To a homeowner whose back yard borders a park, the vast open space beyond the fence is often looked on as an extension of the back yard. Park officials often see grass clippings, sticks and swing sets encroaching on parkland.
John McBreen is the park ranger at the Washington & Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park, which winds through communities in Arlington, Fairfax and Loudoun counties.
"It's a fall and spring thing," McBreen said. "It detracts from what we want the park to look like."
In addition to the piles of clippings and sticks leftover from trimming, McBreen has experienced swing sets, sandboxes, and gardens planted on parkland.
"We've had people fence it off and we ask them to take the fence up," McBreen said.
Jim Pomeroy, manager at Hidden Pond Nature Center in Springfield, sees the piles of "tall fescue," a grass commonly used in yards, as chemically damaging. Hidden Pond technically only occupies a small part of the area in Springfield that is connected by the trails Pomeroy manages. The rest is the Pohick Stream Valley Park, which is a watershed area that eventually goes into the Chesapeake Bay. Pomeroy said the tall fescue puts off toxins to other plants. The clippings from this grass that are dumped over the fence, seep into the stream and are not good for other plants. Even if the homeowner gets a pile of the old clippings and puts them around a tree as mulch, the tree will suffer, said Pomeroy.
"It can be harmful, tall fescue tends to be poisonous to other plants, rain gets those nutrients into streams. It ultimately ends up in the Chesapeake Bay," Pomeroy said.
"Sometimes they think they're doing the park a favor," Pomeroy said.
THE FAIRFAX County Park Authority is publishing a "resource management plan," after 15 years of information gathering, to deal with encroachment among other issues.
"For all these issues, they have strategies," Pomeroy said of the plan, which has been in development for 15 years.
Judy Pederson, Fairfax County Park Authority spokesperson, is aware of the encroachment issue.
"There's various degrees of encroachment. It's more of an education issue than enforcement," Pederson said.
Along the W&OD, when encroachment is identified, McBreen attempts to notify the homeowners with a note or knock on the door. He has been successful so far.
"You can't come out and accuse them," he said. "Most people that we've dealt with remove it."
Pederson said the county park authority has similar experiences. Their process is to identify encroachment, notify the citizen, send them a letter if necessary, and take legal action as a last resort. Currently, FCPA is working on some brochures to educate the public on encroachment.
Carol Ann Cohen, NVRPA spokesperson, is mindful of the taxpayers as well.
"They're residents, they have the right to use the parks too," Cohen said.