Lilla Richards, president of the McLean Citizens Foundation, outstretched her arms and stopped traffic in both directions on Old Dominion Drive, allowing her party to cross.
The group, made up of several trustees and members of the McLean Citizens Foundation, the funding arm of the McLean Citizens Association, and representatives from the nonprofit Fairfax Trails and Streams (FTAS) hurried across the road and clambered down into the Pimmit Run creekbed. A trail under development by FTAS runs alongside the creek, crossing Pimmit Run several times to skirt private property as it winds its way out to the Chain Bridge and the Potomac River.
Richards and her group were hearing from Bill Niedringhaus, Steve Dryden and John Wiler of FTAS about the feasibility of putting up bridges in several locations to make Pimmit trail more accessible to hikers. The MCF is considering giving FTAS a grant to help finance the project. According to Richards, no decision will be made until October.
"We have given them [FTAS] a whole list of things of research to do," said Richards. "We don't spend the money of the MCA unless we know that the project will be a permanent benefit to McLean." One of her concerns, she said, was that the creek has a tendency to flood, which would wash away all but the most securely-fastened bridges.
THE GROUP WAS ALSO UNVEILING the first detailed map of the Pimmit Run Stream Valley showing environmental and historical features. The map is a project of the FTAS, with funding from the MCF. Fairfax Trails and Streams commissioned artwork from Ann Chenoweth, a Fredericksburg artist. Two editions of the map will be made available for sale at McLean Day celebrations on May 18 at Lewinsville Park. Proceeds will benefit the bridge construction project.
The map shows, among other things, the roads taken by James and Dolley Madison when they fled the capital after the short-lived British invasion in the War of 1812. It also pinpoints the place where the Declaration of Independence and other important documents were hidden before being taken to Leesburg for safekeeping. Local flora and fauna are represented as are changes to the landscape over time.
Steve Dryden, who along with John Wiler, did historical research for the map, said that many sawmills were built along Pimmit Run before the Civil War. The area retained its rural character up until the last century.
"In 1910-1920, there were only two or three paved roads," he said, adding that horses were the most widespread means of transportation. Old Dominion Drive started out as a trolley line linking Roslyn to Great Falls, which explains why the road today is narrow and evenly graded. Families in Washington, who would ride the trolley to Great Falls for the day trips eventually built homes along the trolley line and created the town of McLean. The town is named for John McLean, one of the main investors in the trolley.
"We're trying to get public interest in raising the money to put up the bridges that are needed," said Richards. "We are thrilled to be able to fund the map because the map reminds everyone of the history of Pimmit Run."
FTAS WILL ALSO be offering the map to middle and high school history teachers in the area. "They can use the map and research." Said Dryden. "We've done it to teach kids about local history."
According to Bill Niedringhaus, the bridges can be purchased in ready-made kits. "You need the experts to build the foundations and volunteers build the bridges," he said. He added that the total cost of the project, including eight bridges, would be around $500,000. FTAS already has approximately $180,000 from county-wide trail money which the group has accumulated over the years and from proffers given during the construction of Evans Farm.
"The real problem is we need land," he said. The trail zigzags along Pimmit Run so as not to encroach on private land. Acquiring more parcels on one side of the creek or the other would cut back on the need for bridges.
Part of the trail was originally intended to be made into a railroad line to connect the mills to the Washington and Old Dominion line. But that idea was abandoned in the 1890s, said Wiler. Nevertheless, "some of this is still earmarked on the map as a railroad right-of-way," he said.