An early morning stroll to a tranquil lake humming with wildlife is a luxury usually reserved for owners of sprawling, expensive homes. Not so at Lakepointe, a neighborhood of town houses in Burke.

There, a population of teachers, cab drivers, mid-level government workers and students from nearby George Mason University delight in the offerings of Lake Royal. The 37-acre man-made lake, ringed by a two-mile gravel trail, sports glorious sunsets and unsurpassed fall foliage--and it is just steps from their moderately priced homes.

Lakepointe was developed in 1971 and 1972, about five years before the lake was built by the federal government as a flood-control measure. The 107 three-bedroom brick town homes once backed to fields, woodland and a horse farm with an intricate network of trails.

"Everything in Burke Center was wooded, with dirt roads throughout," said Candy Fischel, whose family settled in Lakepointe in 1976. "This was the middle of nowhere."

Fischel said her children enjoyed watching the Lake Royal dam take shape, as tons of clay were trucked in, mixed with shredded trees, then rolled, sprayed and packed, layer upon layer. "We were told it would take a while for the lake to fill up," said Fischel, adding that it only took one big rain in 1977 to do the job.

JoAnn Spevacek is one of Lakepointe's original residents; when she moved there in 1972, the houses cost $32,500. She vehemently opposed the lake's construction. Now Spevacek, the legislative director for the Northern Virginia Planning District, has done an about-face. The lake, she said, has become "one of the reasons I stay here."

She said, "It's my therapy."

Residents can be found on and around the lake, but not in it. Although Lake Royal was designed with a gradual slope and a maximum everyday water level of 15 feet, it is not a swimming lake. Boating in canoes and small sailboats is allowed, as is fishing. Ice skating is discouraged because the winters usually don't get cold enough to freeze the ice to a safe thickness.

There have been some unique accidents on the lake--the kind that end happily and become part of neighborhood lore. For example, one snowy winter Spevacek's then 9-year-old daughter took a flying leap into the icy water when her sled didn't stop in time. And when the lake was drained for dredging four years ago, a group of children decided to romp on the empty lake bed. One sank into muck up to his armpits and had to be rescued by helicopter.

Helen Heald, who runs a day-care business from her home, finds the area perfect for nature studies. "We have a resident heron here year-round," she said. Other wildlife spottings she noted include beaver, eagles and the flock of well-behaved geese that seem to linger instinctively by the lake, without intruding on property closer to the homes.

One day, Heald said, she was impressing on her young charges the need to stay together and away from the water when "a snake slithered from the lake shore and across the path just in front of us." Lesson learned!

Heald has also been on the receiving end of lessons from her neighbors, who come from numerous cultures. By striking up friendships at the school bus stop, she has learned how to make moon dumplings for the Chinese New Year, and how to wrap the traditional Pakistani dress. "This community reminds me of Martin Luther King's 'I Have a Dream' speech--where children of many different backgrounds play with each other," she said.

S. Ahmed Alami, a native of Afghanistan who works for the Washington Flyer at Dulles Airport, seemed awestruck when looking out from his lakeside deck. "It's beautiful." he said.

Phil Doherty, in his buoyant Irish brogue, exclaimed: "You can make believe this is all yours."

Doherty, a real estate agent, and his wife have lived at Lakepointe since 1978, enjoying daily walks around the lake.

"That is the reason we've never moved," he said, adding that it's not hard to stay physically fit in his neighborhood. The lakeside trail is dotted with exercise stations, and a basketball court, a playground and a ball field sit on the east side of the lake. Residents may also join any of three pools in surrounding neighborhoods

Despite all that, Lakepointe maintains a low-key attitude toward organized activities and regulations. Doherty, president of the community association, said the five-member board meets a half-dozen times a year, and newsletters are sent out twice a year. Monthly dues of $65 cover the services of a professional management association, maintenance of the roads and grounds, and the removal of trash and snow.

Neighbors join nearby communities twice a year to repair the lake path, spread gravel and clean the shoreline. In the summer, the popular Braddock Nights Concerts are held on the playing field, and on the Fourth of July, residents gather around the lake to watch the fireworks from neighboring areas.

Within 20 minutes, Lakepointe residents can be in Tysons Corner, Alexandria or Springfield Mall, and in half that time they can get to Patriot Center. Convenient, yes--but after a busy day out in the real world, it's the serenity of Lake Royal that beckons.

Gina Murray, who moved into her first home only six months ago, marvels at her good fortune as she enjoys lakeside sunsets from her living room window. She said, "I thought I'd have to go to somewhere in North Carolina to get this."

Let us know about your little corner of ever-greater Washington and maybe we'll tell everyone. Write to Where We Live, Washington Post Real Estate Section, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. Or e-mail us at where@washpost.com

WHERE WE LIVE

BOUNDARIES: On Lakepointe Drive and Lakepointe Court, with Guinea Road to the south and Lake Royal to the north.

SCHOOLS: King's Park Elementary and Lake Braddock High

SALES: Four houses have sold in the past 12 months for $142,000 to $148,500, said Phil Doherty of ReMax Real Estate. One house is on the market for $127,000.

WITHIN WALKING DISTANCE: Lake Royal, VRE, new Target store

WITHIN 10 MINUTES BY CAR: Burke Lake Park, Lake Accotink, George Mason University, Northern Virginia Training School for Mentally Retarded, Wakefield Recreation Center.

WITHIN 20 MINUTES BY CAR: Tysons Corner, Alexandria, Springfield Mall