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“Staycationing” in Prince William – Where to Go and What to Do

By Kristina Schnack Kotlus, Contributing Writer

Over the last several months, my family has had a change in pace. This winter, I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and underwent surgery and radiation therapy.While I’ll be out of treatment by the time this goes to press, my family and I will still need to make some adaptations during my ongoing recovery. For instance, it is definitely changing our summer travel plans.After spending several weeks in a hotel while receiving treatment at Duke University in North Carolina, the last thing I want to do is go away. Luckily, there are many ways to “staycation” and enjoy being a tourist in my own backyard.

There are also benefits to vacationing at home. You not only reduce stress on yourself and your family, but cutting travel costs keeps your budget in check, too.

A successful staycation includes a little planning and implementation, and a lot of fun. First, identify activities your family normally enjoys. If you like being active, a hike or bike ride could be a big hit. Try a new bike trail or route. (Visit www.pwliving.com for the March article on biking in Prince William.)

There’s also plenty of camping, canoeing and kayaking available. If the outdoors makes your skin crawl, from bad sunburn memories or fear of mosquitoes, then how about some historical tourism? We’re surrounded by fantastic museums and historic sites in  Prince  William.

Secondly, establish a budget. Third, plan a date. If you can take a weekday off, you’ll benefit from smaller crowds, but weekend special events can be a great “vacation,” too.

To help you plan, check area blogs and local magazines for activities and upcoming events. Books are also available, such as “Kid Trips Northern Virginia Edition: Your Family’s Guide to Local Fun!” by local authors Claudine Kurp, Amy Suski and Micaela Williamson. “Northern Virginia has really come into its own as a happening place to be. There is so much to do without having to take a trip to the District [of Columbia],” noted Suski.

Prince William boasts three water parks: Waterworks in Dale City, Signal Bay at Signal Hill Park in Manassas Park and SplashDown in Manassas.

Low-cost and even free outdoor fun and scheduled programs for kids and families can be found at parks, such as Prince William Forest National Park near Dumfries and Leesylvania State Park in Woodbridge.

August 9-17 is the Prince William County Fair, the largest county fair in Virginia. This annual event in Manassas includes shows, games and carnival rides, exhibits, tractor pulls, a rodeo, demolition derbies, live music and, of course, hot funnel cake.

For those who want a little education with their tourism, Rippon Lodge in Woodbridge, the Weems-Botts Museum in Dumfries, the Manassas Museum and the National Museum of the Marine Corps next to MCB Quantico are among local venues that look into our past.

Depending on your children’s ages, you can plan events and activities around one location or “field trip” so no one gets bored or cranky going from place to place.

Ideas from my own family:

Have a “Civil War Day.”

Read with your children “You Wouldn’t Want to be a Civil War Soldier,” by Thomas Ratliff and David Saliraya, before heading out to Manassas Battlefield Park. To commemorate what the soldiers would have had available, pack a picnic of bacon, crackers, cornbread and peanuts to eat in the field.

Also have your children write “letters home” on postcards purchased at the gift shop. It will thrill friends and family to receive a note from your family while you all are on vacation, and you’ll also help your children practice writing skills.

Finally, end the day at home with your own “Battle of Bull Run.” Water balloons make excellent ammunition, and super soakers are fun, too. Or cool off instead by heading to SplashDown, where admission is $9 per person after 3 p.m. on weekdays (excluding holidays).

Enjoy “Arts in Action.”

Start the day with painted pancakes. Make your favorite pancake recipe, tint honey or clear Karo corn syrup with food dye and let your kids “paint” their food. After breakfast, make drums out of empty oatmeal containers and decorate them with stickers, yarn, glitter and construction  paper.

Then, view artwork just outside Prince William at the Workhouse Arts Center in the Candy Factory in Old Town Manassas to check out the Caton Merchant Family Gallery. (If your budget permits, each facility offers classes in multimedia for all ages.) While in Manassas, you can also grab a bite to eat and watch the trains drive by. End the day with an outdoor concert or family movie at the Workhouse, or an outdoor concert and ice cream at the  Harris Pavilion in Manassas. See each place’s website for a schedule of events.

Schedule Fun in the Sun

Plan a visit to Locust Shade Park, located down the street from the Museum of the Marine Corps. You could see both the same day. Locust Shade Park includes a marina on an 8-acre lake, playgrounds, tennis and volleyball courts, pavilion rentals, horseshoe pits and a 400-seat outdoor amphitheater.

Check ahead for special presentations at the amphitheater, which features everything from reptile shows to musical performances. Picnic and play areas are well-shaded, and the park also has batting cages, a golf driving range, an 18-hole miniature golf course and a fishing area.

Bring charcoal and a cooler of food and stay for dinner, using one of the many picnic areas’ grills. There are also several trails for nature hiking. Remember to pack plenty of water and wear hats, long pants and comfortable shoes if hiking, to help avoid ticks, scratches and scrapes.

There’s no swimming in the marina, but there are boat rentals if you’d like to get out on the water.

So if you’ve got a week off work coming, but don’t want to haul to the beach, stay in Prince William. Plan a great summer of fun for your family that includes sleeping in your own bed at night.

Kristina Schnack Kotlus is a local mother of three children and the owner of PWCMoms.com, a resource for parents and families in Prince William County.

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