Documenting Student and Family Perspectives on Recreation (Great Falls National Park)


During the COVID-19 season, families worldwide have been stuck inside their homes, isolated and usually planted in front of screens. Now that 2020-21 school year has begun, students will have to devote more time to completing assignments as a result of the increase in homework and assessments. Regardless, it is extremely important to take breaks and exercise every now and then. 

This article on local parks will help to do just that, from the perspective of students like yourselves who are balancing school and extracurriculars. These parks (Great Falls National Park in particular) will be picked apart with a BASIS Independent Mclean student’s workload and schedule in mind, making it perfect for a rejuvenating break from the stress and studying at home while appreciating scenery and also learning a bit of our country’s history.

Although today Great Falls National Park may be known as a place for hikes and scenery, it wasn’t always just that. There is quite a bit of history behind how the park today came to be. As most people know, the Potomac River is a dividing element or border between Virginia and Maryland. But it was also seen by George Washington as a great opportunity to increase trade for the economic growth our country so desperately needed. A canal was put in place by the Patowmack Company, and construction started in 1785. Multitudes of boats used the canal system, and the trade of raw goods for manufactured ones prospered. A town called Matildaville arose from the commerce of the canal. Later, after the canal was no longer used, Congress set aside 800 acres of the land as a park, which was later declared the national park we all know today.


A Student’s Perspective: Cameron C. 

For student’s looking for a hiking experience, Great Falls National Park offers an abundance of nature and a rich history less than six miles from our school. Great Falls has several features to explore, including abandoned structures, creeks, hills, cliffs, and even a four block engine can be spotted near and along the trails. You can also go off the beaten path, and walk along the crest of hills well above the floodplain, which offers a stunning  view of the river and falls (during winter as the leaves are gone). The park also has many steep hills and rocks that can be climbed to provide an alternative viewpoint of the falls and the Potomac. Kayakers offer new forms of entertainment as they can often be spotted at the base of the falls and at the neck of Mather Gorge, a scenic gorge that can be spotted on the hike.. An abundance of wildlife call the park home: deer can be spotted at a distance, squirrels can be seen running through tree tops, and beavers rarely can be spotted just before dusk if you are quiet and still enough. Remember to keep a safe distance away from wildlife as they are not comfortable around people.


Family’s Perspective: Julia H. 

For families who would be interested in hiking Great Falls National Park, I most definitely recommend parking at Difficult Run and taking a twenty  minute hike into the park via the Carriage Trail completing the River Trail Hike. The River Trail Hike is an hour long. It includes a scenic walk along Mather Gorge and the Potomac River back to the main overlook and visitor center. This hike can be rated with a difficulty of two out of five, due the rocky areas and high non-enclosed areas. This hike provides a beautiful view of Mather Gorge. You can follow the Billy Goat Trail as you trek up the Potomac River to the main center. 

This hike also presents many opportunities to spot wildlife, including deer, foxes, and various kinds of birds. It is also a great opportunity to learn the history of the canals and see the remnants of Matildaville. The hike ends with a breathtaking view of the waterfall at Great Falls from overlook three. This hike is a perfect opportunity for students and families who want a break from work and school, and is only twenty minutes away from campus!. The hike in its entirety is an hour and a half, including the time to take detours to look at the beautiful scenery and read informational signs about the park. I highly encourage taking a break and doing this hike as a family.