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In Great Falls, Va., a close-knit community surrounded by nature

Stella Lam, 6, plays on the playground at the Great Falls Grange in Great Falls, Va. Great Falls is a picturesque unincorporated community in northern Fairfax County with plenty of natural charms, historical intrigue and roomy home lots. (Craig Hudson for The Washington Post)

When Erin Lobato moved from Potomac, Md., to Great Falls, Va., she thought she would be trading in one suburban lifestyle for another. Instead, she discovered a close-knit community.

“It’s really a small town that happens to be near a big city,” said Lobato, who is director of the Celebrate Great Falls Foundation. “There’s one grocery store people generally go to, one set of youth sports organizations. You end up bumping into people at the store or the PTA meeting or church. It’s easier to get to know people instead of just meeting them.”

Lobato’s organization typically runs events such as an annual golf tournament, Fourth of July parade and Halloween Spooktacular for the community. Many events, most of which have been postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, take place at Village Centre, a retail, restaurant and office development with an event lawn and gazebo that residents use as a gathering place. A weekly farmers market is also held there.

Great Falls is a picturesque unincorporated community in northern Fairfax County with plenty of natural charms, historical intrigue and roomy home lots. Nature lovers enjoy easy access to Great Falls Park and Riverbend Park. Stables and chicken coops that once were common have largely disappeared, but much of the rural character remains.

“What I have valued over the years is the natural environment,” said Eleanor Anderson, a 31-year resident who runs an annual native plant sale that is held at Riverbend Park and supports Friends of Riverbend Park. “I think it’s a marvelous resource. We are at Riverbend Park every day to walk our dog.”

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Great Falls is more than a beautiful setting. It also has plenty of history. Traces of Native American life that date back as far as 9,000 years have been found along the Potomac River, according to the Great Falls Historical Society. George Washington owned property along the river for a gristmill, and James Madison spent a night in what is now Riverbend Park after fleeing a burning Washington in 1814.

During the 1800s, the towns and villages of Dranesville, Colvin Run, Springvale and Forestville sprung up and would later merge to become Great Falls. After the Civil War, dairy farms dotted the area. It was also home to the terminus of the Great Falls and Old Dominion electric railroad, which used to carry the community’s dairy products to Georgetown.

Today’s community consists of approximately 15,000 residents, with about 5,000 single-family houses on lots of at least a half-acre. Most lots are on septic systems.

Susan Canis, a real estate agent with Long & Foster, and her husband, Bill Canis, an analyst for the Library of Congress, moved to Great Falls from New York in 1999.

“Great Falls has a real sense of community amid suburban sprawl,” she said.

Bill Canis, president of the Great Falls Citizens Association, recalls driving on Georgetown Pike, known as Virginia’s first scenic byway, when he was first looking for a home in the area.

“It was so beautiful and low-key and charming,” he said.

Today, his organization advocates for traffic management on that historic road, as well as for the environment and land-use issues. Some 1,000 association members pay annual dues of $25 for individuals and $40 for families.

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Matt Truong methodically searched for two years before moving his family to Great Falls in 2011.

“Every week we saw four or more houses,” said the technology entrepreneur who had lived in Montgomery County.

On a whim, he and his wife toured a house above their price range. They were attracted to the spacious three-acre lot with a 4,900-square-foot house that had six bedrooms and an open kitchen and family area with lots of natural light.

They decided to bid on the spot, and their offer was accepted two hours later.

“It turns out this is exactly what we wanted. We got in at the right price and loved the neighborhood and the people,” said Truong, who ran unsuccessfully last year for the Republican nomination in the 10th Congressional District.

Four years ago, Heidi Briguglio, who ran a beekeeping farm in southern Maryland, was drawn to Great Falls because of her son Azure, now an 11-year-old fifth-grader. Their house’s proximity to the park provides Azure room to roam, and Briguglio also was impressed by the schools. At first, she was concerned about uprooting her and her son’s lives and worried about how she’d fit in.

U.S. Census Bureau figures for the area show that 80.7 percent of the population is college-educated and that the median household income is $238,125.

“Some of the people who live here are among the wealthiest, most highly educated people in the country. I learned that this is really a magnet for incredible people,” Briguglio said.

“But with the gracious reception I’ve consistently had, I feel profoundly like this is my home.”

She has thrown herself into volunteer work in the community.

“I don’t feel intimidated anymore. I just feel lucky,” she said.

Living there: Great Falls is bordered by the Potomac River to the north and east, the Loudoun County line to the west, Route 7 to the southwest and parts of Towlston Road to the southeast.

In 2020, according to Susan Canis of Long & Foster, 325 houses were sold, with an average sale price of $1.25 million. The lowest price was a three-bedroom, two-bathroom 1948 house for $560,000. The highest was a six-bedroom, nine-bathroom 2007 house for $7 million. There are 57 active listings, ranging from $790,000 for a four-bedroom, three-bathroom 1986 house to $14 million for an eight-bedroom, 13-bathroom house built in 2017.

Schools: Great Falls and ­Forestville elementary schools, ­Cooper middle, Langley high.

Transit: Great Falls is 5½ miles from the Tysons Corner Metro station on the Silver Line. Fairfax Connector buses run along
Route 7/Leesburg Pike.