Photos by Robert Jinks | Robert Jinks Photography
On Thursday, August 27, the Occoquan River Communities organization (ORC) hosted approximately 60 members, guests and dignitaries on its first-ever “State of the Occoquan” river cruise. Passengers boarded the “Riverloop” tour boat at the Occoquan town dock and were treated to a 2 hour cruise, highlighting the exciting developments taking place along the river from the Town of Occoquan to Belmont Bay.
The tour began with a view from the water of the new River Mill Park that is taking shape at the west end of Mill Street in the Town of Occoquan. Mayor Liz Quist, the first of the evening’s four presenters, explained that the site was home to the former River Station Water Treatment Plant operated by Fairfax Water since 1967. Prior to Fairfax Water’s ownership of the property, the land played a significant role in the Town’s history as it related to grist mill and iron furnace operations. The property is still owned by Fairfax Water; however, they are leasing the property to the Town for the purpose of building and maintaining a public park. The demolition work has removed antiquated structures that allow a view up the river that has not been enjoyed by the public for nearly fifty years. Completion of the Park is expected in early 2016.
Following inspection of the new park, the cruise proceeded downriver, observing osprey’s, herons and eagles along the way, to the site of the planned Potomac Science Center, currently under construction. Located at the intersection of the Occoquan and Potomac Rivers and operated by George Mason University, the center will provide a new home for the Potomac Environmental Research and Education Center and more laboratory space for Geographic Information Systems. Professor Chris Jones, Director of the Science Center, discussed plans for the center, which is expected to become the premier watershed research center on the east coast.
Moving upriver again, the Riverloop paused at the planned site of the new Rivergate apartment and condominium development, to be built by the IDI group, builder of such prestigious addresses as the Watergate complex in Washington, DC. Carlos Cecchi, of IDI group, told the group that site plans are currently being finalized for the 2 five-story towers that will house 720 units. Guests were provided with brochures showing illustrations of the buildings and their planned amenities.The development also will provide a new streetscape to the area with new sidewalks, and will complement a marina, newly revitalized riverside restaurant, and an events center which all sit next door. Construction is expected to begin at the end of 2015 or in early 2016.
The last stop on the State of the Occoquan tour was the Occoquan Regional Park, situated on the Fairfax County side of the Occoquan River. For his portion of the presentation, Park Manager John Houseer eschewed the use of the microphone saying “my parents spent a lot of money training me to be an actor — I’m going to make use of my ability to project!”. Houser displayed some illustrations of a multi-million dollar planned renovation to the park, which will include new trails, roads, parking areas and a new landscaped waterfront plaza, as well as the planned Turning Point Suffragist Memorial. At the heart of the renovations will be the new Jean Packard Occoquan Center. The multipurpose building will include a historic/environmental education area, a special event rental space overlooking the river, and a concessions area to serve boaters and other park patrons. The Packard Occoquan Center will also feature interpretation of a much earlier chapter in history when John Smith and his crew sailed up the Potomac and visited this site in 1608. This point of first European contact will allow visitors to learn about Native Americans and native flora and fauna of the region.
The excursion returned to the dock with departing guests expressing their enthusiasm about how the combination of new economic development and recreation opportunities is positioning the Occoquan River region to become one of the most attractive destinations in the region in which to live, work and play. Said Occoquan River Communities president Betty Dean, “the state of the Occoquan can be summed up in one word — Awesome!”