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  • Writer's pictureAccokeek Foundation

What’s in a Viewshed?

by Ryan Walker, Land Conservation Specialist

Everything! A viewshed is simply the area that is or could be visible from any particular vantage point. From the south lawn at Mount Vernon, visitors peer across the Potomac River and notice thousands of acres of forest, farmland, along with some structures beyond the riverbanks including our own National Colonial Farm. In fact, the view that George Washington enjoyed is similar to the view that visitors enjoy today. However, the outcome may have been much different if not for the efforts to create Piscataway Park more than 50 years ago. A bit of the story is referenced here, a page that will be expanded to contain more information as land conservation efforts of the Accokeek Foundation progress.

While successes abound, there is still plenty more to be done. Consider that Piscataway Park includes an impressive 5,000 acres of protected land, but only accounts for only about twenty percent of the Mount Vernon viewshed! While other properties are under conservation protections, such as Chapman State Park of Fort Washington, most land is not legally protected. This is where viewshed management gets tricky. For example, think about forest cover – What happens if a large swath of trees is cut between a large building and Mount Vernon? That structure may now be visible. In reality, the large building was always part of the viewshed even though it wasn’t visible to the eye from Mount Vernon. Forest cover “hides” quite a lot of development that would otherwise be visible to Mount Vernon visitors in locations many miles from the historic estate. The Accokeek Foundation is working to retain forest cover in the Mount Vernon corridor – an example of viewshed protection that may not be in the form of a national park or conservation easement.

Stay tuned for updates on land conservation work and events in the area.

Map of the Area of Primary Concern (Mount Vernon viewshed) and protected land in the vicinity (Maryland only).

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