When thinking of Arlington, a community renowned for its urban villages and bustling Metro corridor, few people think: old growth forest.
Yet just south of Route 50, in verdant, secluded Glencarlyn Park, stately oaks and hickories — some reaching more than 100 feet into the sky – have flourished for generations. One Black Oak’s trunk is nearly 12 feet around.
Some of the park’s trees date back more than two centuries and were likely saplings when, just across the river, the British burned the White House during the War of 1812. Amazingly, this magnificent stand of trees has never been logged.
“We do not know why the area was never logged,” said Alonso Abugattas, Arlington County’s natural resources manager. “It may have been because of the rugged slope and the poor soils that would have made it unattractive for farming.”
It is the pristine nature of these 24 heavily forested acres within Glencarlyn Park’s nearly 96-acre spread that has earned the designation of Old Growth Forest by the Old Growth Forest Network. The national organization works to preserve, protect and promote the few remaining stands of old growth forest in the United States. Roughly 95 percent of such forests have been removed or radically altered.
Some 100 ancient trees survive in Glencarlyn Park’s old growth parcel. The designation recognizes not only the trees, but the shrubs, other plants and wildlife they support.
Arlington’s is the fourth Old Growth Forest location in Virginia and the only one in Northern Virginia.
Glencarlyn Park is home to the second oldest forest in Arlington (the other being a small part of Arlington National Cemetery). The parcel, dominated by oaks – White Oak (Quercus alba), Black Oak (Quercus veluntina), Southern Red Oak (Quercus falcata), Scarlet Oak (Quercus coccinea), and Chestnut Oak (Quercus montana), also contains ancient Mockernut Hickory (Carya tomentosa) and Pignut Hickory (Carya glabra), and Mountain Laurel. Glencarlyn Park is in one of seven County-designated Natural Resource Conservation Areas.
Glencarlyn is one of Arlington’s largest parks. Connected to Four Mile Run and the W&OD trails, the park boasts a playground, an amphitheater, a dog park and the Long Branch Nature Center.
Learn more about the health of Arlington’s urban forest and tree canopy.