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Boaters and geese can be seen in the distance on Lake Accotink (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The best path forward for saving Lake Accotink might to let it shrink, a Fairfax County task force has proposed.

Created by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors in May, the 30-person group was charged with exploring alternatives to fully dredging the sediment that has accumulated in the man-made body of water or converting it to a wetland, as recommended earlier this year by county staff.

In a final report delivered to the board yesterday (Tuesday), the Task Force on the Future of Lake Accotink suggested that 20 to 40 acres of the lake could be preserved with “a program of regular maintenance dredging,” which would allow kayaking and other water recreation to continue at the popular Springfield park.

The remainder of the lake could be turned into “some combination of a managed wetland and a grassland,” the task force proposed. Originally 110 acres in size, Lake Accotink has already been reduced to 49 acres, thanks to sediment build-up from the area’s development, the report says, citing Fairfax County Park Authority project manager and senior planner Adam Wynn.

“There is no doubt that preserving a smaller lake meets significant community and social goals,” a task force subcommittee charged with analyzing alternatives to a full dredging wrote in the report. “Even a small lake would allow the maintenance of the current marina area, a community gathering place for picnics, birthday parties, and many others who enjoy the calming effects of a lake environment. And, importantly, a small lake would still preserve the beauty that so many find in a lake for generations to come.”

Frequented by over 250,000 visitors a year, Lake Accotink Park (7500 Accotink Park Road) is one of the park authority’s top attractions. It features miles of trails, a carousel, a mini golf course, a picnic area, bicycle rentals and a recently updated playground in addition to a marina, where visitors can rent canoes, kayaks and paddle boats.

However, sediment carried into the lake by Accotink Creek needs to be periodically dredged, a process undertaken in 1985 and 2008. The Board of Supervisors approved a plan in 2019 to conduct an initial $30.5 million dredging operation, followed by annual maintenance dredges that would cost an estimated $2 million per year.

But the Fairfax County Department of Public Works and Environmental Services (DPWES) and its consultant, Arcadis, reported in February that 43% more sediment would need to be removed than initially estimated, and the costs of both the initial dredgings had skyrocketed to roughly $95 million.

The first 20 years of the annual dredging program would require an additional $300 million in funding, according to the February report, which was based on data collected since 2021.

As a result, DPWES staff recommended letting the lake fill up and revisiting the park’s master plan to determine how it might be maintained in the future as a “wetland and/or floodplain forest complex” — a proposal that alarmed community members. Read More

Oak Marr RECenter has been renamed Oakmont Rec Center (via Google Maps)

Fairfax County has shed another vestige of its Confederate past.

Oak Marr Park, which is home to the Oak Marr RECenter and Golf Center Complex, was renamed “Oakmont” earlier this month by the Fairfax County Park Authority board, which approved the change at its Nov. 8 meeting.

Located at 3200 Jermantown Road, the facilities were originally named after John Quincy Marr, a Warrenton militia captain who became the first Confederate soldier killed by the Union Army in the Civil War.

“The elimination of ‘Marr’ from the name of these park facilities follows the county’s pattern of moving away from names and titles that glorify the Confederacy,” the park authority said.

Until recently, Marr had also been recognized with a stone monument outside the old Fairfax County Courthouse at 4010 Chain Bridge Road. The monument was erected in 1904 by the Daughters of the Confederacy, marking the spot where he died on June 1, 1861, according to the FCPA.

The monument, which was accompanied by two howitzers and a state memorial marker, was the subject of a protest by the local advocacy group Reston Strong in June 2020, ultimately leading to their removal on Nov. 6, 2020.

Continuing a trend that began in 2017 with J.E.B. Stuart High School’s renaming as Justice High School, the Fairfax County History Commission conducted a review that identified more than 26,000 streets and landmarks in the county with names related to the Confederacy.

The most significant change to come out of that review and a subsequent Confederate Names Task Force has been the elimination of Lee Highway and Lee-Jackson Memorial Highway as the county’s names for routes 29 and 50. Those renamings took effect on July 5, though the street signs are still being changed.

FCPA staff initially proposed replacing Oak Marr with “Oak District,” noting that the site’s scope and amenities classify it as a district park, per the county’s comprehensive plan. But some board members wondered at an Oct. 25 meeting if the name might create confusion by implying the existence of an Oak magisterial district.

One board member admitted finding it “just a little plain.”

“You cannot incorporate Oakton into the park, because there’s already an Oakton Community Park, although some of the feedback I got indicated folks want Oakton in there somehow,” said Ken Quincy, who represents Oakton as the board’s Providence District member.

Before the board vote on Nov. 8, FCPA Executive Director Jai Cole credited Quincy with proposing Oakmont, noting that it “keeps the O and the M as Oak Marr and Flint Hill next to Oakmont.”

“Sounds like a great idea,” Mount Vernon District Representative Linwood Gorham said, while another board member suggested that it “sounds like a winery.”

An FCPA spokesperson says the park authority is in the process of transitioning its website and registration systems for camps, classes and other services to the new name, a process expected to finish by mid-November.

The signage at the affected facilities will likely take longer to get replaced.

“We do not currently have a set date for the installation of the physical signs at the Oakmont Rec Center and Golf Center as they need to be manufactured and transported to the site,” the spokesperson said. “We will hope to have a better idea of that timeframe within the coming weeks.”

Image via Google Maps

An updated rendering of the planned McLean Central Park playground renovation (via FCPA/YouTube)

McLean got a step closer this week to realizing its wish for a new, improved and more inclusive playground at McLean Central Park (1468 Dolley Madison Blvd).

The Fairfax County Park Authority Board approved a $20,000 Mastenbrook Grant Wednesday (Oct. 25) to help fund the project, which has significantly expanded in scope thanks to the advocacy and fundraising efforts of local parents.

The grant brings the total budget up to $442,609 when combined with $246,670 in community donations and $175,939 in previously allocated FCPA funds.

While supportive of this particular renovation, some board members worried that relying on community fundraising to enhance capital projects might create disparities in the quality of park facilities in different parts of the county.

“I fully expect and hope we do approve this tonight, but we still have the question of equity for this kind of thing and this community’s ability to raise this kind of money to build this world-class facility where that’s just not possible in some other places,” Mount Vernon District board member Linwood Gorham said, referencing the $1.5 million conversion of Holladay Field that utilized $725,000 in private contributions.

FCPA staff said they will look at potential policy changes as part of the Parks, Recreation, Open Space and Access (PROSA) Strategy that the board endorsed on Sept. 27. The plan’s goals include consideration of racial and socioeconomic equity when prioritizing projects and services.

Board members emphasized that “nobody did anything wrong with this one,” but they want every community to have access to the level of facilities found in McLean.

“That really should be the standard,” FCPA Director Jai Cole said. “Instead of saying, ‘Why do they get more,’ how do we make sure this is the standard everywhere that we’re going, that we have the means and opportunity to put in a $400,000 playground in parks that are so centrally located like this? It’s a big conversation.”

Ron Kendall, who represents the Mason District, noted that more elaborate facilities also tend to require more extensive and costly maintenance.

“The bigger we build it, the more it’s going to cost for us to keep it in the condition they expect it to be in in that community,” he said. “That is another hurdle that we haven’t discussed much.”

Following a master plan approved in 2013, the park authority acquired $2.2 million from a 2020 parks bond to redevelop the 28-acre McLean Central Park, but that budget only had enough funds to upgrade the school-aged playground, which was installed in 1988 and scheduled to be replaced.

When the FCPA revisited the master plan in 2021, a group of moms urged staff to also renovate the tot lot and relocate the school-aged playground so the two facilites are combined, making it easier for families with kids of different ages to keep an eye on them at the same time. Read More

A pumpkin stall at the Herndon farmers market (courtesy Town of Herndon)

A shake-up might be in the works for the Town of Herndon’s annual farmers market.

The town is exploring the possibility of moving the seasonal event from its usual Thursday morning time slot to Saturday or Sunday, though it’s not clear yet whether the Fairfax County Park Authority — which currently organizes the market — could accommodate the change.

“As a matter of course, the town is always evaluating programs and events, no matter how successful, to see if we might improve upon them and make them and more inclusive,” town spokesperson Anne Curtis told FFXnow.

Launched on May 4, the Herndon farmers market takes place on Lynn Street every Thursday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. through Nov. 9. It has 15 vendors, along with master gardeners, and typically draws 500 to 700 attendees per week, “depending on the season and the weather,” according to Curtis.

However, the town council and staff are now considering whether the market could draw even more of a crowd on the weekend. The proposal was partly inspired by a recent survey of the business community that found a desire for more special events that could attract customers.

“The business community has told us weekends, second Saturdays, it’s a larger pool of potential revenue for the town,” Councilmember Cesar del Aguila said at an Oct. 17 work session. “In my humble opinion, we’ve reached the point on a lot of our events of diminishing returns. Doesn’t matter what we do, doesn’t matter how much we put into it, it’s not going to grow…But a second Saturday, a more focused event or series of events, mini festivals, that’s why we’re considering this.”

At an earlier work session on Oct. 3, Town Manager Bill Ashton told the council that the FCPA seemed open to moving its Herndon market to Saturdays, but the agency won’t know for sure until its list of vendors is finalized in February.

According to Ashton, the park authority has scheduled the Herndon market for Thursdays to avoid conflicts with the Reston Farmers Market held on Saturdays at Lake Anne Village Center.

An FCPA spokesperson confirmed that the agency has been working with the Town of Herndon to determine “what may be possible.”

“The Fairfax County Park Authority is definitely committed to the continued success of all 10 of our Farmers Market locations,” the park authority said in a statement. “We welcome ideas and recommendations that can help further that endeavor. Of course, any changes to the program calendar for next year need to be well-planned with the market volunteers, vendors and service providers.”

The town could partner with a different organizer, such as the nonprofit FreshFarm, which operates year-round farmers markets in the Mosaic District, Oakton and at St. John Neumann Catholic Church in Reston.

“It makes a better option, but they cannot commit to the weekends until they figure out who’s returning on their current market list,” Ashton said.

Not everyone is sold on the proposed shift.

During last week’s discussion, which focused on whether the Thursday farmers’ market should be left off of the town’s official calendar, Mayor Sheila Olem noted that “several” vendors are busy at the Lake Anne market on Saturdays. She also pointed to some advantages of working with Fairfax County, including the composting services now offered at all 10 of its markets.

Vice Mayor Clark Hedrick said the town has “seen a lot of comments” from people concerned about the farmers’ market getting taken off the calendar without any opportunity for public input.

The council ultimately agreed to leave the market on Thursdays for the 2024 calendar, but there will be an asterisk indicating that the date is “subject to change.” A resolution that will also solidify the holidays listed on the calendar is set to be approved by the council when it meets tonight (Wednesday).

Bats (via Clément Falize/Unsplash)

The Fairfax County Park Authority is celebrating spooky season with a bat-focused festival next weekend.

The 2023 Bat Festival is scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 29, from 3-6 p.m. at the Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts (1551 Trap Road).

Fairfax County is home to eight different species of bats, with big brown bats and Eastern red bats as the most commonly seen, according to the county’s wildlife management department.

“Come celebrate the captivating world of bats, learn about the vital role they play in our ecosystem, understand the threats they face and what you can do to protect them,” Fairfax County said in a release.

A pair of experts will be on hand to help “unveil the mysteries” behind the creature and talk about the challenges they face.

“Enjoy interactive activities for all ages and join our optional costume contest,” the event website said.

The educational tables and costume contest are scheduled for 3 p.m., followed by bat expert presentations at 4 p.m. and a bat listening demonstration at 5:30 p.m.

Guests are encouraged to bring picnic blankets, chairs, food and beverages. Registration is free online.

Photo via Clément Falize/Unsplash

A sign for Colvin Run Mill (file photo)

Residents are calling on the Fairfax County Park Authority to ensure that a trail is constructed on the south side of a new tunnel in Colvin Run Mill Park.

Construction on the $1.5 million tunnel under Route 7 as part of the widening of Leesburg Pike is currently underway. But the project, which is managed by state officials, lacks a 1,000-foot trail to the south side of the tunnel that would allow residents to walk to the park’s sites in Great Falls, Lake Fairfax and Gerry Connolly Cross County Trail.

In a recent call to action by the Friends of Colvin Run Mill, James Waller described the issue as a a “tunnel to nowhere” and urged members of the nonprofit to ask elected representatives to allocate carryover funds for the project.

Last month, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors allocated $15.7 million to the park authority from the fiscal year 2023 budget carryover.

In a statement to FFXnow, Dranesville District Supervisor John Foust says he hopes the park authority will use a portion of the carryover funds for the trail.

“The Park Authority, however, is an independent agency with many needs and challenges,” Foust wrote. “I cannot mandate when the Park Authority will allocate funds for the construction of this trail, but I am confident they consider it a priority and are trying to make it happen.”

But carryover funds can only be used for system-wide maintenance projects and not new amenities, according to FCPA spokesperson Benjamin Boxer.

“The carryover funding received from the County is restricted to different uses and will not be a part of this project,” Boxer said.

Boxer said the park authority has authorized up to $200,000 for feasibility, environmental review and design for the future trail project.

“Work is progressing as the studies have been completed and we are entering into the design phase of the project so that when future funding is identified, we will be ready to pursue the project,” Boxer wrote in the statement.

Residents view the 2017 solar eclipse in Herndon (photo by Dave Emke)

As a “ring of fire” eclipse descends this Saturday (Oct. 14), Fairfax County is prepping with a series of events.

The annular eclipse occurs when the moon is at its furthest point from the Earth, appearing such that it is smaller than the sun. The result is that it leaves a ring of light around the edge of the moon.

But because of the county’s viewing angle, officials only expect to see about 40% of the sun covered by the moon’s shadow.

The image will look like “someone took a huge bite out of sun’s disc rather than the crescent shape we saw in 2017 and expect in April 2024,” said Tammy Schwab, manager of education and outreach for the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA).

A total solar eclipse is expected to pass over North America from Mexico to Maine on April 8, 2024, according to NASA. Fairfax County won’t be in its direct path, but Schwab says about 80% of the sun will be covered, similar to what residents saw during the last total solar eclipse in 2017.

“After the April eclipse it will be another 5 years before we see another one of this magnitude here in Virginia,” Schwab said. “Our programs at Burke Lake Park and the Sully Historic Site will be a great chance to learn about eclipses and how to view them safely from home, in preparation for the April spectacular.”

Events are planned for Saturday at Burke Lake Park (7315 Ox Road in Fairfax Station) and Sully Historic Site (3650 Historic Sully Way in Chantilly). From noon to 2 p.m., experts will be on site as the moon partially eclipses the sun. The cost is $10.

There will also be an event at Historic Huntley, which is located at 6918 Harrison Lane in Groveton, from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. The cost is $10.

Registration for all events is open online.

The roll-top observatory at Turner Farm Park in Great Falls will also host a viewing event, but it’s already at capacity.

A walking path into the Fairfax County Park Authority’s Ellanor C. Lawrence Park in Chantilly (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Park Authority is seeking roughly $8 million in funds to support park operations, maintenance, and capital equipment for fiscal year 2025.

The proposed budget includes a little over $1 million to expand Accotink Stream Valley Park, Blake Lane Park in Oakton, the Elklick Preserve, Mount Vernon Woods Park, and the new Woodlands Education and Stewardship Center in Chantilly.

Several items from fiscal year 2024, which began July 1 and lasts until June 30, 2024, also remain unfunded, including a maintenance facility at Riverbend Park and improvements at Chandon’s playground.

Roughly $2.1 million is allocated for funding to restore park operations, $890,000 of which is allocated to remove high-risk trees and forestry management, athletic field mowing, trail maintenance funding, and athletic court maintenance.

Another $400,000 is allocated to remove bamboo on parkland, along with nearly $700,000 to find operating increases for administration and operations.

Major maintenance contracts are driving large increases in staffing especially, according to FCPA.

The budget includes $3.4 million for zero waste trash and recycling — a critical need as many maintenance staff spend almost half of their work week managing trash and recycling. The funds would include eight trucks and eight compactors.

“We need to have dedicated crews in all of our maintenance areas,” Mike Peter, director of the FCPA’s business administration division, said at a Sept. 27 board meeting, where park authority staff presented a final budget proposal.

As part of this year’s budget process, the county executive directed all departments to identify reductions of 7% in general fund appropriations, FCPA staff told the board at a Sept. 13 meeting.

The reductions can’t include existing staff positions, leaving only FCPA’s operating funds open for potential cuts. Suggested items included bathroom closures and reduced mowing and trail and court maintenance.

After soliciting public feedback, the park authority received several comments urging the county not to cut funding for local parks.

FCPA’s board will endorse the final budget proposal on Oct. 25. County Executive Bryan Hill will advertise the fiscal year 2025 budget in February.

Demolition of the outbuildings and residential structures is set to begin in mid-September (Photo courtesy FCPA).

The demolition of several dilapidated residential structures and outbuildings at Lake Fairfax Park is set to begin in mid-September.

The structures are part of property the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) purchased in 2014 along Hunter Mill Road. Ben Boxer, a spokesperson for FCPA, told FFXnow that the structures will be removed as a result of numerous complaints from the community.

The work will wrap up later this fall. During the demolition period, residents should expect construction traffic when entering and exiting the park via Hunter Mill Road. Construction hours will take place from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. on weekdays and between 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekends.

For many years, the structures have remained vacant. Reports of trespassing and vandalism have also surfaced.

“As part of the master planning process, the buildings and accessory structures were analyzed and deemed not to have any historical or cultural significance and were cleared for removal,” Boxer wrote in a statement.

Currently, there are no immediate plans for the site. The Lake Fairfax Master Plan describes the site as a multi-purpose area, Boxer said.

“Currently there is no funding identified to proceed with additional development activities at this time,” he said.

Officials cut a ribbon to celebrate a new bird enclosure at Frying Pan Park (courtesy Fairfax County Park Authority)

The ducks, turkeys and peafowl at Frying Pan Farm Park now have a reason to celebrate.

A new bird enclosure was recently completed to house the park’s creatures, funded by contributions from the nonprofit Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park. Local officials gathered last Thursday (Aug. 24) to celebrate the grand opening of the project.

The $9,000 project included demolishing the old structure, regrading the site, and installing a new foundation, sheds, pond, drainage system, lighting and fencing.

Fairfax County Park Authority Executive Director Jai Cole said the project emphasizes the importance of partnerships.

It may not seem like much, but this enclosure not only allows our park guests to get up close and personal with the animals, it also improves the overall safety and living accommodations for the birds themselves – not to mention the improved drainage and restoration of the pasture in the process. We are grateful for the continued involvement and investment of our Friends of Frying Pan Farm Park that helps us continue to provide a fun and unique experience here on the farm.

The oldest working farm in the county, the park includes animals like pigs, horses, goats, and chickens. It’s located at 2739 West Ox Road.


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