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Loop trail, nature playground planned for new Ruckstahl Park in Idylwood

The development plan for Ruckstuhl Park in Idylwood includes a new vehicular entrance (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

Fairfax County’s plan to develop Ruckstahl Park in Idylwood with new amenities came into clearer focus this month.

Building off a 2015 master plan, the Fairfax County Park Authority board approved a scope for the approximately $2 million project at its final 2022 meeting on Dec. 14, the agency announced on Wednesday (Dec. 21).

Staff recommended that the 7.2-acre site at 2445 Idylwood Road get a picnic pavilion, an open play area, an accessible loop trail, a nature-themed playground, a “fitness cluster” and vehicle access and parking improvements. The project will also fund invasive species management efforts at the park.

“This is a valuable parcel inside the Beltway that came to us at an exceptional bargain,” Ken Quincy, the board’s Providence District representative, said. “The community has been very energetic and engaged throughout the process of defining the vision for the future. We’re very excited to move this project forward.”

Located just north of I-66, the parcels that make up Ruckstahl Park were previously occupied by a residential farm owned by Dr. Lillian Ruckstahl, who gave the land to the Northern Virginia Conservation Trust in her will when she died in 2008.

The park authority acquired the property from the NVCT for $250,000 in 2011. The transfer established a conservation easement that prohibits athletic fields, among other conditions, according to the master plan.

Noting that it’s “increasingly rare” to find land suitable for a public park in Idylwood, the master plan envisioned Ruckstahl as a mostly neighborhood-serving park designed to “preserve a sense of the open landscape” and provide “low impact community recreation opportunities.”

The conceptual development plan for Ruckstuhl Park, from a master plan approved in 2015 (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

The conceptual development plan shows a trail looping around the park with exits onto Dunford Drive and Idylwood Road. Placed to accommodate a potential, future widening of Idylwood Road, the trail could be connected to nearby Idylwood Park and the Washington & Old Dominion Trail with additional pedestrian and bicycle facilities, the plan says.

The proposed vehicular amenities include a new parking lot with up to 20 spaces. Access would be provided off Idylwood Road in the same location as the former residential driveway.

The plan also calls for an existing field to be retained as an open space for recreation and community gatherings, an educational nature playground for kids, a picnic area or outdoor classroom, benches and other furnishings, and intepretive signs about the site’s environment or history.

Well before Ruckstahl moved in during the 1950s, the land had been part of a plantation called “The Mount” that lasted from the mid-1700s to around 1900, when it was broken up and sold off for smaller farms in the Civil War’s wake, according to the FCPA.

The property also became one of the county’s first formally recorded archaeological sites in the 1960s after archaeologists found artifacts dating back to the Archaic Period, though the master plan says “little can be gleaned from the records about how the site was used.”

Funded by the county’s 2020 park bond, developing Ruckstahl Park could produce $7,000 in annual revenue for the park authority, while costing $4,000 a year to maintain with an estimated lifetime cost of $1 million after 20 years.

The FCPA says permitting will begin in “the first part” of 2023, and construction could start in the first quarter of 2024.