The Northern Virginia Park Authority has ventured into the resort business and spent $840,000 building a dozen deluxe vacation chalets on a wooded bluff overlooking the Potomac River in Loudoun County that will be available for rent in June.
The year-round cottages in the "chalet" complex at Algonkian Regional Park will rent for $350 to $450 a week, (maid service included), except for the single VIP chalet with a hot tub, which will cost $500 a week. Renters will have free use of the park's giant swimming pool, reduced prices on the park golf course, and boating facilities.
"They're like the primitive West Virginia state park cabins that are sold out years in advance, except these aren't primitive, they're deluxe. I don't think there's anything like them in the Washington region," said Dr. James Wiley, a Loudoun County member of the regional park agency.
"The rental price bothered me a little bit because it sounds expensive," said Wiley. "But a beach house costs that much or more and there are so many things provided that you have hardly any other costs. I think people will find it's a great place to stay and visit Washington and Loudoun County."
Park officials said they expect the chalet complex will be self-supporting. The chalet rents are expected to cover all operating and maintenance costs and slowly pay off the $840,000 construction and furnishing costs. The money came from contributions and park bond issues from the six regional members of the park authority: Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax.
The prefabricated chalets, with wooden decks, skylights and large windows, cost $70,000 each and provide unspoiled scenic vistas of the Potomac and, across the river, of a Montgomery County wildlife preserve and a Maryland state park.
The chalets are heated and air-conditioned and are equipped with tile bathrooms, beamed ceilings, ceiling fans, fireplaces or wood stoves, contemporary furniture and fully appointed kitchens.
Construction and landscaping are now almost complete for the scheduled opening on June 1.
The regional park agency decided two years ago to offer something different for vacationing residents and tourists and began working on the idea of a chalet complex.
The agency already operates 370 campsites for tents and recreational vehicles at its Bull Run and Pohick Bay regional parks, both in Fairfax County, and provides wilderness camping at Fountainhead Park on the Occoquan Reservoir. But luxury accommodations in a public park are a first for the Washington area.
"We wanted to do something for people who don't want to rough it and don't like camping," said park agency spokeswoman Dorothy Werner.
The agency hopes to rent the chalets in colder months, at reduced rates, for seminar and conference groups and is remodeling the golf course club house for that purpose.
The 500-acre Algonkian Park, named for an Indian tribe that frequented the area, was bought by the park authority in 1976 from the Potomac Electric Power Co.
The park authority built boat ramps and a large swimming pool at the park site three years ago and regularly leads bird walks along the shore, advertised for "serious birders" who are assured sightings of warblers, swallows, woodpeckers and bluebirds.
Yesterday, the warblers already were winging through the woods and cottages and a harmless black snake was coiled on a stump in the sun beside one of the houses, seeking refuge from the rising waters of the Potomac, which ran within 30 feet of the chalets and closed part of the golf course.
The park authority expects to have no trouble renting the chalets. It already has rented two and the opening is not scheduled until the end of May. CAPTION: Picture 1, One of the deluxe chalets, viewed from deck of another, nears completion in Algonkian Park. Picture 2, The most expensive chalet, at $500 a week, has a hot tub, above, and like the others, a fully furnished kitchen and maid service. Photos by John McDonnell -- The Washington Post