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Public Image of Local Park Deteriorates

Concerns raised over condition, safety of Alabama Park.

Several steel trash cans and aluminum bleachers line the south perimeter while the dark dirt and bright green grass contrast sharply on the patchy surface at midfield of Alabama Drive Park's soccer field.

The field at the park experiences a lot of noticeable walk-on use and, as a result, a lot of wear and tear. But one thing it will not see this fall is regularly-scheduled official games by local children's soccer league Herndon Youth Soccer.

"Alabama [Drive] Park is in horrendous conditions because of the extreme amount of walk-on use and a lack of regular maintenance," said Jody Ramett, administrator for Herndon Youth Soccer, on why the league decided to not schedule games at the park this year. "Frankly, there are fields available in much better condition in Herndon."

Ramett has not been alone in her complaints.

This past spring, surveys answered by visitors to Herndon parks and the Herndon Community Center showed that Alabama Drive Park, located about a quarter mile northwest of Elden Street on Alabama Drive, ranked lowest in appearance and perceived security.

THE PROBLEMS at Alabama Drive Park might be more a public perception than reality, said Art Anselene, director of Parks and Recreation for the Town of Herndon.

"You have a large congregation of people going through there from the neighborhood and that definitely has its effects on the property," Anselene said. He noted that he hasn't personally heard of anyone saying that they will not go to the park and that he doesn't believe the park to be unsafe.

While Ramett said that the field will still be used for practices this year and could be selected to be used for make-up games, the impromptu games and large numbers of people who loiter at the park on weekends have caused many coaches and parents to feel uncomfortable.

"When a team goes out to play a game they want to get out of their cars and play, they don't want to have to come out and tentatively have to argue with 35 people playing a walk-on game," she said. "On a Saturday you can have as many as 100 people watching a game."

The excessive amounts of people have led to instances of cat-calling during previous girls soccer games and an increased anxiety over the safety of personal property that is left out in the open, Ramett added.

"OBVIOUSLY IN ANY area there are your fair share of bad characters, but there isn't necessarily a higher number of those people," at Alabama Drive Park, said Herndon Police officer Sean McManus, who regularly patrols the park and the neighborhood surrounding it.

Alabama Drive Park sits at the center of the predominantly Latino Dulles Park neighborhood of Herndon and sees a lot of local foot traffic, especially on weekends and afternoons. It is owned and maintained by the Fairfax County Park Authority, but patrolled by the Herndon Police Department.

Incidents involving people who are intoxicated or becoming too competitive during a game happen at every park in Herndon, McManus added, and Alabama Drive Park is no exception. The police will patrol the park periodically during games, McManus said, and will tell teams playing walk-on games without a permit that they need to leave, if needed.

"It's one thing to hear about these issues [of confrontations over use of the field], but it's another to come up here and see it for yourself," he said. "Everyone's very peaceful and they are not doing anything detrimental to the safety of anyone else."

THE IMAGE OF Alabama Drive Park as an insecure or poorly maintained place was one that bothered Herndon Town Councilmember Dave Kirby when he first heard of the results of the survey and of Herndon Youth Soccer's decision to not schedule regular games at the park from Anselene at a council work session on Sept. 5.

"That just sparked me and I slept on that for a week trying to figure out why this was the case," said Kirby, who lives in the Benicia Estates subdivision of Herndon, not far from the park. "My kids used to play there all the time — and we've never had a problem with the park."

Kirby said that he thinks that if there is a problem with the park, it might be that schedules and permits to use the soccer field are not respected as much as they should be.

"I think that there's an adult community over there that walks over to these parks and maybe they just don't understand that they are scheduled for games," Kirby said. "I think what it comes down to is people not wanting to be put into a confrontational situation."

For Dulles Park resident Jose Campos, the answer to curb complaints of an overcrowded field is simple.

"We only have one field, maybe if there were more, there wouldn't be a problem with too many people playing soccer," he said.

While Campos does not play soccer at Alabama Drive Park, he and his family regularly use the park to socialize with friends on afternoons and weekends. He said that neither he, nor anyone he knows, has ever had a negative experience involving safety at Alabama Drive Park.

"The police always stop by, they take care of the area, watch over the residents, make sure that nothing bad is happening," Campos said. "It's fine with us. The more police that there are around, the more opportunities there are for us to get help if something does go wrong."

WHILE THE CONDITIONS of the field and complaints of frequent walk-on games and cat-calling have caused Herndon Youth Soccer to not schedule regular season games at Alabama Drive Park, it does not mean that the organization feels the park to be unsafe, Ramett said.

She added that the Herndon Police Department does a "great job" patrolling the park and stepping in when there are conflicts with field usage.

"The papers are going to go and say that it's so unsafe and it's a danger, and that's wrong. I just have better fields that I can use," she said. "The fact that there are a lot of people at the field, [the police] can't help that, I can't help that, no one can help that."