Letter: Protect Parkway

Letter: Protect Parkway

Letter to the Editor

To the Editor:

The City of Alexandria is about to choose their preferred alternative for a new Metro stop. What you are probably not aware of is that the “Potomac Yard Metro,” “preferred alternative (B)” is actually on a scenic easement held by the National Park Service that was put in place to protect the view shed of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. On top of this, Option B will move the Metro tracks onto The National Park Service land itself. The Metro station was originally envisioned on the site of option A, which brings far less (if any) degradation to the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Because the “preferred site” option B is on Federal Parkland, an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) was required. The EIS is open for comments until May 18 at comments@potomacyardmetro.com orwrittentestimony@wamata.com.

George Washington’s residence at Mount Vernon and the city that bore his name could be dismissed as cultural icons, if it were not for his importance to the American heritage. The two became intertwined through not only George Washington, but also by the road connecting the two. This connection was so great, that early writers described how “every patriotic American who visits Washington makes a pious pilgrimage to the home and tomb of the Father of his Country. The road, however was at some spots little more than wooded trails.

Consequently, in 1887 Edward Fox came up with the idea to create a National Highway from Washington D.C. to Mount Vernon, which was finished in 1932 to mark George Washington’s Bicentennial. Congress envisioned that the parkway (or ways through or between parks) would be distinguished from highways or ordinary streets by the dominant purpose of recreation rather than movement; restricted to pleasure vehicles, and arranged with regard for scenery, topography and similar features rather than for directness.

In order to get the parkway to go through Alexandria, they entered into a 1929 agreement with the Federal government promising to keep the memorial character of the parkway. However, by 1946, Alexandria had fallen off the memorial wagon (so to speak), so the Federal government indicated that the parkway was to be moved away from Alexandria. At this point, the City of Alexandria offered to create a historic district to protect the parkway, which would then continue to traverse through Alexandria.

The George Washington Memorial Parkway is one of finest federal parks in the Unites States, it uniquely incorporates the beauty of the District of Columbia with the marvels of nature. It is also the reason that the City of Alexandria has a historic district, which was created in 1946 to protect the integrity and purpose of the parkway. Furthermore, the designers wanted to create a magnificent entranceway into the city and put in easements to achieve it. Every guest who has visited us has remarked on the beauty of this entranceway into the City of Alexandria.

Option B is clearly visible from the parkway, and it will largely extinguish the special entrance, especially with the 500-foot long and very high bridge from the Yard to the metro stop that runs practically parallel to the parkway. The Park Service has entered into an agreement under significant political pressure, and while fixing up Daingerfield Island is laudable, it is not part of the purpose of the George Washington Memorial Highway, and this in no way compensates for the degradation of the parkway that will transpire. Furthermore, the notion that Option A is as visible and obtrusive to the parkway is absurd.

The George Washington Memorial Parkway is not a neglected stepchild, but rather the impetus for the entire Historic District, and by inference, it is responsible for Alexandria's place on the tourist maps. It inculcates a heritage that warrants sharing with the world, as people from all over the globe make a pilgrimage from Washington D.C. to Mount Vernon to pay their respects to the Father of this Country. The parkway also represents a trust placed on the city by the Federal government that it would maintain the highway for the purpose and dignity it was envisioned to convey.

So, does it make sense for Alexandria to incur greater risk, pay higher debt servicing costs, and destroy its cultural and scenic heritage for the equivalent of less than the distance of three city blocks in Old Town?

Does it make sense for the rest of us to surrender and diminish the purpose of federal parkland in the form of the George Washington Memorial Parkway because the city of Alexandria decided it wants to use the “wasted space”?

And, did it make sense for our Federal delegation to put so much pressure on the National Park Service to give up this historic and cultural heritage (not to mention parkland) in order to move the Metro station less than three old town city blocks? This seems like a great deal of pain for so little gain.

Poul Heertel