I admit that I rolled my eyes when Mr. History Tourist said, “There’s a PBS documentary on, about the Wilson Bridge. Let’s watch it.”
Watch a documentary about a bridge? Are you kidding me?!
What I knew about the Wilson Bridge was what I heard on the radio each weekday morning and afternoon: “There’s a back-up on the Wilson Bridge.”
The Woodrow Wilson Bridge, named after our 28th president, goes over the Potomac River, between Alexandria, Virginia and Oxon Hill, Maryland. It first opened to the public in 1961 and quickly became obsolete. A second version, much wider and higher, opened (partially) in 2006. It now has 12 lanes. Not that that’s enough — there’s been a concomitant increase in traffic and the radio is still reporting that: “There’s a back-up on the Wilson Bridge….”
I was looking for a hike, not a drive, a few weeks ago when I came upon a Maryland hiking website that informed me that we could walk across the Wilson Bridge. As many times as I’d driven across, I hadn’t noticed that there was a pedestrian/bicycle trail along its northern side. Mr. HT and I love bridge walks, so off we went to Oxon Hill. We decided to go the east to west route because we wanted to walk across the bridge, have lunch in Alexandria, then walk back.
It was 3.5 miles one-way, said the websites, although I think that includes some of the trail leading to and from the bridge. We parked at National Harbor, which is a fairly new development on the Maryland side of the bridge. It’s supposed to pull tourists to Maryland the way Alexandria does for Virginia. But it’s the antithesis of quaint, charming, historic Alexandria. National Harbor is a glass and concrete monolith containing a casino, hotels and shops. So they’re really not in competition. Do I need to say it: I would love to live in Alexandria. I had never been to National Harbor.
That doesn’t meant that we weren’t curious though, so we took the opportunity to wander around a bit. I found one of my favorite sculptures, the Awakening (J. Stewart Johnson Jr., 1980, aluminium), had found its way there. It used to be in a park in DC.
We walked on a path along the river until we got to the bridge. The path and the bridge were lined with information boards with local history facts. I don’t know how long it’ll take someone to paint graffiti all over the signs but for now, I was impressed.
It was a beautiful day and there were lots of people walking, running and bicycle-riding across the bridge but the path was more than wide enough to accommodate everyone comfortably.
There was a clear view, down the river and all the way to DC, to the north.
And lovely Alexandria.
It took us about an hour to get to Virginia, then another 15 minutes to get to “downtown” Alexandria, where we had lunch at Gadsby’s Tavern. After lunch, we walked back.
You could also park on the Virginia side — there is a large parking lot under the bridge on that end — and walk to Oxon Hill. There are many lunch venues — though more chain than quaint — at National Harbor.
The entire excursion — with lots of dawdling — took us about 4 hours. We were exhausted when we finished, much more than we would have been hiking in the woods for the same distance. We’re blaming the constant pavement pounding. But it was a lovely and interesting walk and highly recommended if you’re ever in the area.
And the documentary? Turned out to be great. They barged the pylons along the coast from New Orleans. Good grief!