Like many suburban residents living inside the Beltway, James Kilbourne appreciates a short commute downtown. But he also enjoys living close to the water, where he can paddle his canoe. His wife, Diane, likes rigging up her Sunfish and going for a sail on breezy evenings.

Those are just a few of the reasons that drew the Kilbournes to the Lake Barcroft section of Fairfax County 20 years ago — and have kept them there.

“As soon as we saw the neighborhood, we knew we were going to stay,” said James Kilbourne, a senior environmental lawyer with the Justice Department who is serving his second stint as president of Lake Barcroft’s homeowners association.

The lake is a 135-acre man-made reservoir created by a dam in the early 1900s to provide water to the city of Alexandria. The lake and dam were sold to private developers in the late 1940s, and the namesake upper-middle-class residential community was built in the early 1950s. It since has attracted a broad range of professionals, including such Washington notables as Sen. Robert J. Dole (R-Kan.) and John D. Podesta, chief of staff to President Bill Clinton. The late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was one of the community’s first African American residents.

The heart of the Lake Barcroft community is the lake itself. Although most of the lakefront property belongs to about 225 individual homeowners, all Lake Barcroft residents — about 1,040 households — have lake privileges and easy access to the water from five white sandy beaches.

Lake life:
A wide variety of wildlife lives on or around the lake, including foxes, rabbits, great blue herons, geese, ospreys and owls. And to the delight of some homeowners and the consternation of others, there is an active beaver community that has wreaked havoc on trees.

“Some people believe beavers and humans should coexist. I don’t happen to be one of them,” said lakeside dweller Dick Komer. He was only half kidding, having lost several of his largest trees to the rapacious gnawers.

Throughout the summers, residents gather at the water’s edge for barbecues, boat races, bonfires and other community-sponsored activities. The Fourth of July means a parade and fireworks. When the lake freezes, as it did this past winter, many residents lace up their skates for hockey.
Diverse architecture:
Many of Lake Barcroft’s original houses remain — almost all ranch-style and split-level designs that look straight out of “The Dick Van Dyke Show” or even “Mad Men.”

Komer, who lived in two Lake Barcroft houses growing up and now lives in the second home he purchased with his wife, Linda Fritts, affectionately calls his flat-roofed rambler “the Jetson house,” after the 1960s-vintage sci-fi cartoon.

But a growing number of these iconic homes are regarded as tear-downs and are being replaced by much larger and oftentimes ultra-contemporary dwellings with soaring glass walls designed to maximize views of the lake and towering oaks, maples and tulip poplars.

Other families remodel to meet shifting needs at various stages of their lives. As in many communities, residents making radical changes to their homes’ exteriors must secure approval from an architectural review board. But the rules at Lake Barcroft are designed to give homeowners latitude.

“Our covenants are not as strict as some communities,” said Kilbourne, who built a 450-square-foot addition to his house in the mid-1990s to better accommodate his two youngsters, now in their 20s. “We don’t like the cookie-cutter look. We’re more loose.”

Living there:
Lake Barcroft lies south of Falls Church, with which it shares a mailing address, and just west of Seven Corners and Baileys Crossroads. Its borders are Sleepy Hollow Road to the northwest, Leesburg Pike and several smaller streets to the east, and Columbia Pike to the south.

According to Burma Klein, an associate broker with Re/Max Allegiance, five off-lake properties are for sale, ranging from a mid-1950s four-bedroom, three-bathroom rambler for $699,900 to a 2006 Colonial with five bedrooms and 41 / 2 bathrooms priced at $1.325 million. Three waterfront properties also are for sale, ranging from a split-level priced at $1.45 million to a remodeled and renovated European-style home priced at $2.1 million.

Eight off-lake properties have contracts — from a four-bedroom, two-bath split-level at $620,000 to a four-bedroom, three-bath bi-level with lake views at $824,791.

Twelve properties have sold since the start of the year, ranging from a three-bedroom, three-bath bi-level for $610,000 to a four-bedroom, three-bath bi-level with lake views at $800,000. Only one waterfront property sold in early January: a three-bedroom, three-bath home that went for $1.150 million in an estate sale. Fifty-five homes sold in 2013, eight on the lake.

Lake Barcroft residents pay $310 in annual homeowners dues in addition to a special fee, based on each home’s property value, to maintain the lake and dam.

Bailey’s, Belvedere and Sleepy Hollow elementary schools, Glasgow Middle, and J.E.B. Stuart High.

Shopping and dining:
The Seven Corners shopping area is less than a mile away. Pentagon City is six miles away; Tysons Corner is nine miles away. Eden Center, a large Vietnamese mall, is a popular dining destination about two miles away.

East Falls Church is the nearest Metro station, about three miles away. But residents lament that there is no easy public transportation for getting there.

Rita Zeidner is a freelance writer.