The four-bedroom brick Colonial was nice, but if her real estate agent hadn't accidentally locked the keys inside six years ago, Sarah Mayhew might have missed the property's extra selling point out back.

While the agent waited for the locksmith, Mayhew, an avid bird watcher, sat on the rear deck. A pair of red-shouldered hawks circled overhead, absorbed in a courtship ritual. Looking through the tree line, Mayhew had a view of Woodglen Lake, part of Fairfax County's water-quality management program.

The 13-acre pond, suitable for fishing and canoeing, is surrounded by an undeveloped 54-acre park shared with neighboring communities. Tulip poplars, red maples and white oaks, some 80 to 100 years old, tower over dogwoods and holly trees.

By the time the locksmith arrived, Mayhew, whose background is in environmental science, had called her husband. The deal was all but sealed.

Today, Mayhew heads Middleridge's Audubon at Home group, writes a monthly nature column for the community's newsletter, leads nature hikes and mentors Boy Scouts looking for environment-oriented projects.

Three years ago, when Don and Susan Wilkinson drove into Middleridge, their first thought was, "We don't care what the houses look like inside, this is a real neighborhood." Having a large yard was a priority for their growing family.

The Wilkinsons recently bought a house in Middleridge after renting there for a while. Their three young children enjoy outdoor space that backs to parkland.

Middleridge, which is between George Mason University and Burke Center, is built on one of the highest points in Fairfax County. There is easy access to Route 123, the Burke Centre and Fairfax County parkways and Braddock Road. "Everything we need, from preschool to elementary, to groceries, to entertainment, is within a mile or two," said Susan Wilkinson.

Middleridge's development began in 1970 and capped out in 1986 at 553 homes, in what resident Carolyn Vaughan described as a "quiet community with wide, winding streets and nice sedate houses." In fact, with a couple of exceptions, there are no straight streets in Middleridge. With all the twists, turns and cul-de-sacs, directing people to some houses is a challenge.

Weaving through Middleridge provides an opportunity for a history lesson, because each street name links to the past in Fairfax County or Virginia, and all are highlighted on the community's informative Web site.

For example, Broadwater Drive relates to Captain Charles Broadwater, who came to Virginia in 1715 and was one of the first five vestrymen elected to Truro Parish, a colonial parish of the Anglican Church that stretched from the mouth of the Occoquan to the Blue Ridge. His son, Charles, was the county sheriff in 1751.

Today, Middleridge offers not only area history but also volunteerism. Communication is enhanced by a network of section leaders and block captains -- what civic association president Al Obuchowski calls "the eyes and ears of the community." If there's a need or concern, neighbors are soon aware of it.

When Jim Tully wanted to send Christmas packages to soldiers in Iraq, neighbors supplied him with food, CDs, DVDs, books, magazines, hiking socks and 60 pounds of Christmas lights.

Paul Armstrong, a resident since 1972, recalled how a horse from a former nearby farm was straddled across a fallen tree, stuck and bellowing. Neighbors quickly arrived, saws in hand, to cut the tree out from under the animal.

For years, Middleridge residents donated money to two local fire stations. Then someone suggested that the firefighters would like to share a meal with residents. Thus began the "feed the firemen" program, designed to help both groups know each other better.

Catie Morales, who grew up in Middleridge and moved back after marrying, said: "The civic association doesn't have to drive issues." Obuchowski agreed. "It's usually neighbors picking up and doing things for other neighbors."

For instance, Boy Scouts painted street names and house numbers on curbs. Residents recently volunteered to research options for traffic-calming measures.

One of the most active groups in the community is the Women's Club, which will celebrate 30 years of continuous operation in March. Mary Krais, one of the original members, said the group played a key role in helping her get acclimated to the area after she moved from New Jersey in 1976.

While the club has changed some over the years -- meetings moved to evenings to accommodate those working outside the home -- its focus remains on networking, community service and lighthearted fun. Members, who range in age from the 20s to the 70s, help families in crisis, sponsor children for summer camps, and round up school supplies and other necessities for those in need.

Lori Bassford, who lends her expertise as a master gardener, was recently the recipient of a home-makeover demonstration at one of the club's frequent and popular "how-to" programs.

Middleridge and its adjoining subdivisions combine resources annually to award three scholarships, about $600 each, to area high school seniors, whether in public, private or home-school. Last year, Middleridge added a new scholarship program to honor a Middleridge student demonstrating exceptional community service.

Heather Jones, who led the community's Halloween parade activities from eighth grade until she graduated last June, was the first recipient. "It's nice to see young people taking on and running events," said Obuchowski.

Middleridge goes all out when it comes to holiday decorating. Residents say there's a delightful friendly competition among neighbors and cul-de-sacs. Prizes are given, and each year's winners become the judges for the following year.

Rattling off all the options Middleridge offers residents, Susan Wilkinson said her first impressions were right. "There's a real sense of neighborhood here."