Vernon.” Those plans took decades to materialize, but last October, Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck was able to secure support from his BoS colleagues to fund $600,000 in trail connections.

In early 2022, Cox visited three potential sites for the trail with Friends of Little Hunting Creek board members Bryan Birch — who’s a fellow Gum Springs resident — Betsy Martin and Paul Siegel, as well as Renee Grebe, a representative from Nature Forward. Two of the sites that FOLHC identified as prospective trailheads, including the end of Holland Road and the Shaw Road Park cul-de-sac, were either located on private property or difficult to access, according to Martin. But the third option behind the tot lot at Martin Luther King Jr. Park seemed promising.

“The MLK site seemed best because it would go through existing parkland, and access is relatively easy,” she said.

Right now, walking from the playground to the creek is challenging at best due to the presence of brush, trees and muddy areas; however, the waters of Little Hunting Creek are easily seen through the overgrowth. By installing a recreational path and benches, FCPA plans to provide community members with water access and educational opportunities.

Trees and brush currently make it difficult to access Little Hunting Creek from MLK Jr. Park.

In February 2023, an FCPA spokesperson reported that county funding had become available to fund the wetlands mapping and concept design development for the project. The $600,000 in funding will be provided by Fairfax County Department of Transportation (FCDOT) trail funds. Additionally, FCPA said it planned to use internal funds of around $10,000 for an archaeological investigation.

Based on where things stand right now, FCPA spokesperson Ben Boxer said they’re unable to estimate a start or end date for trail construction, but the entire project will be “multi-year.” The longest part of the process will be the permitting piece — which could take 12 to 18 months — since the trail’s proximity to Little Hunting Creek requires both county and federal permitting.

The wetlands and cultural resource studies are currently underway. According to Martin, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation will need to conduct a site visit since some rare wetland plant species were found there.

“It’s really important to know what’s there before deciding exactly where to route a trail through a sensitive area, to avoid damaging the natural resources,” she said.

When the investigative reports are complete, FCPA’s consultant will evaluate possible trail alignments, said Martin, with the goal being to avoid or minimize impact on natural or cultural resources. The conceptual design work will begin after that.

Martin said she anticipates that FOLHC will continue to provide input on the project once design work begins.

“We definitely want to protect and preserve the habitat and water quality of Little Hunting Creek, so we favor a low impact trail,” she said.

A view toward Little Hunting Creek

FOLHC helped create a similar oasis in the past for residents of the Stratford Landing community at the Little Hunting Creek Preserve, owned by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust.

For residents of Gum Springs, the issue of access to the waterfront is one of equity. Under Birch’s leadership, the community has actively contributed to the annual cleanup of its section of Little Hunting Creek over the past several years. Eventually, residents will have the opportunity to enjoy a nature walk, wildlife and the view over the marsh as well.

FCPA will join the New Gum Springs Civic Association, FOLHC and Nature Forward at the annual Gum Springs Community Day/Juneteenth celebration on June 17 at Martin Luther King Jr. Community Park. FCPA plans to discuss the current trail project status and upcoming milestones.

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