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Parks Ask Public How to Change

PRCS convenes first public meeting in reconsideration of plans and goals.

The Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services has begun soliciting public input as to what its major goals should be and how they should be achieved. A public meeting held in Leesburg last week will be followed next month by a meeting in Sterling and another in Purcellville.

Diane Ryburn, the department’s director, said reconsideration of its plan began about a year ago. "It’s just one of those things that it’s important to keep fresh, in order to be responsive to community needs," she said, adding that needs change with the population. For example, she said, as the baby boomers are entering their retirement years, "seniors want a lot more than bingo."

THE MEETING held Thursday, Dec. 6, at the Leesburg Senior Center was met with a humble turnout of three citizens. Claire Smith, spokesperson for the Department of Parks, Recreation and Community Services (PRCS), said she expected a larger turnout at the coming meetings, when the holidays are over and she has had more time to advertise.

The attendees were asked what the department was doing well and what changes could be made to its priorities and programs. The staff members present voiced a few of their own ideas, such as dog parks, skate parks and plaza-style parks, with several amenities side by side. However, when it was time for the citizens to vote on the answers they most agreed with, via a color-coded system, they adhered primarily to their own and each other’s suggestions.

They agreed that the department’s community centers and staff were among its strongest points. Chester Ramey said the variety of senior programs being offered was a strength, as well as the adaptive use of historic sites, which turned out to be the most popular response.

David McCarthy, a naturalist, said he wanted to see PRCS work to acquire more open space, which was voted as the top priority. "A lot of people came out here for the view shed and they can’t get into it," he said, noting that private property restricts access to open land.

Chief park planner Mark Novak said his division was working to link linear parks in order to allow people to move between private properties.

McCarthy also said the creation of nature centers and natural areas, as well as the conservation of natural resources, should be priorities, and Bruce McGranahan said he would like to see more passive, community parks created.

ANOTHER HOT TOPIC was an emphasis on history. "Tourism is the world’s biggest industry and heritage tourism is the fastest growing part of it," said McGranahan, proposing a venture into living history attractions. "I think that would be a wonderful thing to have in the county and to develop."

Ramey said he wanted to see the county follow through on the Heritage Preservation Plan and work with Journey through Hallowed Ground, a nonprofit organization dedicated to raising awareness of the history of a swath of land that runs through Loudoun, along Route 15.

Ryburn told the audience that money was proving to be a factor in her department’s direction, noting that growth tended to occur in areas such as preschool that are "revenue neutral," meaning they take in as much money as they spend.

Ramey suggested that a tax be instituted and dedicated to funding areas of the department’s services that do not bring in money.

McGranahan noted that amenities like open space would never pay for themselves. "And as a taxpayer, I’m willing to pay for it," he said.

PRCS expects to have its next plan completed in six to nine months. Further public meetings will be held after a draft plan is composed in the spring.