Long Branch Central

16 June 2014: Walked upstream from the mouth of Long Branch central in Lake Accotink Park to its last accessible upstream portion just south of Route 236 near Woodson High School.

At its mouth in Lake Accotink Park, Long Branch has extensive forested buffer, but a treeless transmission line right of way crosses just upstream. A new U.S. Geological Survey stream monitoring station is located here, collecting a variety of water quality data.

At Braddock Road, the Long Branch Stream Valley Trail begins in Canterbury Woods Park, running parallel to Long Branch through parkland as far upstream as Olley Lane. The trail begins as asphalt, then switches to a gravel surface for most of its length. The trail intersects here with the Braddock Road bike path, which provides a connection to the nearby Cross County Trail. This stretch of Long Branch is likely to see dramatic changes for the worse in years to come, when proposals to widen Braddock Road take effect.

Upstream from Canterbury Woods Park, Long Branch flows through Long Branch Stream Valley Park with good forested buffer along its banks, although houses and mown backyards are too close in places. A stretch of gabion rock wall is located downstream from Woodland Way, shoring up the trail where it follows a narrow gap between houses and stream. As it crosses Woodland Way, Long Branch is within sight of Canterbury Woods Elementary School. Long Branch is contained within Long Branch Stream Valley Park for most of its length.

Just upstream from Woodland Way, the nature of the forested areas along the banks is distinct, with beech trees comprising a much greater proportion than in other spots. The forest floor here is sandy and often clear of vegetation. There is evidence of abusive overuse by off-road cyclists. A prominent geologic band of black minerals is visible in the cut banks here and some other points upstream.

An unnamed tributary enters Long Branch from the south here, flowing out of Red Fox Forest Park. Parts of this tributary have cut down to bedrock, which is mostly sandstone, with some large veins of white quartz. A power line cut crosses the tributary. In Red Fox Forest Park, the tributary has rather serious erosion problems. No fish were visible in the tributary within the park, despite steady water flow. There is little sign of human use in the park, with no footpaths or facilities. Considerable areas of the park are lacking understory growth.

At Guinea Road, Long Branch's most significant tributary enters from the north, squeezing between the road and Rutherford Park. This tributary flows through a narrow strip of parkland from its origins in ponds on property of the Starlit Ponds Homeowners Association.

Above Guinea Road Long Branch flows through Rutherford Park, where large areas are cleared for parking, playgrounds and sports facilities. Three pedestrian bridges cross Long Branch in Rutherford Park. An Invasive Management Area site is located here behind the tennis courts, where volunteers are working with the Park Authority to eliminate invasive alien plant species from dominating at least a small area. A small tributary that enters Long Branch from the south in Rutherford Park flows alongside this project area, and its banks are smothered in English ivy.

Upstream from Rutherford Park, one finds many impressive fern glades along Long Branch. Forested buffer is still extensive within Long Branch Stream Valley Park along both banks.

At Olley Lane, there is a gap in Long Branch Stream Valley Park and Long Branch Stream Valley Trail reaches its farthest upstream point. A detour of several blocks along the streets is necessary to resume walking upstream of the private lots here. A private pond on one of those lots is visible from Olley Lane.

The Little Run Elementary School SACC program has adopted this portion of Long Branch, bordering school property, for regular trash cleanups through the Virginia Adopt-A-Stream program.

Upstream from Olley Lane, a tributary joins from the south, and there is a neighborhood playground beside it. The tributary originates in Olde Forge Park, which shows little sign of human use, with no footpaths or infrastructure. Olde Forge Park has fairly good native flora, with Mountain Laurel and Arrowwood shrubs, and the uncommon Indian cucumber root and Ground pine moss, as well as large stands of mixed native ferns. Upstream from Olde Forge Park, the tributary originates in a stormwater pond on the property of the Korean Presbyterian Church.

Upstream from the Olde Forge Park tributary, Pickett Road passes over Long Branch as a pedestrian-only bridge. Further upstream, the wooded buffer is interrupted by the clear cut along the petroleum pipeline. A drainage channel in the pipeline cut is showing some serious erosion issues.

Olde Creek Elementary School borders Long Branch here in this portion of Long Branch Stream Valley Park. Starting at Olde Creek Elementary, a maintained trail runs alongside Long Branch before angling away from the stream in Smokewood Park.

An oddity here is the number of oyster shells found in the stream, not some unknown species of freshwater oyster, but the discarded remains of someone's oyster feast, slowly washing downstream. Sadly, there is no sign of the native mussels that once must have thrived in Long Branch.

Just downstream from Laurel Street, Long Branch flows through Smokewood Park within sight of Woodson High School/Frost Middle School and crosses one corner of Calvary Memorial Gardens. A sign in Smokewood Park indicates it has been adopted as part of Fairfax County's Adopt-a-Park program.

A little bit upstream from Laurel Street, the source of Long Branch is inaccessible on private lots. The upper limits of the sub-watershed include a small area within the limits of Fairfax City.

Other parks in the Long Branch central sub-watershed are: George Mason Park, Long Branch Falls Park, Surrey Square Park, Willow Woods Park, Red Fox Forest Park, Olde Forge Park, and Ashford East Park,

Young "engineers" seem to favor Long Branch for training exercises, judging from the number of rocks placed in the stream as stepping stones or to construct tiny dams.

Trash conditions are not bad along Long Branch, especially as compared to many other similar nearby streams. This may be due to the fact that nearly 100% of the sub-watershed is residential, with few of the commercial areas and major highways that are sources of trash.

Fish are abundant along Long Branch, even its uppermost reaches, owing in part to the unusual number of deep pools found all along its length. Species spotted were Blacknose dace, Satinfin shiner, and some good-sized sunfish. Bullfrog tadpoles were also in evidence.

Invasive alien plant species are found all along Long Branch, just as in so many other natural areas in our region. Infestations are generally moderate along Long Branch, with the most apparent invasive species being Japanese stilt grass, Porcelainberry, Multiflora rose, and, along the lower portion, Mile-A-Minute vine.

Like all streams in our area, Long Branch suffers from excess erosion, with deeply incised banks, exposed tree roots, and many undercut fallen trees as evidence. Impervious surfaces such as parking lots and driveways send runoff directly down storm drains into streams, exceeding their capacity, causing erosion and leading to sedimentation that impairs habitat for the small creatures that support the food chain.

Fairfax County proposes a number of projects to improve the health of Long Branch, part of the county’s Accotink Creek Watershed Plan , a 25-year to-do list of enhancements to the water quality of all streams in the Accotink Creek watershed.

Photos at Shutterfly.com

More photos at Smugmug.com

Share your own observations/comments on Long Branch central or other sections of the Accotink Creek watershed.

1 Northwestern Watershed
2 Daniels Run
3 Hunters Branch
4 Bear Branch
5 Long Branch North
6 Main Stem - Pickett Rd downstream to Prosperity Ave
7 Main Stem - Prosperity Ave to Little River Turnpike
8 Crook Branch
9 Coon Branch
10 Turkey Run
11 Long Branch Central
12 Wakefield Park (Main Stem - Little River Turnpike to Braddock Road)
13 Lake Accotink Park (Main Stem - Braddock Road to Old Keene Mill Road )
14 Main Stem - Old Keene Mill Road to Ft. Belvoir Engineering Proving Ground
15 Main Stem - Ft Belvoir Engineering Proving Ground
16 Main Stem - Ft Belvoir Engineering Proving Ground to Telegraph Road
17 Long Branch South
18 Main Stem - Telegraph Road to Potomac River
19 Flag Run
20 Calamo Branch
21 Field Lark Branch
22 Mason Run
23 Kernan Run
24 Hatmark Branch