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Public Hearing to Discuss Surplus

Mendelsohn asks for $170,000 to restore Riverbend hours, staff

Friends of Riverbend Park (FORB), distraught that the park’s visitor center is closed four days a week and more than half of its staff was laid off because of cuts in Fairfax County’s budget, cheered up quickly when they heard that Fairfax County has a $39 million budget surplus that will be up for grabs at a Sept. 15 public hearing before the Board of Supervisors.

Dranesville Park Authority representative Kevin Fay moved quickly to ask Dranesville Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn to set aside $170,000 from the surplus to reopen Riverbend, a 418-acre park on the Potomac River in Great Falls and Hidden Oaks, another of Fairfax County’s nature centers, in Annandale.

Mendelsohn also asked the board of supervisors for $140,000 from the surplus to pay for lights for a Babe Ruth baseball field at Nike Park next to Forestville Elementary School in Great Falls.

The field, used for older youth and adult players, has 90-foot baselines, which are in short among Fairfax County’s inventory of athletic fields.

At the board’s final summer meeting on Aug. 4, Mendelsohn said money from the surplus would allow Friends of Riverbend and the FCPA staff to explore proposals to raise money for Riverbend.

“This is one of the cuts that was offered up at the very last minute that the citizens did not get to come to the [budget] hearing and defend,” Mendelsohn said.

Riverbend’s supporters say budget cuts that slashed the park’s staff and hours surprised them in April. Only a few heard about the proposal in time to appear at the board’s budget hearings.

On July 1, all the seasonal employees were laid off, the manager of Hidden Oaks was assigned to supervise Riverbend on a half-time basis, and the visitor’s center was closed on all but three days of the week.

FORB will support Mendelsohn’s budget request at a public hearing on Sept. 15 hearing, said Cathy Mayes, FORB president.

But “We’ve cautioned them it is not a done deal yet,” said Linda Lammerson, a member of Mendelsohn’s staff who specializes in park issues.

Kevin Fay, Dranesville District’s Park Authority Representative, said he is concerned about safety at the park, where the public can access a boat ramp that is untended.

At a meeting between FCPA staff and the FORB, Great Falls resident Calvin Follin called the ramp “an attractive nuisance.”

“The biggest safety issue is that boat launch ramp,” said Fairfax County Park Authority board member Hal Strickland (Sully) at a July 23 board meeting.

Agencies that share Maryland’s jurisdiction over the Potomac River will meet to discuss the safety issue after Audrey Calhoun, superintendent of the George Washington Parkway, returns from leave later this month, according to a member of her staff.

On Thursday, Sept. 4, FCPA will hold a public hearing on a proposed new master plan that would add two athletic fields and ore parking at Spring Hill Recreation Center, Dranesville’s district’s park in McLean.