Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge

Yesterday afternoon we ventured onto Fort Belvoir to check out the trails associated with the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge. Maintained by the Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge is home to deciduous forests, meadows, and freshwater tidal marshes. There is a trail head located outside of Tulley Gate with a handful of parking spots but we chose to go onto post and drive down to the  MWR Outdoor Recreation area off of Warren Rd. and pick up the trail down by Accotink Bay.

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The Potomac River is the fourth largest river along the Atlantic Coast. Accotink Bay is considered an arm of the Potomac River. Accotink Creek empties into Accotink Bay to the west of Fort Belvoir. Over 1200 acres comprise the Accotink Bay Wildlife Refuge, along with about eight miles of hiking trails.

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The temperature was in the mid-50s and the sun was shining bright. After the winter we’ve had (dreary with little snow) and spring’s reluctance to come to the national capital region, the brilliant blue sky was a welcome sight.

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The trails are not difficult hikes. They’re perfect for a young family wanting to explore and encounter the occasional obstacle. On our hike yesterday, we had to cross some shallow water on a fallen log and navigate around some mud using strategically placed rocks. There are no steep inclines but the trail does go up and down, which we always appreciate.

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Be sure to veer too far from the trails!

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Now that our kids are getting older, we’re really taking advantage of them being able to keep up with us – at least for a couple of miles. It feels incredibly freeing not to have to worry about a stroller or a backpack-carrier on our hikes.

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John Muir famously said that “Of all the paths you take in life, make sure a few of them are dirt.” While it can be difficult to make time for such adventures in the midst of regular-life obligations, we take his words to heart and do what we can with what we have. It was a perfect Sunday afternoon spent as a family. And in times like these, you have to cling to those types of moments. If anything, to remind ourselves that everything will be okay.

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What it is Like to Return to a Duty Station

This isn’t our first rodeo living in the national capital region. During Clay’s almost 14 years in the Army, we’ve moved 7 times. And when we moved back to the area last summer, we checked off another square in the game of military bingo – we returned to a duty station.

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We were stationed at Fort Belvoir from 2012 – 2015 (a few months shy of three years) and throughly enjoyed our time in northern Virginia. Violet was born here, we spent our free time traveling up and down the east coast, and took advantage of all the sightseeing the area has to offer. That being said – we very much like moving to new places and we have no desire to spend a significant amount of time of Clay’s career stationed at one place. It’s not always easy leaving an established existence for a foreign one but with each goodbye, we’ve felt like we’re better for the experience. So while we’re back in the DC area, it’s not the same as last time. But as the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, so eloquently put “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

You have mentioned quite a bit that you hope to maximize your time with the military and live in as many different places as possible – so why did you go back to DC? We were San Antonio, Texas prior to this assignment. And Fort Leavenworth, Kansas before that. I’ve written about how I didn’t exactly bloom in Texas and neither one of us loved  our time in Texas. We made the best of it but it certainly wasn’t our favorite duty station. So when Clay applied and was selected for a position that involved a last-minute move to Washington DC this past summer, we were thrilled to call the area home again – at least for a little while.

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Do you live in the same neighborhood as last time? Same city? No to the first question, yes to the second. We absolutely loved our townhome community in northern Virginia last time we were here – so much so that we tried to live in the same community again. The rental gods weren’t in our favor but we ended up finding a great single family home down the road that is zoned for the same elementary school. We’re in the same township and have the same zip code as last time so in many respects, it feels like we came back home. We did look into living in Arlington, Crystal City, and Pentagon City for something different, but we loved living in West Springfield last time and couldn’t resist doing the same this time around.

Does Violet attend the same preschool Weston did when we lived here last time? Yes! Due to the last minute nature of the assignment, I knew securing a Pre-K spot for Violet would be an issue. The hour after receiving word that we would indeed be moving, I contacted the preschool Weston attended during our previous stint here and pleaded my case. And that is how Violet ended up enrolled in the same preschool as Weston attended despite not having official orders yet or having any idea of where we would actually live.

Are most of your friends from last time still around? No. Even though there is a lot of familiarity living in the same area again, driving the same roads, and also shopping at the same stores – it is also quite different. A lot of my previous friends have moved away and the ones who haven’t, I don’t see as often as I’d like because we’re not longer true neighbors and our busy lives get in the way. But on the other hand, I’ve made new friends to chat with as our children play on the playground after school. And one of my dearest friends in the whole wide world from our Fort Drum days 12+ years ago is stationed here and only lives two miles away! Our children have become fast friends and we get together all the time.

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Are you trying to stay there as long as possible? Despite loving it here, we will not try and get a follow-on assignment in DC once Clay is finished with this job. Our kids are young and in elementary school – now is the time to move around and explore as many different places as possible. We will likely try and stabilize when they reach high school but of course, only time will tell!

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Why do you like living there so much? On top of the incredible history, there is just SO much to do. There is always something going on in the city and when we want to escape for a bit – we’re just a short drive away from one of our favorite hiking spots, Great Falls Park, and the rural farmlands in Loudon County and Prince William County. There is no shortage of breweries, wineries, fantastic restaurants, and everything else that accompanies a big city.

What don’t you like about the area? To be honest, we’re not huge fans of the pressures placed on students in our area. Yes – it is one of the ‘best’ school districts in the country but schools that boast high test scores and college acceptance rates aren’t necessarily producing adults that have a grasp on what is essential for true success in life (hint – it isn’t getting into a Top 10 university). In this area, I encounter so many people with outward signs of success. Happy people are harder to find.

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I admit that is a little surreal to be stationed at the same place twice. As much as things are the same, they’re different too. We will be bidding the national capital region adieu next summer. Due to the nature of Clay’s career, it is likely we will return yet again in the future. Of all the places we’ve lived, this area has felt the most like home. But that may just be because we’ve lived here more than once. After all, as the famous Japanese poet, Matsuo Basho, wrote, “Everyday is a journey, and the journey itself is home.