In 1965, long before preservation of the environment became a household concern, Elizabeth Hartwell led a battle to save Mason Neck, a sparsely populated peninsula in southeastern Fairfax County and winter home to 67 bald eagles.

For her work in establishing the nation's first bald eagle sanctuary on Mason Neck and for her longtime support of Northern Virginia's parks, Fairfax County has awarded her the 1990 Elly Doyle Park Service Award, named after the former board chairman of the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Darrell Winslow, executive director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, on whose board Hartwell served for 10 years, said, "She's a dynamite personality and a very capable and effective leader."

Hartwell moved to Mason Neck in 1959 and soon grew to love its woodlands and tidewater marshes, home to herons, egrets, river otters, beavers, red foxes, deer, the occasional bobcat, and above all, bald eagles.

Her career as a preservationist began in 1965 when she learned that a developer had asked the Fairfax County government to have 1,821 acres of wilderness on the Neck rezoned to build a "satellite city" of 20,000 people to be called King's Landing.

"The city would have been right here," Hartwell said Sunday, pointing to the forests and waterways that make up what is today the Mason Neck National Wildlife Refuge. "Kanes Creek {the site of the eagle roost} was going to be an industrial port," she said.

"There is just something special here," Hartwell said. "It's living, it's palpable. You can hear all sorts of marvelous sounds and see all sorts of marvelous creatures, and of course, the eagles. With development it would all have gone."

The campaign to preserve Mason Neck as public land took three years. As principle organizer of the Conservation Committee for Mason Neck, she sent out hundreds of letters to "just about anybody I could think of," and built a powerful coalition of citizens, environmental groups and sympathetic politicians.

At public hearings at the local courthouse, "some of the developers would actually flap their arms at me in the hall," Hartwell said in mock indignation. "I heard more eagle jokes then than I have in all the years since.

"I decided at the very beginning that the eagle would be the key, because they grab you emotionally. The eagles won the battles for Mason Neck. I was simply their spokesman," Hartwell said.

Using the universal appeal of the United States' national symbol, she set out to galvanize people into action by involving them directly in the conservation effort, giving anyone who was interested tours of the marshes in a small boat.

"People came from all around -- some of them didn't even know my name. They would go down to the volunteer fire department, which is where everybody gathered in those days, and they would ask where the 'eagle lady' lived."

Once, she took four members from local garden clubs out on an early-morning trip to see the eagles. "Off we went into the great marsh in the drizzle to where the eagles were. As soon as we turned the last curve, the sun came out and 15 eagles slowly flew up, one by one."

Like many who joined her on the excursions, the four became dedicated to her cause. "Later on, at one of many, many public hearings, a woman who wanted to develop her land stood up and testified that there were no more eagles left on Mason Neck. Well, the four ladies, who were sitting in front of me, leaped to their feet," Hartwell said, laughing at the memory. "They were absolutely, totally incensed, because they had seen 15 of them."

By August 1967, the battle had been won. After a recommendation from Interior Secretary Stewart Udall that Mason Neck be turned into "a major recreation, wildlife and historic park," the developers withdrew their rezoning application for King's Landing, and more than 5,000 acres of Mason Neck were designated as parkland. The 5,000 acres are now divided among the three parks that occupy the Mason Neck peninsula: the national wildlife refuge, Mason Neck State Park and Pohick Bay Regional Park.

In the 23 years since Mason Neck was established, Hartwell has spent most of her time foiling the plots and schemes of developers, industrialists and government officials whenever their plans threatened the refuge. She has built a formidable array of allies in environmental groups, in government agencies and among the citizenry in general.

Hartwell mounted 21 campaigns against a wide range of threats to Mason Neck. "Often, I get tips about some secret machinations because it's known that I'll do something about them," Hartwell said.

Other recipients of the 1990 Elly Doyle Award were members of the Frying Pan Park and Youth Center Supervisory Board for their work in providing administrative and financial support for the park when Fairfax County could not afford its upkeep, and the David Lawrence family, for their 1971 donation of 640 acres in Centreville to the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Hartwell and the other award recipients will be honored at the second annual Elly Doyle Park Service Award Banquet Nov. 16, at the Sheraton Premier in Tysons Corner. Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-Va.) will be the keynote speaker.