Commentary: Responding to Proposed Trail Improvements

Commentary: Responding to Proposed Trail Improvements

Resident Susan Marcus prepared the following statement for the Fairfax County Park Authority’s June 21 public information meeting at Greenbrier East Elementary School to discuss proposed improvements to the Rocky Run Stream Valley Trail.

Good evening family, friends, neighbors, and county officials. I appreciate this opportunity to share my concerns. I hope that we will all listen and seek civil discourse with each other.

Here are two paragraphs from the Fairfax County Trail Development Strategy Plan which may inform our conversation. These were from a county website, accessed today, though I cannot confirm that they are the current plan.

“Trails serve multiple purposes including exercising, walking, jogging, hiking, cycling, mountain biking, bird-watching, and equestrian use. They also provide safe, alternative, non-motorized transportation routes to destinations such as places of employment, education facilities, commercial establishments, and recreation locations. They provide connectivity to other modes of transportation supporting ‘green’ lifestyles.

“The 2004 Needs Assessment Survey for the Fairfax County Park Authority found that 65 percent of the respondents use trails, making trails the most widely used type of recreational facility in the county. Although a deficiency was identified in the Needs Assessment it could not be quantified due to the linear nature of trails and the lack of data regarding their usage. Instead, an emphasis on logical connections for park trails was recommended. In addition, the study identified planned trail routes that were not implemented.”

I have two primary concerns, the purpose of the park and the planning related to it.

  • What is the purpose of this specific piece of land in our specific neighborhood? What I mean by this is, we have a county park by a stream. It has a trail or path, bridges, and an occasional bench. It is not natural. Yet, it is different in use, intent, and feel than the Greenbriar Commons Park, which has playground equipment, a labyrinth, horseshoe pits, and a volleyball court. The Trail Park is different than the park along Stringfellow Road and Melville Lane, which has ball fields and community center.

If the purpose of the Trail Park is for transit, or to facilitate commuters by bikes or other means, that is a very different intent than a park intended to provide a place to slow down and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of natural settings.

  • What environmental studies were done to evaluate the effects of paving the trail on the natural environment of the park and its native inhabitants? There are probably short-term effects from construction and initial runoff and longer-term effects from higher visitation, and more rapid transits from those who seek paved access. I recognize that there will be positive effects for some human users, though I am asking about the native denizens.

What will the effects be to the terrestrial and stream residents (animals), the floodplain and runoff? Has there been any evaluation of runoff or pollution issues concerning the effects of the asphalt paving? Additional water collection and diversion construction may be necessary.

Additional concerns are:

  • The area is a floodplain, are there issues or planning strategies involving that situation, such as designing and planning for runoff and flooding events or diffuse and slow water-flow rates to avoid erosion?

  • If the trail is to be paved, is the county considering having the trail system be re-constructed so that it complies with the federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? If this is not being considered, why not?

  • The needs assessment is inadequate. “…an emphasis on logical connections….” is not a reflection or assessment of need. Linear trails would be most suitable for quick transit; sinuous or meandering trails may be more suitable for leisurely experiences. Rather than apparently ignoring a problem “Although an apparent deficiency….), the county could have sought a graduate student to take on this matter, as a thesis or dissertation for her or him, and a benefit to the county and its residents.

I go to the park for exercise, though I also bicycle on the streets for that purpose, and to enjoy the wildlife there. I don’t know which are shy and which aren’t, which will be frightened by increased, faster traffic and which won’t.

I noticed that the county has provisions for using volunteers and volunteer groups to help maintain parks. If maintenance, or maintenance costs are significant drivers of this decision by the county — and they seem to be from my reading of the County Trail Plan, has the county looked into using volunteers or volunteer groups for the maintenance that the county feels is required?

I appreciate the fact that the county waited to conduct any construction activities until after the hawk chicks fledged. Thank you again for listening. I hope that I will be able to continue to enjoy the wonderful wildlife in our midst.