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Great Falls Plans for Future of Resources

Grange, Forestville Schoolhouse, Riverbend Park to be discussed at meetings this month.

The Old Forestville Schoolhouse is one of the local resources that the Great Falls Citizens Association Long Range Planning Committee hopes to incorporate in their upcoming draft master plan.

The Old Forestville Schoolhouse is one of the local resources that the Great Falls Citizens Association Long Range Planning Committee hopes to incorporate in their upcoming draft master plan. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

— As Great Falls prepares for its future, two meetings this month will help the community decide what the next generation holds for several major landmarks.

The Great Falls Citizens Association is currently preparing a Long Range Plan, which they hope to present to Fairfax County in 2013 when they update the county-wide Comprehensive Plan. As they continue to seek feedback from the community, the GFCA will examine the future of the Grange and the Old Forestville Schoolhouse at a community meeting on Monday Feb. 27.

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The Grange is a historic building in Great Falls and the subject of the next Great Falls Citizens Association Long Range Planning Committee’s public meeting Feb. 27.

THE GRANGE is a public assembly hall built in 1929, and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The neighboring schoolhouse was built in 1889 as a one-room schoolhouse, and was doubled in size in 1911. Both facilities are currently owned by the Fairfax County Park Authority.

The GFCA’s Long Range Planning Committee aims to hear from the community at the Feb. 27 meeting.

"It will be a community brainstorming on ways the community of Great Falls can achieve greater beneficial uses of the Grange and old schoolhouse," said Glen Sjoblom, co-chair of the committee. [It is] a longstanding issue since the Park Authority changed its policy several years ago, to charge for each use, by the hour. In the first 20-plus years after getting these facilities on behalf of the community, use to the community was at no charge, in light of the community raising the funds to purchase and renovate the old schoolhouse and facilitate a low purchase price for the Grange."

According to the current draft plan from the committee, one possibility identified by community leaders would be the creation of a "Consolidated Community Group" that would raise funds and possibly enter into a long term lease with the Park Authority that would make the facilities more readily available for community use.

"These really are some historic spaces, and every event I’ve attended at the Grange or the schoolhouse has been surrounded by these examples of our community’s history," said Benny Ghassan of Great Falls. "I’m a relative newcomer here, but I’ve heard about the conflicts regarding the two properties, and I’m all in favor of restoring more power to this community, I think they’ll know best how to meet the needs of the people that come to these facilities."

More information on the draft master plan can be found at www.gfca.org.

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Riverbend Park

Riverbend Park

RIVERBEND PARK is another signature location in Great Falls, with more than 400 acres of forest, 2.5 miles of trail along the Potomac River and habitats for a great variety of wildlife.

A master plan was created for the park in 1975, and it guided development for the last 47 years, and now the Fairfax County Park Authority is planning on updating the plan.

They will host the first public meeting on the master planning process at Riverbend Tuesday, Feb. 21 at the Grange at 7 p.m. The meeting will consist of an update on the park’s current conditions and resources and a moderated discussion with the community to identify community concerns, answer questions and receive suggestions for future park features.

According to the Park Authority, Riverbend’s core mission is to serve as "a nature preserve managed to protect the biological communities and cultural resources of the Potomac Gorge, while providing a natural space for education, research and outdoor recreation that is compatible with preservation goals."

The new master plan revision will center around that mission, as did the 1975 plan.

"I’m glad the Park Authority is taking the time to make sure that whatever happens at Riverbend, it will be properly vetted and planned for," said Stephanie Portway of Great Falls. "There’s been some proposals as of late for some uses that didn’t seem consistent with Riverbend, so hopefully our voice can be heard and be used to shape this park’s future."

More information on the master planning process at Riverbend can be found at www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/riverbend.htm.