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Route 50: Potential Parkway?

Gateway to Loudoun from Fairfax County could get makeover.

Drivers entering Loudoun County from the east on Route 50 aren't given too much of a welcome — just a colorful but easy-to-miss sign. The road continues past a smattering of gas stations until it peters down to a pretty, if not terribly practical at rush hour, two-laner. By then, as the horse farms roll by, a driver might think, "Ah, Loudoun County." Until then, however, Route 50 lacks any defining characteristics.

Well, all but one.

"I think the eastern gateway through Route 50 is defined by Don's Johns," said Paul Ziluca, chair of the Citizens' Committee for the Historic Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville. He laughed at mentioning the portable toilet rental outfit.

"We're not doing very well for people driving into Loudoun from the east," Ziluca said.

That could change if a proposal from Supervisor Stephen Snow (R-Dulles) finds its footing. Snow, a South Riding resident, wants to secure the future of Route 50 as not just a gateway to the county, but as a tourist attraction as pleasant to peruse as the George Washington Parkway on the bank of the Potomac.

"We want to look at it from a Loudoun heritage perspective, from a economic development perspective and also from a transportation perspective," Snow said, "but at the same time, not just make it another Route 7."

SNOW IS IN the preliminary stages of gathering a task force of public and private individuals to make his vision for the eastern portion of Route 50 to Gilbert's Corner a reality. Some of his ideas are strictly practical, such as widening a portion to six lanes. Others, like giving the road a name — potentially the Mosby Heritage Parkway, Snow said — are more aesthetic.

Snow is especially interested in gathering ideas from historic associations, like the Citizens' Committee for the Historic Cavalry Battles of Aldie, Middleburg and Upperville.

Mosby Heritage Area Association executive director Judy Reynolds hopes to have a seat on the task force for someone in her organization. A 2003 study by the association demonstrated a link between economic health and the preservation of rural historic areas and open spaces, she said.

"They are elements that support the local economy in a positive way," Reynolds said.

Snow hopes that by uniting all the various historical sites along Route 50 — such as Mt. Zion Church, the Carolina Trail and the Settle-Dean House — it will encourage the flourishing of business and tourism. It won't be an easy job.

FOR EXAMPLE, the Settle-Dean House, a former slave cabin, is currently dismantled and in storage. As part of a proffers deal with developer Toll Brothers, LLC, the cabin will be rebuilt in a subdivision's park, but not until at least late 2005.

Supervisor Jim Burton (I-Blue Ridge) pointed out that rezoning of the land adjacent to the road, an involved task, would also be necessary.

"It's going to be interesting to see whether [Snow] has the gumption to step up to the plate and change the zoning," Burton said.

Burton noted that a comprehensive plan for Route 50 has been attempted twice before in recent years with no results. He also declined to include the portion that runs through his district — Route 50 west of Route 15 to the county line — in Snow's plan. Still, he supported Snow's idea.

"I agree that we need to make some plan and changes to the approach into eastern Loudoun from Fairfax," Burton said.