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Residents Debate How to Manage Park

Equestrians and climbers weigh in on how to balance the use of the park with preserving it.

The main conflict over how to manage Great Falls National Park is how to balance the preservation of its historical resources with the preservation of its natural resources.

"It calls for a plan to try and reconcile some of the issues that relate to managing cultural and natural resources side by side," said Audrey F. Calhoun, Superintendent of George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Calhoun is handling the community response to the Great Falls Draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. On Saturday, Sept. 17, a public meeting was held at the Great Falls Park visitor center to solicit comments on the Draft General Management Plan and Environmental Impact Statement. Approximately one hundred people showed up for the meeting, and according to Calhoun, the majority of people there were climbers and equestrians.

"The climbers were concerned about one of the areas that we had anticipated closing in one of the alternatives in the book, and there were people there from the equestrian society, and they were concerned about a section of the trail that we had proposed closing to horses," said Calhoun.

According to her, there are approximately eighteen or nineteen areas of study that total 200 acres in the park.

"We are closing three and that represents about 20 acres," she said, noting that these areas need to be protected because they have rare plant species that are getting harmed as a result of human activity.

Springfield resident and avid climber David Marcks says that while he can certainly understand that there are plants and species that need to be protected, he would like to be presented with specific examples.

"If you can really show me that I am threatening the natural environment, I certainly wouldn't object to closing off those areas where I climb," he said. "I just want to know exactly what it is that I am supposedly destroying."

Calhoun says that both the climbing community and the equestrian society have requested to meet individually with the National Park Service to discuss the details of their particular areas of interest.

Robin Rentsch, co-chair of the Great Falls Trail Blazers is mainly concerned about the possibility of horses not being permitted in certain areas of the park.

"We've contributed to that park and horses are a part of the history of that park," said Rentsch. "They hauled in the blocks of stone ... and [President] George Washington did not walk here from Mt. Vernon. This country could not have been settled without horse power."

RENTSCH SAYS SHE feels that the plan should not be left as it is.

"They are trying to emphasize the protection of natural resources but I think most of us feel that they can balance the two. If they can show the public what it is that needs to be protected, it can still be accommodated ... rather than closing trails, we can just relocate them to a place where they are not impinging on anything," she said.

At the meeting, the public also expressed its desire for a longer period in which to submit personal comments and concerns. Subsequently, the National Park Service decided Monday to extend the window of comment time by an extra 30 days, which means that citizens have from now through Dec. 15, 2005 to submit their feedback. The Park Service is hoping to have a final version of the plan by January 2006. Every national park is required to have a general management plan to guide its management decisions for periods of 10-15 years.

The entire plan or summary document can be reviewed and downloaded from http://parkplanning.nps.gov/. Comment via the internet to GWMP_Superintendent@nps.gov. Please include "Attn: Great Falls GMP Team" in the subject of your e-mail message. Send written comments to:

Audrey F. Calhoun, Superintendent

George Washington Memorial Parkway

c/o Turkey Run Park

McLean, VA 22101

Phone: 703-289-2500