Old Courthouse Spring Branch EQC/RPA

Take an interactive  tour of the Tysons Forest.  Pan and Zoom to the left and right, and see the entire path of our "Central Park of Tysons Corner".

 

 

 What is the issue?

This Website is launched to support and preserve the last and only natural forest and stream in the Tyson’s Corner area from decimation by VDOT and the Fairfax Co Dept of Transportation.  Their plan is to construct additional and multiple Dulles Toll Road Exits into Tyson’s Corner that parallel the current Leesburg Pike Toll Booth Exit. The Exits are planned off the Toll Road before and after the current Leesburg Pike – Route 7 exit toll booth and this will have a detrimental effect on the Old Courthouse Spring Branch forest valley that feeds Wolf Trap Creek and the Wolf Trap Farm Park for the Performing Arts (National Park Service). The Old Courthouse Spring Branch forest valley is touched and used by over 10 Home Owner Associations comprising over 1500 households and more than 3000 plus people who hike, dog walk, and observe nature away from the noise, traffic, and hectic pace we have from living in this Northern Virginia and Washington DC metro area.

Map showing the Forest and the Stream:
 

 

 

 
























 

​​Nature at it's best:

The Old Courthouse Spring Branch forest provides a buffer for many Vienna residents from the Dulles Toll Road and Route 7. A creek, which emanates from a spring under the Pike 7 Plaza, is shown in blue. The move to turn Tyson’s Corner into a city could eliminate this forest.

The area is rich in flora and fauna, and once had beavers, black beer, elk, eagles and other now gone species. Today the stream valley is rich in deer, fox, raccoon, opossum, hawks, owls, geese, occasional ducks, tree frogs, toads, turtles, tortoise and box turtles,  Gone are crawfish, small bass, minnows and aquatic life that lives under rocks and stones, and in its place are plastic, shopping carts, car parts, batteries, junk, old lawn mowers, and parking lot debris washed down by the runoff from commercial buildings along Leesburg Pike Rt 7 , Rt 123 Chain Bridge Road, and Boone Blvd area.  In spite of an annual Watershed Clean Up Day by the local home owners associations and citizens, the stream valley remains at the top of imperiled streams that feed the Potomac River and Chesapeake Bay waters. How nice to hear the owls hoot at night, hawks screech at sunset and sunrise, and tree frogs calling in the spring evenings as the temperature nears 72 degrees.  During the fall foliage season, the stream valley is picture perfect with reds, yellow, and burnt orange of maple trees and majestic tall oaks, many over 100 years old.  Come fall, the ground is covered with hickory and beech nuts, and white oak acorns loved by the deer as their favorite mast crop. Geese fly in from the fields to land on the pond that borders the stream valley, their arrival heralded by a suite of trumpet like calls as each goose encourages it partner for life and the flock to fly home to the water for the evening. In late spring, you can hear the parents of baby geese warding off predators and foxes from their nests and young geese with aggressive calls and much flapping of wings and necks.

History:

The historical significance of the stream valley is linked to the community of freed slaves who established their own

property and community on the hill above the spring branch, called Freedom Hill for the residents who were freed,

owned property, and created their own community near the junction of Chain Bridge Road and Leesburg Pike. 

The Old Courthouse Spring Branch was their source for water, food and transportation trails. Today, descendents

of those freed in the 1840’s still own property, houses, and have a grave site in this area marked with tombstones. 

The same Freedom Hill area was an important vantage point during the Civil War for observation and early warning

of Confederate movements along the Chain Bridge Road, Leesburg Pike, and the stream valley.  It served as part of

the ring of defenses around the Capital hastily constructed after the Union defeat at First Manassas of September

1861. Everyone then knew the War would be longer than expected and would not “be over by spring planting” of

1862. The cannon redoubt, or fortified position, still exists today at Freedom Hill Park, off Old Courthouse Road, just

150 yards south of Gosnell Rd between Rt 7 and Rt 123). Other remnants of Civil War fighting positions and picket

lines exist between the cannon site and the stream valley. It is said the Union forces near Freedom Hill routed and

chased a band of 30 Confederates into the woods and stream valley and the Union cannon site forces never saw

them again. Fairfax County’s first Courthouse etablished in 1742 was located near present-day Tyson's Corner and

near the two headwater springs of the current Spring Branch, and those springs supported the people and livestock

near the Courthouse..​

Headstone of Millie Whales: 1916

off the cul de sac from Coral Gables between 2 houses off the cul de sac from Coral Gables between 2 houses

The many names of the forest:


Some people call it Tysons Spring Run, often seen on maps. Some call it Spring Run Valley.  The old timers would likely just call it the spring, with a wistful look in their eyes as they remembered the summer days of their youth. Whatever you call it, everyone in the area knows what you mean.

 

Prior to 1958, the clear, cool spring waters burbled forth from a limestone rock formation where the present day Radio Shack is located. It was then essentially like it had been for tens of thousands of years.​

 

It is not hard to believe this spring was known to the Indian tribes of the region. And to such early Americans as George Washington, and Thomas Jefferson, both professional surveyors in their younger days. The Leesburg Pike, only a hundred yards away, was already well traveled and maintained by the time of the American Revolution. Almost certainly the spring was a place to water the stage coach horses.

 

What is a Spring?
A spring is a natural feature of the earth's crust, where the water table rises to the ground surface. The location usually has more to do with underlying rock formations than any features visible in the area. The spring serves to drain sizable aquifers which are replenished by rain. It is almost always the beginning of river to the sea.
Springs can be sporadic, spilling out only after prolonged rainy weather. Larger area springs can be perennial, flowing year around even through prolonged dry spells. The Tysons Corner Spring is perennial.

Through the generations, the spring did not change. Why would it? It was a just a place of frogs and dragonflies, of cattails and lilly pads. A place for cows and sheep to quench their thirst; a place for locals to fetch a bucket of good drinking water; a place for bare chested boys to laugh and pass the summers day.
It's a sure bet that it was known to the armies of both Generals Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson as a place to rest and fill their canteens, after first warily scouting around to make sure it was safe.




Also added to the flow from the spring and the Pike 7 parking lot is Gosnell Road runoff itself up to Old Courthouse Road and beyond. Still more flow is added from the lawns and parking lots of four major residential developments along both sides of Gosnell, all runoff being added before the water actually emerges from under the bridge.

Fast forward to 1958, when the first serious commercialization of Leesburg Pike began. Gosnell Road had long been established as a shortcut for Vienna-bound traffic from Leesburg, and a shallow ford of the creek, passible during dry weather, was upgraded to the present day bridge. Simultaneously, the strip mall known as Pike 7 was plunked down on top of the spring and the huge parking lot was drained into a large underground cavern. Here, the runoff was mixed with the spring outflow under the Radio Shack building, and out through the bridge and into the forest to the north.

During dryspells, the flow is that of just the spring, and never gets less than perhaps four garden hoses worth. But within minutes after even a small shower, the outflow can be surprisingly strong. During a real gully-washer, the output of the bridge actually roars, and is scary to get close to. Which is the reason for those heavy steel fences along the sidewalk and embankments.

Such is the beginning of the Tysons Spring Branch, only one of fourteen tiny beginnings of the Difficult Run Watershed, the largest watershed in Fairfax County. As each of the component parts flow down hill, they join forces with each other. Here is the first merging of Tysons Spring Branch, looking downsream. It is with Vienna's downtown Wolftrap Creek entering from the left, and takes place deep in the forest in back of the Wolf Trap Filene Center.​

By the time the ever growing flow passes under Leesburg Pike near historic Colvin Mill, most would start calling it a river, especially during a wet spell. And as it crashes down the final gorge into the Potomac, it is truly a sight worth the hike. But be warned: it's a difficult hike. Not a bad name for the tributary.

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