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Public Comment Open for Riverbend Master Plan

Master plan revision, first since 1975, is expected to go before park board in April.

The master plan revision for Riverbend Park calls for a few changes to the entrance and exit of the park, as well as additional improved facilities.

The master plan revision for Riverbend Park calls for a few changes to the entrance and exit of the park, as well as additional improved facilities.

— The Fairfax County Park Authority presented the latest draft master plan revision for Riverbend Park Thursday, Jan. 24, at the Grange in Great Falls. The 411-acre park features two miles of land along the Potomac River. It was last master planned in 1975.

Several items have been removed from the 1975 master plan, such as a camping area, youth hostel and equestrian center, which were in the plan but never built.

The park rules, resource protection, visitor access, trail system, waterfront activities, classes, programs and events will remain the same with the new plan.

A major change will be in the entrance to the park. There will be a one-way street for both entrance and exit, with the gatehouse moved to the intersection of those roads. Up to 200 parking spaces will be added as well.

"What usually happens is, with the gatehouse being where it was, on bust days they couldn’t let anyone else onto the site when the parking lots were full, causing them to line up on Jeffery Road," said Andy Galusha of the park authority’s planning branch. "We don’t want that to happen any more.

MOVING THE GATEHOUSE further into the site will allow for a longer queuing area and prevent some backup on Jeffery Road."

Some residents were happy to see reduction in the traffic on Jeffery Road a priority.

"I know making the park bigger and better might be the way to help fund the park, but I’ve heard proposals in the past that would increase traffic without addressing the issues we have now, but I see no such problem here," said Dave Armstrong of Great Falls. "It appears that the new uses won’t drastically increase use, and they have measures in place to stop the traffic from building, which is what I’ve hoped to see out of this plan all along."

The additional parking spots were cause for concern for some. Jim Lynch, who lives next to the park and describes himself as a "frequent user" of the park, said he appreciates the thought that has gone into the plan, but also has questions.

"I’m concerned about the intensity of the use, because of the nature of the site, and the nature of the intention of the site as a nature and wildlife preserve," he said. "It doesn’t make sense to almost double the parking spots if the intention is to use the site more intensively . . . my concern is that it doesn’t become a Great Falls Park overflow park."

Other new features in the revision include the eventual construction of a new Visitors Center, with the current center slated to become a Waterfront Activity Center.

"The current visitor center, with its nice glass front and wide open deck everybody loves to sit on, happens to be built within the flood plain of the river. It’s also in the Potomac River Resource Protection Area. Both of these things preclude any additions or building onto the site," Galusha said. "This building has been flooded several times, and we have to bear in mind that one day the river will claim it, and deposit the remnants down in D.C. somewhere. We will continue to use it until we can’t any more."

A new interpretive facility will be built further away from the flood plain, which will include an improved exhibit area, demonstration areas, rentable program space, office space, restrooms and other support facilities.

"I had no idea we might be on limited time with the Visitors Center, the deck there is one of the best places to sit and enjoy the view in this whole area," said Edna McKnight of McLean. "I’m sorry to hear they can’t expand on the deck in any way, I hope that if the building is eventually washed away that there will be some sort of scenic sitting area around that area, because it’s a shame not to take advantage of that view."

According to the park authority, there is little funding for these developments, so they are not planned for the immediate future.

THE PLAN will be open for public comment until Feb. 25, after which the park authority will make revisions and present to the park authority board, which they expect will be around April.

More information on the process, including the plan revision and ways to comment, can be found at http://www.fairfaxcounty.gov/parks/plandev/riverbend.htm.