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Government Island will open to the public next year
AMIE STEELE/THE FREE LANCE-STAR
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BY JONAS BEALS
The White House and U.S. Capitol have long been essential stops for tourists visiting Washington.
By next summer, the public should also find it much easier to tour the Stafford County island that was the source of the stone used to build those historic structures.
On Jan. 4, a construction crew will break ground on a trail and bridge system to allow public access to Government Island. County officials hope that by July, people will be able to enjoy what a number of passionate volunteers, historians, and county officials have struggled for years to preserve: a pristine piece of natural beauty with national historical significance.
In 1979, Jane Connor became the leading expert on Government Island when her curiosity led her to study the 17-acre tract on Aquia Creek for a Mary Washington College history project.
"I had to throw down logs over wet patches to get to it," she said. "I saw the marks made by stonemasons over 200 years ago. I thought it was so incredible."
So began a 30-year quest to save the island from development and open it for the public to enjoy.
Stafford purchased it in 1998 for $200,000, then spent years trying to figure out how to open it to the public.
The North Stafford island will become part of the county park system--a passive recreation area with hiking trails and interpretive signs marking the historical highlights.
"It's an amazing part of Stafford history," said Supervisor Paul Milde. "We're finding these gems and opening them to the public."
Plans call for a combination asphalt and boardwalk trail on the south side of Austin Run. A parking lot will be located on Dominion Virginia Power property off Coal Landing Road. Aquia Harbour residents will be able to access the trail via a bridge over Austin Run.
Trail plans have been altered over the years by the Government Island Committee, but they were always too expensive to undertake. This year, committee members Milde and Supervisor Joe Brito made an effort to cut costs and get the project started. In October, the county awarded a $599,000 contract to Gator Paving Co.--a much lower cost than previous estimates.
"The economy was our friend," Milde said. "We saved over a half-million dollars on construction costs."