Not Here! It’s Just Not Safe

noswim002Is swimming allowed at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve? The short answer is no.

There’s no doubt that wading or swimming in a river or stream can be relaxing, invigorating, refreshing and sometimes, all of those at once. It’s fun – but it’s not safe or responsible to do in the Potomac Gorge.

The Potomac Gorge is special, probably more special than most folks in the Washington area realize. It’s one of the rarest biological ecosystems in the mid-Atlantic. The gorge is a 15-mile stretch from Riverbend Park in Great Falls down to Theodore Roosevelt Island near Georgetown. There are floodplains, rocky cliffs, and narrow valleys within the gorge, carved over eons by the erosive forces of the Potomac River. It is a dynamic union of rocks and river that is home to many unusual plants and animals along with unusual combinations of some species.

Scott’s Run, a part of the Gorge, was named for the large stream that flows through the park’s western edge. Thousands of hikers each year experience its scenic beauty, rugged trails, and dense forests. Designated as a nature preserve, the entire area and all of its resources are protected, including the creeks and streams.

The beauty of the Gorge’s carved valley, though, can be deceptive. The water’s thunderous power is obvious at one of the gorge’s feature attractions, the cascades and falls at Great Falls National Park. But that’s not the only place along the river’s run that the gorge creates quick, dangerous currents and underwater hazards.


Rescue in Scotts Run, June 2015

With the large creek flowing through its western end and the Potomac River bordering its north edge, Scott’s Run inspires in some visitors the idea of swimming or wading, particularly on a warm summer day. But swimming or wading in the park is illegal and dangerous. Yet the perception of Scott’s Run as a safe swimming hole persists, fueled by social media posts of people on rocks around the creek and near its low waterfall.

The falls where Scott’s Run spills into the Potomac is the preserve’s most visited and scenic spot. The creek’s beauty and often clear water mask its flashy nature. Within minutes, the stream can transform from tranquil to torrential. Scott’s Run originates near Tyson’s, in one of the highest spots in Fairfax County. During rainstorms, all the water that falls on roof tops and parking lots enters the stream rapidly and rushes only four miles before it reaches the nature preserve. This can create a dangerous situation in a short time for anybody in the water.

Fairfax County Park Authority regulation 1.21 states that swimming, bathing, and wading are prohibited in parkland bodies of water. That includes streams, creeks, ponds, and lakes on Fairfax County Park Authority property. Deceptive currents and submerged rocks can create hazardous situations. The Fairfax County Fire and Rescue Department website says 72 percent of the department’s river-related response incidents are shoreline-based activities, not boating incidents. In addition, entering the water degrades banks and increases erosion, which affects water quality.

Scott’s Run Nature Preserve is one of the most beautiful, alluring, remarkable parks of the Fairfax County Park Authority. It’s just a gorgeous place to be. We want you to visit, be a good steward of its resources, and enjoy this special place responsibly.

We also want you to arrive safe and sound at home after your visit.


Author John Callow is the Manager of Riverbend Park, which sits a short distance upstream from Scott’s Run Nature Preserve.






This entry was posted in Uncategorized on by .

About Fairfax County Park Authority

About Fairfax County Park Authority HISTORY: On December 6, 1950, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors created the Fairfax County Park Authority. The Park Authority was authorized to make decisions concerning land acquisition, park development and operations in Fairfax County, Virginia. To date, 13 park bond referenda have been approved between 1959 and 2016. Today, the Park Authority has 427 parks on more than 23,000 acres of land. We offer 325 miles of trails, our most popular amenity. FACILITIES: The Park system is the primary public mechanism in Fairfax County for the preservation of environmentally sensitive land and resources, areas of historic significance and the provision of recreational facilities and services including: • Nine indoor RECenters with swimming pools, fitness rooms, gyms and class spaces. Cub Run features an indoor water park and on-site naturalist • Eight golf courses from par-3 to championship level, four driving ranges including the new state-of-the-art heated, covered range at Burke Lake Golf Center • Five nature and visitor centers. Also nine Off-Leash Dog Activity areas • Three lakefront parks including Lake Fairfax, Lake Accotink and Burke Lake, with campgrounds at Burke Lake and Lake Fairfax. The Water Mine Family Swimmin’ Hole at Lake Fairfax, Our Special Harbor Sprayground at Lee as well as an indoor water park at Cub Run RECenter • Clemyjontri Park, a fully accessible playground in Great Falls featuring two acres of family friendly fun and a carousel, as well as Chessie’s Big Backyard and a carousel at the Family Recreation Area at Lee District Park • An ice skating rink at Mount Vernon RECenter and the Skate Park in Wakefield Park adjacent to Audrey Moore RECenter • Kidwell Farm, a working farm of the 1930s-era at Frying Pan Farm Park in Herndon, now with historic carousel • Eight distinctive historic properties available for rent • A working grist mill at Colvin Run in Great Falls and a restored 18th century home at Sully Historic Site in Chantilly • A horticulture center at Green Spring Gardens in Annandale • Natural and cultural resources protected by the Natural Resource Management Plan and Cultural Resource Plans, plus an Invasive Management Area program that targets alien plants and utilizes volunteers in restoring native vegetation throughout our community • Picnic shelters, tennis courts, miniature golf courses, disc golf courses, off-leash dog parks, amphitheaters, a marina, kayaking/canoeing center • Provides 263 athletic fields, including 39 synthetic turf fields, and manages athletic field maintenance services at 417 school athletic fields. PARK AUTHORITY BOARD: A 12-member citizen board, appointed by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, sets policies and priorities for the Fairfax County Park Authority. Visit for Fairfax County Government's Comment Policy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s