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Bike Trails: Good Neighbors For Some

When Vienna resident Burt Sharp moved from the Park Terrace community in Arlington, feet from a county bike trail, he made sure his new condominium was right on the bike trail as well. Although he doesn't bike, he walks daily on the trail.

"I do four miles a day," he said. "That's the reason I located there. I always considered it a huge plus."

Sharp walks on the W&OD trail which cuts through the middle of Vienna. Fellow Vienna resident Kristin Gross used to be a bicyclist seven years ago and moved to a house along that trail so she could bike. Since having children, she's altered her routine.

"We use the trail everyday," Gross said. "It's great for walking the dog. It was a great advantage for us."

The W&OD is one of the main trails running east-west through the county. Other trails of note in the area are the Mount Vernon trail, which snakes along the Potomac River from Mount Vernon through Old Town Alexandria to Washington, D.C.; the Fairfax County Parkway trail that abuts the parkway; and the Four Mile Run trail through Arlington. In addition, a number of side trails connect major trails, so that every part of the county has a trail close by.

WITH A TRAIL SYSTEM this extensive in Northern Virginia, it's hard to avoid trails going through neighborhoods and many times skirting backyards. While some Realtors see it as a selling point, others see a trail going near a backyard as an invasion of privacy. Gross found her house on her own, but the Realtor did highlight the fact that the backyard was against the W&OD trail.

"It was a great advantage for us," she said.

Real estate agent Carolyn Lindahl looked at it as a privacy issue. She compared it to living on a golf course. Some people may like looking out and seeing golfers or bikers but others may not. Lindahl hasn't had anyone requesting to be near the bike trail.

"It does away with their privacy," she said.

But the real estate market continues to be hot, so proximity to a bike trail hasn't canceled a deal yet.

"I can't say that it's ever stopped them from buying," Lindahl said. "It's a matter of privacy. They're [buyers] not going to make a low ball offer just because it's on a bike trail."

Fellow real estate agent Catherine Lommasson lives near the end of Gunston Road in the Pohick area. The Potomac Heritage trail is being constructed close to her neighborhood. She and her husband aren't enthusiastic about being put in a position where cyclists with flat tires or ones that need to use the bathroom might knock on their door. Neither went to the public hearings when the trail was proposed.

"It kind of comes right into the development. He [her husband] just feels it's an invasion of his privacy," Lommasson said.

MARY BAILEY bought her house in Vienna before the W&OD was built. It was a dirt path back then. Now it's a regular walking route for her as well, and she uses it for shopping when she can. On the trail, it's 1.5 miles from her house to a shopping area.

"I go in, do my shopping and go home," she said.

Bailey sees neighbors use the trail to commute as well.

"There's a couple of people that bike to work," she said.

According to Fairfax County police bike patrol officer Lt. Mark Blackington at the West Springfield District Station, the trails have attracted teenagers at night, but he's encountered nothing serious.

"We've gotten calls where high school kids will use the bike paths for partying," he said.

Fellow bike officer Matt Bestick out of Franconia patrols the trail around Lake Accotink, which borders some yards. The officers have lights on their bicycles.

"We're patrolling the trails, some of them can be a little dark at night," he said.