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Expanded W&OD Trail, Occoquan adventure center and more planned for Fairfax County

The dual W&OD Trail in Falls Church (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Within the next decade, Fairfax County could see pedestrians and bicyclists split up along its stretch of the Washington & Old Dominion Trail, among other potential changes at its regional parks.

In a new, five-year strategic plan released last Tuesday (Aug. 9), the Northern Virginia Regional Parks Authority (NOVA Parks) proposes expanding the “dual trail” design introduced last year in Falls Church to other segments of the 45-mile, cross-county park.

The agency is targeting more urban areas — specifically Vienna, Herndon and Reston, and Arlington — for the expansion, which would turn the one-track W&OD Trail into two separate paths for cyclists and users on foot.

“This kind of improvement expands the capacity of the trail so that cyclists and walkers can have a safer and more enjoyable experience,” NOVA Parks communications director Kelly Gilfillen said by email.

According to the 2023-2027 strategic plan, which lays out its near-future vision and priorities for the 12,000-plus acres of parkland it oversees, NOVA Parks will partner with the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority to design and implement the dual trails.

While the plan calls for developing plans for Arlington County Dual Trails by 2024, it sets a goal of 2027 for designing the Vienna and Reston/Herndon sections.

“Most of Vienna, Reston, and Herndon are urban, so most of that area would probably be considered,” Gilfillen said. “We do not yet have those details planned. That will be part of our work over the next few years.”

The Fairfax County area is also home to four out of the five parks that the plan highlights for “signature” projects:

  • W&OD Trail Visitor Center: likely in Loudoun County, per ARLnow
  • Gateway Wetlands Park
  • Pohick Bay expanded camping and associated amenities
  • Occoquan indoor/outdoor Adventure Center
  • Hemlock Facility Update

NOVA Parks hopes to work with Fairfax City to restore the wetlands at Gateway Regional Park, a 1-acre rest stop at the corner of Pickett and Old Pickett roads, by 2024.

“This would be like a very small version of Huntley Meadows Park,” Gilfillen said. “NOVA Parks would restore the wetlands that were once a part of this park, which is adjacent to Accotink Creek. A raised boardwalk would feature interpretive displays for environmental education.”

The Pohick Bay Regional Park project hasn’t reached the planning stages yet, so details are sparse. However, Gilfillen says camping has grown in popularity recently, a trend “accelerated” by the COVID-19 pandemic, suggesting some upgrades will be needed at the 1,000-acre Lorton park.

The park currently has a campground with 150 shaded sites, most of them outfitted with a grill, fire pit and picnic table. Other facilities include a camp store, bath houses and a waste dump station.

“[The project] will likely involve an upgrade to existing facilities and some expansion,” Gilfillen said. “Offering a wider range of camping experiences from tent sites to full hook-up RV sites to rustic cabins gives more options for the public.”

For the adventure center at Occoquan Regional Park, NOVA Parks says it hopes to develop trails for mountain bicyclists and other amenities to complement the anticipated Fairfax Peak indoor ski resort at the county’s nearby I-95 landfill.

The 350-acre park in Lorton already features rental boats and kayaks, hiking and a riverside trail, an events center, and the Turning Point Suffragist Memorial.

“With the development of the ‘Fairfax Peak’ ski facility on County land next to Occoquan, there is a potential to create other attractions at Occoquan Regional Park,” Gilfillen wrote. “We know we will create some high-quality mountain bike trails, and there is room at this park to create other new facilities. We need to do more planning before we know what those other facilities might be.”

The strategic plan proposes financing the Pohick Bay and Occoquan projects by 2024 and 2025, respectively.

Hemlock Overlook Regional Park, which is near Clifton on the border of Fairfax and Prince William counties, boasts pedestrian and equestrian trails as well as an outdoor educational center with an over 20-acre rope course.

According to Gilfillen, the existing facilities “are very old and in need of numerous upgrades.” NOVA Parks intends to identify financing for the improvements by 2026.

NOVA Parks’ regionwide goals include spending over $6 million creating and improving trails, planting 50,000 more trees, reducing its carbon emissions by 2%, adding electric vehicles and mowers starting in 2024, and bringing solar energy to three more parks.

It also seeks an enhanced focus on diversity through new community partnerships, more inclusive historical exhibits, and programming, such as cultural festivals and Black and Hispanic-oriented birding programs.

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