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In McLean, A Tradition in Creating Parks

July 18, 2002

<bt>Washington, D.C. native Robert Ames Alden, now 69, was a humble sportswriter for The Washington Post in 1954.

That was the year he developed a vision that McLean should have a community center, a central park, a theater, and a library. They should be close together, and there should be music. Outdoors, if possible.

It took 48 years, but Alden got it done. The whole while he worked at the Post, whose publisher, John R. McLean, had contributed his name to the town where he established a train to Great Falls Park.

Alden left the sports department to become a world news editor and retired last year as a news editor.

Last week, when the first concert was played at McLean Central Park, Alden’s ideas and dreams were realized despite long years of inactivity, alternating with periods of furious, focused effort by citizens, to get the project completed.

“The McLean Citizens Association, more than any other organization, would become the instigator for the development of this grand civic and cultural center complex that we are celebrating today,” Alden said Sunday during the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the gazebo and bandstand he envisioned 48 years ago.

The Fairfax County Library System acquired 2.5 acres of adjacent land for Dolley Madison Library, and the Fairfax County Park Authority in 1959 adopted the concept of a central park with a green for the bandstand, Alden said, added to 19 acres provided for by the federal Stream Valleys Act.

Eventually, that became a 40-acre park.

Not until 1971 did the public vote approval for a special tax district to support the community center and theater, which opened in 1975.

Other efforts by McLean citizens have formed parks, but none other has taken so long to reach fruition as McLean Central Park.

After he told of future plans for a tot lot, flower, and sculpture garden, Alden looked at the crowd that had defied rainy skies to be present for the bandstand’s first concert.

“Let the bands play on,” he said. “Let the air be filled with music for today, tomorrow, and generations yet unborn.”