December 2004: First Landing State Park


Virginia Beach, Virginia

It has been almost 400 years now since the first English settlers came ashore here at the bottom of the Chesapeake Bay. The Commonwealth of Virginia obtained more than 2,000 acres near Cape Henry in 1933 at the cost of $157,000. Depression-era public work programs set out to shape the land into the park that was dedicated in 1936. In 1965 the park
was included in the National Register of Natural Landmarks as the northernmost location on the East Coast where subtropical and temperate plants grow and thrive together.

The trail system at First Landing State Park, designated as part of the National Recreation Trail System, features 19 miles of dog-friendly hiking. The marquee walk is the Bald Cypress Trail that circles a cypress swamp for 1.5 miles, much of the way on elevated boardwalks. Airborne Spanish moss drapes many of the ancient giants. Looping off the red-blazed Bald Cypress Trail is the 3.1-mile blue Osmanthus Trail, named for the American olive tree that grows abundantly on the fringes of the dark lagoon along the trail. Another worthwhile detour from the Bald Cypress Trail is the quarter-mile High Dune Trail that uses wooden sleeper-steps to ascend a steep, wooded dune. It is easy walking on these packed sand and soft dirt trails that are further cushioned to the paw by pine straw from towering loblolly pines. There are gentle undulations that spice up the flat canine hiking along the 8 hiker-only trails and the 6-mile Cape Henry multi-use trail. First Landing State Park stretches to the edge of the Chesapeake Bay where swimming is allowed on unguarded sandy beaches. Dogs are allowed on this beach year-round, the only such Virginia state park allowing dogs in the beach/
swimming areas.

Just off-shore are views of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, one of the seven modern engineering marvels of the world. Each span of the 17.6-mile crossing utilizes more than 2,500 concrete piles to support the trestles. Construction of the bridge-tunnel complex required undertaking a project of more than 12 miles of low-level trestles, two 1-mile tunnels, two bridges, almost 2 miles of causeway, four manmade islands and 5-1/2 miles of approach roads, totaling 23 miles.

The park is north of Virginia Beach on US 60, about six miles from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel.