To the Editor:
Since 2009, a group of Mount Vernon residents has worked together expending thousands of hours of volunteer time and many thousands of dollars in an effort to create an off-leash dog area (OLDA) at Westgrove Park. The Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) allowed the OLDA to initially be established on an interim basis upon approval by the Planning Commission and payment of $3,000 as a contribution toward installation of a peripheral fence.
Westgrove PACK (PACK) was created as the sole sponsoring group for the OLDA and signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with FCPA to that effect. The MOU obligated PACK to raise an additional $7,000, for a total of $10,000 contributed once a permanent Master Plan would be approved including the OLDA as a permanent feature of Westgrove Park. The Master Plan was approved in October 2013, and subsequently PACK raised over $3,000 toward the remaining $7,000 due. In addition, many thousands of dollars more have been raised by PACK's founders to cover out-of-pocket expenses such as for waste bags, straw, grass seed, and other expenses necessary to maintain a turf OLDA.
To facilitate receipt of additional contributions from supporters, PACK incorporated and filed for 501(c)(3) status so that contributions would be tax deductible. The IRS has not yet approved this status, although approval is expected to be received soon.
Recently, a group consisting of OLDA users approached PACK and requested that it be permitted to raise funds to finally retire the $10,000 debt. The PACK Board agreed and appointed a chairman of the fundraising committee to supervise the efforts of this group. This arrangement wasn't satisfactory to the group, so they decided to hold their own fundraiser. In one Saturday, to their credit, they raised over $4,000 to retire the debt.
The most important aspect of the OLDA is that, unlike most other OLDAs in the county (of which few exist), the Westgrove Park OLDA has a turf surface. Virtually all other OLDAs have a low maintenance stone dust surface which can be painful to the pads of a dog's feet. FCPA has made it clear that, although they prefer OLDAs have stone dust surfaces, they are willing to continue supporting a turf surface for the Westgrove Park OLDA solely in light of the longstanding cooperative relationship between their staff and the founders and current leaders of PACK.
Now, the aforementioned group is threatening to kill the goose that laid the golden egg by making all sorts of false charges against PACK to the FCPA and Supervisor Hyland, disrupting the close working relationship between PACK and FCPA, and interfering with protocols established between PACK and County Police regarding reporting of incidents occurring at the OLDA. Most recently, to preserve the turf surface, PACK proposed and the FCPA agreed to bifurcate the OLDA with a new fence into two sections so that when turf conditions are not conducive to use of the OLDA, the majority of its surface can be closed off to public access while a smaller area can always be made available. The other group asked its supporters to send comments about this proposal directly to FCPA rather than to PACK. As a result, FCPA has put a hold on the fence installation. Without the new dividing fence, use of the OLDA when conditions are not conducive to such use will result in deterioration of the turf and an FCPA decision to convert the surface to what no one wants there: stone dust. Inappropriate actions often result in adverse consequences.
If this dissident group does not stop their disruptive activities, the result will be something they did not contemplate: a stone dust OLDA where no one will want to take their dogs. I hope they soon come to their senses and begin cooperating with PACK rather than continuing their disruptive actions. The sooner the better.
H. Jay Spiegel