Tracy Gillespie loves a good story. As manager of historic properties for NOVA Parks, she gets to tell them all the time. Like the one about Alexander “Yankee” Davis and his wife, Eliza, who lived on land that Gillespie now manages as part of Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park. The Davises were ostracized by their community when Alexander took the Union side during the Civil War. When he left to become a Union scout, Eliza was soon “an eyewitness to war,” Gillespie says. “We know that troops were crossing through what we now call Gilbert’s Corner Regional Park, very likely camping there as well. Eliza wrote a marvelous letter to her mother back in Connecticut in 1865.” Parts of the letter are reproduced on an interpretive sign in the park. “It’s a fascinating window into life on the home front.”
Gillespie also likes to tell the story of “Gilbert” himself, who purchased property at the corner of Routes 15 and 50, just across from present-day parkland, in the 1920s. There he built a gas station “where you could fill your tank for 27 cents a gallon while they made you a really good ham sandwich,” she says. Gilbert’s Corner is now the site of the area farmers’ market.
The park consists of 156 acres, 86 of which are owned by NOVA Parks and have been protected by a VOF easement since 2018. This acreage includes a wetlands mitigation area operated by the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust. The remainder of the park is owned and protected by the Piedmont Environmental Council (PEC), which leases the land to NOVA Parks. Part of this acreage includes a study area for the Battle of Aldie in 1863.
The park’s three miles of mowed walking trails pass through meadows and alongside wetlands and wooded areas, all within view of the Bull Run Mountains. Bluebird boxes maintained by volunteers line the trail. There is also a small chestnut orchard that was once maintained by the American Chestnut Foundation. Interpretive signs there recount the loss of the species to blight and the foundation’s efforts to bring it back.
A partnership with the Loudoun County library maintains a story walk along the trail. Gillespie says this is a popular destination for families with young children, as well as people of all ages who want access to a gentle walk.
Among the items on Gillespie’s wish list are trails connecting the park to the Gilbert’s Corner Farmer’s Market and a boardwalk that would get people over the wetlands and close to the Davis farm site.
“We’ve gotten a lot started by standing on the shoulders of VOF,” Gillespie states. “And we couldn’t do any of this without the PEC. They are good neighbors.” But there is still much work to be done. “It takes people,” she explains. “I have a very small staff and I rely on volunteers. I’m always looking for more.”
For information on how to volunteer at the park or to donate, visit the park website.