If there’s anything more breathtaking than the colors of fall, it’s the mirror-image reflection of forest over a tranquil lake. Brilliant specks of orange, greens bursting into gold, and majestic reds, all outlined by a crystal-clear fall sky, ripple gently in a scene so soothing it’s almost rejuvenating. At this time of year, Burke Lake Park is a haven from the fast pace and constant connectedness of today’s world. It’s time to dress for the weather, unplug for 30 minutes and immerse your senses in nature’s beauty.
Soak in small things that you may not notice at other times of the year, like the bursting crimson capsules of the strawberry bush, also known as hearts-a-burstin’, as its warty red fruits split open in fall to reveal smooth, bright red seeds. Usually a spindly shrub with an inconspicuous flower, it comes into its own at this time of year with its splashy display.
Stop and listen. You may hear the territorial drumming of woodpeckers, a tap-tapping as they probe bark for insects and larva. If you stay still for a minute, you might be rewarded with a view of the strikingly attractive pileated woodpecker. This large bird can be almost 20 inches in size and has distinctive zebra-like markings and a peaked red crest. It’s a memorable sight. Maybe you’ll see the tiny downy woodpecker, with its unique checkered black and white markings and acrobatic movements, as it hitches around tree trunks foraging for insects. Woodpeckers nest in cavities in the dead trees in the park or in dead tree limbs, a testament to leaving dead trees, known as snags, where they stand on both parkland or private property if they don’t pose a threat.
There’s lots to take in along the lakeside trail. It’s a 4.7-mile loop around the lake if you decide to complete the entire trail; it’s not hilly, and it’s pleasantly shaded with canopy. The park also hosts lots of other ways to enjoy nature. There are children’s playgrounds, boat rentals and fishing, pavilions, a disc golf course, mini-golf, a carousel, a mini-train ride and camping facilities, all in a peaceful woodland setting. Check Burke Lake’s website for hours and dates as times vary seasonally.
So take a relaxing stroll and enjoy the fresh fall air. Pick up a paddle, or just pull up on a park bench and soak in the beauty of Northern Virginia. Unplug for a while in a calm setting, and reconnect with nature through its showy fall splendor.
Burke Lake Park is at 7315 Ox Road in Fairfax Station, Va. The Fairfax County Park Authority also offers similar waterfront experiences at Lake Fairfax Park in Reston, Lake Accotink Park in Springfield, Riverbend Park in Great Falls, and several small lake parks.
Author Beverley Rivera is a Fairfax Master Naturalist.