The Active Life

Wall Street Journal. OWN Magazine. March 17, 2011

Gunston. Mason Neck, VA

While Washington D.C. remains a town of words, the growing focus on physical activity is stunning. From Potomac, Maryland to Potomac, Virginia – and all points in between – the region's developing a six-pack.

There was once a time when some would say the words “active life” in the Washington area meant adjusting the Barcalounger for a tussle with the Sunday crossword puzzle. In ink.

But those days have long since passed.

"There's a premium on homes near parks and trails,” says Hans Wydler, an associate broker with Long & Foster's Bethesda, Maryland office. “Shiny new gyms are springing up in town and out: Equinox and Crunch and LA Fitness among them."

Ever since former President Clinton’s much publicized morning jogs, it feels as if the D.C. Metro Area has spurred into action. President Obama’s rigorous workout routines and the First Lady’s war on fat seem fitting in a city that has the largest bike sharing program in the U.S., with over 100 stations across Washington and Arlington.

"Without a doubt, we've become 100 percent more health conscious, more active," says Creig Northrup of Long & Foster. No matter the income bracket, people are into "walking and hiking and jogging and biking. And they want to live in communities with jogging paths and bike trails."

Take, for instance, Capitol Hill resident and publisher of Inside Washington Rick Weber who quips, "I think it's safe to say that I originally moved to the Hill because of its proximity to the Mall, which I view as my personal, federally funded track." He's certainly not alone. There are nearly three-dozen running clubs in D.C., Maryland and Virginia, offering organized runs every day of the week and training for more than 25 events held in the area each year, including the National Marathon and the Marine Corp Marathon.

Watch them go. Runners hit the Washington sidewalks anytime, day or night – Adidas paired with Armani on the Metro. They hit the sidewalks at lunchtime, making a fast track around the Tidal Basin, seemingly hurdling everyone in their paths.

And dodging the runners and the tourists you'll find the bikers. Increasing numbers of residents are choosing two wheels for getting around town.

Biking is no longer just a leisure activity, says Greg Billing, outreach coordinator for the 4,000- member Washington Area Bicyclist Association. Bike commuting, he says, is up 89 percent this past year and growing. Not surprising since the city is tailgating Chicago for the title of worst traffic congestion in the U.S.

Billing says his bike commute is "better than a cup of coffee. I arrive at work energized and ready to work." The return trip, he adds, "let's me unwind and get fresh air." Billing, who bikes everywhere, “knows every little street in town."

He can probably tell you the locations of many of the 1,100 cherry-red, three-speed bikes that fill the racks of the Capital Bikeshare program, which are spaced every four or five blocks, making it as easy and convenient to hop on and off as the Metro. Another boon to urban cyclists are the European-style bike lanes rapidly spoking toward the Capitol. These are dedicated paths between the sidewalk and parked cars that provide a safety zone for peddle-pushers.

Riverwatch Lane, Annapolis
Homes for Sail
Those that prefer the mellow clank and roll of boats in harbor can find company among the rowers, sailors and power boaters on the Anacostia and the Potomac, who slip quietly past the Watergate Hotel on the way to Georgetown's Harbor Place for jazz and mojitos at sunset.

But the real boating action in the Washington area is in Annapolis, Md., 27 miles to the east. Splendidly situated on the Severn River, and threaded with waterways leading to the Chesapeake Bay, Annapolis, the state capitol, is home to the U.S. Naval Academy and St. John's College. It is also known as "America's Sailing Capital." City Dock is the country's only remaining pre-revolutionary war seaport, where people are known to dangle their feet and watch the pleasure craft cruise by.

While these days Connie Cadwell contents herself with paddling a kayak from the dock of the deep-water slip outside her home on Spa Creek, the Coldwell Banker agent has spent a lifetime around bigger craft, even living on a sailboat for a spell. Cadwell fell in love with Annapolis during a 5th grade trip to the Naval Academy. "It was the magic of the town" she smiles. "I was spellbound."

Many are. Ask any home seller and you'll most likely find someone that's simply upsizing or downsizing...but not going far. Case in point: the couple that currently own a gorgeous spread on River Watch Lane, now listed by Cadwell. With their two sons and their young families now living downtown, the couple looks forward to joining them, eyeing an enclave of smaller homes and shared slice of waterfront.

The couple is readying their 7,500-square-foot home for spring – and for sale – tending to the gardens and the naturalistic swoop of a swimming pool with its waterfalls and terraces leading down to four deep water slips. “The best crabbing in town right from the dock," says the lady of the manor proudly. And oysters. One of her sons shucked five dozen Choptank Sweets for this year's Super Bowl party.

Set on a bluff overlooking the Severn River the home offers two master suites, a gourmet kitchen, a Tuscan-style wine room, three stacked-stone fireplaces, and an au pair suite above the garage.

The location is splendid. "We're five minutes from town, twenty minutes on the boat," says the owner. "You can do a weekend and feel like you've been away -- sail to St. Michael's and Rock Hall, do the marina thing and get on and off the boat. If you have a powerboat you can do a run to St. Michael's for crabs for lunch," she adds.

Richardson House

Rough and Ready

"One beauty of waterfront living is that no one can ever build behind you," says Long & Foster’s Northrop. The same can be said for a home on a golf course overlooking an eternal expanse of green. Such a life offers a blend of privacy, scenery and sport.

He notes, as an example, a "beautiful home that’s currently available at the Cattail Creek Country Club in Glenwood, Md., overlooking the 7th hole but far enough away to enjoy without getting hit by golf balls." The five bedroom, five-and-a half-bath home features a library, a family room, and a rec room in addition to the formal living room. A breakfast room as sunny as a solarium is a casual alternative to the formal dining room. A fabulous master bedroom has a fireplace and a sybaritic spa bath. The outdoor amenities include a deck, a screened porch, a patio with kitchen and a pond. The home comes complete with country club membership, which includes (besides golf) swimming, tennis and a health club offering yoga, kickboxing and personal training.

Wydler frequently works with builders and buyers that are looking for newer homes. "It has become almost mandatory to have a workout space," he says. 'A room in the house that can accommodate anything from mats to full weight sets to yoga and Pilates. A space with mirrors and a barre, and space for stretching."

At the upper end of the luxury market, buyers also want "a pool, or tennis courts, and a larger house for a home gym," says Northrup. And that means a big slice of land. With the region becoming ever more congested, property size has become the ultimate luxury.

Nestled amid five glorious acres of emerald lawn and mature trees, Northrup has another offering in Montgomery County that already has all of the elements of a private country club.
The six bedroom custom brick home features a huge chef's kitchen with granite counters, great entertaining spaces, a deck and an outdoor pool backing into the trees. "It has everything you can imagine in a house," says Northrup. "And a level lot that's perfect for a tennis court."

Bigger still is a magnificent stone home on over three acres in Clarkesville, that can only be described as baronial. This impressive spread features a dual staircase in the two-story foyer; a huge sunroom; a splendid kitchen with granite counters, a breakfast area, and a butler's pantry. There's also a study and a family room in addition to the fabulous formal entertaining spaces. 
The six bedroom home -- just fifteen minutes from BWI Airport and convenient to both D.C. and Baltimore -- includes a master suite with sitting area and a bath with soaking tub and steam shower, perfect for soothing the post-workout kinks.

Trotting Right Along

Michelle Stevens, managing broker of Long & Foster's Middleburg, Va. office was drawn to the historic town ten years ago, attracted by the quality of life, the slower pace and the beautiful countryside surrounding this epicenter of regional equestrian activities.

They don't hunt fox in England anymore, but here they still do. "There are seven or eight territories," says Stevens. "It's big."

Big, too, is the Hunt Country Stable Tour, a self-driven tour of Middleburg and Upperville stables held each year, in addition to the predictable (though floriferous and delightful) house and garden tours.

There's also polo and the steeplechase. Two premium steeplechase races, the International Gold Cup in October and Virginia Gold Cup in May are both held at Great Meadow in The Plains. The events attract 40-50,000 people each year -- along with some fantastic hats.

If you prefer a sedate trot, "You can ride for miles in the Middleburg area without crossing a road," says Stevens. "You do not have to be an experienced horse person to ride or participate. It's a great opportunity to see parts of the countryside you would never see unless you were on horseback."

Stevens and her husband have enjoyed living in and restoring the Maples, a stucco-over-stone manor house built in 1853. With their kids grown and gone, it is now on the market.

The main house with its two-foot thick walls, 12-foot ceilings and heart pine floors is surrounded by an array of outbuildings that include the original smoke house, a guest house and the summer kitchen. Built on four levels with four rooms per floor, it is "spectacular," she says. "We bought it from the family that built it -- we're the second owners. " The 10-year renovation preserved historic details but included a new kitchen and baths that blend seamlessly with this glorious snapshot of the past. Set on 60 acres of lawn and garden, punctuated by huge boxwoods, the grounds include paddocks and stables, a swimming pool and -- for a respite with your Kindle - - a pergola.

It is the kind of home many expect to find in this area: exquisite and, at nearly $6 million, expensive.

But Stevens says the Middleburg area is "not all big horse property." Current listings include a charming five bedroom colonial with a wrap-around porch set on six-and-a-half acres listing for $699,000, and an open and airy contemporary on a 20-acre spread (bring the horse!) with a pool and hot tub for $899,900.

The one that got away? Recently sold was "a little stucco house on over an acre for $325,000."

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