A proposal to extend the 18-mile Mt. Vernon Bicycle trail across Dolley Madison Boulevard and out to the Beltway through McLean is grabbing the attention of bicyclists and environmentalists alike.
Not everyone is in favor of the path, said Frank Crandall, a member of the McLean Citizens Association's Environment Parks and Recreation committee.
"The trail has been in the works for the past four years," Crandall said. "There's a big push for the extension from bicycling groups. The problem is, you'd just about have to arrange for bikes to come up to street level and use the crosswalk to get over Dolley Madison, like they have to at the W&OD trail at Gallows Road."
Currently, the trail extends between Mt. Vernon and Roosevelt Island, said Audrey F. Calhoun, superintendent of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. If the trail is approved and funded, a portion of the trail would be installed along the Parkway between Arlington and McLean.
A feasibility study on extending the trail was completed between three and four years ago, Calhoun said, and an environmental assessment is currently being done to consider any environmental impact a trail would have on the natural surroundings in the area.
"What we'll do is take all the sites developed and look at what impacts would be felt by the natural and cultural resources before we decide if this trail can be built," she said. "Once the environmental assessment is done, we'll have a period of public comment for 60 days."
There are several routes the path might take once it crosses Dolley Madison Boulevard, Calhoun said, with steep slopes, available park land and private property concerns to be weighed.
Currently, there is no funding available for the extension of the trail, she said, which is why the assessments must be done prior to the project's approval.
A PORTION OF the trail, between Arlington and McLean, would be mapped out on Arlington County streets, which will not incur any costs, she said. The concern is the three-mile stretch between Route 123 and the Beltway, where the National Park Service does own land but residents next to the trail have concerns over safety.
At an open house last week in the McLean Community Center, Calhoun said she heard from people on both sides of the issue, from cyclists who would love the chance to bike to jobs in Washington to environmentalists who worry about the preservation of rare and native plants.
"Depending on which route is approved, a large portion of the trail would go through Turkey Run Park," she said. "It's difficult to say which path would be best, but no one can really say anything at all until we get into the business of where we'd like to put the trail if it's approved."
In the past, Crandall said bicyclists have wanted to use a path on Georgetown Pike that would cut across the back of the Langley Oaks neighborhood or bike across Mayo Avenue into the park land behind it to reach the Parkway near the Beltway.
"They would have to cross private land to do that either way," he said. "When Langley Oaks was constructed, the land behind it was supposed to be kept as a natural, undisturbed and open area into perpetuity."
There are currently four proposed routes for the trail, two of which rely heavily on park land, said Wade Smith, a member of the McLean Citizens Association's Transportation Committee. The other two trails run along Georgetown Pike and neighborhoods.
"The two routes on National Park Service property are feasible and much prettier," Smith said. "Those are definitely the preferred routes. But there's no money to construct the trail now. All the funding available is going to complete the environmental assessment."
The trail, these days, is "more than a dream but less than reality," Smith said.
Although the trail would mostly be used for recreational purposes, he said there would undoubtedly be a few hearty souls who would use the trail as an alternative method of getting to work in Washington.
"It would be a very nice way to commute, to be able to bike through the upper part of the George Washington Parkway," he said. "You could get on at Chain Bridge Road and bike to where Dolley Madison Boulevard crosses the Parkway and the come out at the Rosslyn Metro area," he said.
The current feasibility study is available online at www.nps.gov/gwmp, and can be found in the news section along the right-hand side of the page, Calhoun said. The period for public comment is open until mid-September, when the environmental assessment is expected to be completed, at which point another public comment period will begin.