Riverbend Prepares for Budget Cuts

Riverbend Prepares for Budget Cuts

With five percent cuts looming, group looks to preserve 400-acre park.

Tim Hackman, president of the Friends of Riverbend Park, speaks at The Grange Thursday, Nov. 15 about the state of park budgets and its effect on Riverbend Park.

Tim Hackman, president of the Friends of Riverbend Park, speaks at The Grange Thursday, Nov. 15 about the state of park budgets and its effect on Riverbend Park. Photo by Alex McVeigh.

As Fairfax County prepares for a possible budget shortfall of $100 million in Fiscal Years 2014 and 2015, all county agencies have been asked to submit budgets that cut five percent from FY2013 levels.

The Friends of Riverbend Park, a nonprofit group of volunteers that advocate on behalf of the park, gave a presentation at The Grange Thursday, Nov. 15, expressing concerns about the park’s future.

“At a time when we’re trying to get kids away from video games, and into the outdoors, we’re trying to enrich their minds with nature education by providing free access to our resources,” said Tim Hackman, president of the Friends of Riverbend Park. “It seems to me that the Board of Supervisors and the park authority ought to be funding some reasonable level of staff.”

The latest cuts would eliminate three of the four taxpayer-funded positions at Riverbend. The park authority had previously asked Riverbend Park to be 60 percent self-funded, and according to the Friends of Riverbend, the park currently sustains 54 percent of its annual costs.

Since FY2002, the Fairfax County Budget has increased from $2.3 billion to $3.5 billion, yet Fairfax County Parks have received an additional $500 million.

“We think that there is great value to having Riverbend a free and open park that’s easily accessed. One of the solutions [to budget problems] would be to have an entrance fee,” Hackman said. “We’re not sure that it’s the right way to go, if we do go there, it would probably be a last resort.”

Scarlet Parsons of Vienna, who comes to Riverbend about once a month, said a gate fee would change the way she thinks about the park.

“To me, the best part about Riverbend is that you can just drive in, no fee,” she said. “As much as I love it, it doesn’t have the falls, or even trails that I think are superior to Great Falls Park, but the fact that it’s county and it’s free is a major plus for me and my friends. I know there are budget issues, and I would support a lot of ways to make up the shortfall, but a gate fee would be a major turn-off, and I don’t think I’m alone.”

John Dargle, director of the Fairfax County Park Authority, said the recent budget situations necessitate a more “business-like approach” to park funding.

“We are at a very critical point where being more business-like is what is going to make us sustainable,” he said. “These are tough times for us.”

He said that the five percent cut in their budget has been submitted to the county, but hasn’t been examined by the Board of Supervisors, it’s still being reviewed by the county executive.

“Our park board was not very comfortable with the staff’s recommendations for the cuts,” Dargle said. “As we prioritize our cuts, we’re looking at things like, if we were to take staff away from a site like Riverbend Park, we would not be able to survive without the great things they’re doing there.”