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Taking My First Steps in the Great Outdoors, Part III

A Road Trip to Tranquility

A five hour round trip was in the cards when we left for a day trip to Belle Isle State Park, but it was worth it. On the ride there, I kept thinking that there must be something special about Belle Isle that draws in visitors from throughout Virginia.

During the ride, I saw the landscape change from buildings and houses to long roads and grassy fields until the park entrance suddenly appears among a maze of corn fields.

Isolated from the main part of the park, the Bel Air area is a picture of solitude. Belle Isle State Park is located on Virginia's Northern Neck in Lancaster, Virginia.

Isolated from the main park activities, the Bel Air area is a picture of solitude
The first thing I noticed about Belle Isle is its remoteness; there were people there, of course, but not very many.  With a small campground, overnight accommodations at the Bel Air mansion and guest house, it was like having an entire state park to yourself. It was perfect for wildlife viewing and photography; a beautiful world, full of trees and colorful flowers devoid of bustling tourists racing around. Being in Belle Isle gave me a sense of blissful solitude.
The Bel Air mansion, or Bel Air House, peeks through a copse of woods near the back of the park and has been standing strong since 1760. Updated in the 1940’s, the mansion cannot quite be called historical, but it certainly feels like it. The charming white colonial façade with multiple windows and several sky high magnolia trees was extraordinary. However, the antique-laden bedrooms, bathrooms, a large working kitchen, formal dining room and laundry room gave me a glimpse of what life was like in bygone eras. 
The antique furnishings in the Bel Air mansion lend a touch of authenticity to the historic experience. Belle Isle State Park is located on Virginia's Northern Neck in Lancaster, Virginia.
The antique furniture in the Bel Air mansion lends an air of authenticity
to the historical experience.
Behind the mansion is a beautiful waterfront lawn; a field of grass and trees, nestled on the shores of river. It would be the perfect place for a small wedding, wedding photography, or an engagement/proposal weekend. I spent time in the park taking pictures of prehistoric-looking bugs, scampering squirrels, and even a blue heron that I startled out of the gnarled roots of a tree on the river front. But my real outdoor adventure at Belle Isle State Park came when we went out on the water. The park rents small motorboats to guests.  For information on boat rentals and requirements, click here.

With Park Ranger Andy Ransom, Marketing Manager Shannon Johnson I went crabbing for the very first time. The park’s gift shop sells all the supplies you need from crab line and crab pots to bait and nets. We rode on the shallow waves of the Rappahannock River quietly observing ospreys hovering above their nests and deer drinking from the river while we checked the crab pots.
Park Ranger Andy Ransome pulls up a crab pot. Belle Isle State Park is located on Virginia's Northern Neck in Lancaster, Virginia.
Park Ranger Andy Ransome pulls up a crab pot
Like fishing, crabbing requires infinite patience. Different kinds of crab pots require different depths and crabbers mark their pots with different colored and different shaped buoys. The crabbers’ Danielson pots, the traps that catch the crabs underwater, are all marked with different colored/shaped buoys. Overall, from Andy’s crab pots, we got seven blue crabs, one soft shelled crab, and even a beautiful female blue crab with orange-red claws. Did you know that soft shelled blue crabs are called peelers?

Lest you think my internship is all fun and games, I was actually there to learn about shooting video for blogs. Shannon does a monthly cooking blog that features video of her preparing a park-inspired meal in a park’s cabin kitchen. In this case, we shot the video of Shannon preparing a main course of blue crabs and a dessert of blackberries in the mansion kitchen. Between cuts, retakes, close-ups, and pan shots, I learned a lot about making a low-cost video look great.
There are several osprey nests in the park. Belle Isle State Park is located on Virginia's Northern Neck in Lancaster, Virginia.
There are seveal osprey nests in the park
I’ve learned that the Virginia State Parks system has a very limited budget and the marketing staff is always thinking about creative ways to feature the parks. I’m amazed that with just one digital camera and some creative camera angles, the videos can look so good. It was a great lesson to learn if I go into a marketing career.
It is amazing how different the state parks are in coastal Virginia. With its big, beautiful flowers, gently flowing waters, and mystical solitude, Belle Isle State Park holds a special place in my heart. I know that if I ever get super stressed and just need a weekend away, I can head to Belle Isle and experience that tranquility anytime.
Belle Isle State Park is located on Virginia's Northern Neck in Lancaster, Virginia. The Bel Air mansion and guest house are available for overnight rentals.  The park also has a campground with electric and water hook ups.  To make your reservations, please call the Virginia State Parks Customer Service Center at 1-800-933-PARK.  You can find a calendar of programs and events by clicking here.

Published: 07/31/2014

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