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Entering Blake Lane Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Park Authority has some new financial muscle behind its efforts to clear invasive plants from Blake Lane Park in Oakton.

A $20,000 grant from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation will enable the agency to clear an additional 1.2 acres of land and replant it with native shrubs and trees, the FCPA announced last week.

The invasive plant removal efforts will specifically target Ailanthus altissima, also known as tree-of-heaven, a tree native to China and southeast Asia that got introduced to the U.S. in the 1700s.

In addition to being prolific and difficult to remove once it takes root, tree-of-heaven is a host for spotted lanternflies, according to the park authority. The winged pests secrete a honeydew substance that can attract other insects like wasps and ants and spur mold growth, ruining forests and crops.

Since a spotted lanternfly made its way to Fairfax County via a grocery store shipment in Annandale in 2021, the park authority has urged community members to kill the insects immediately.

According to the Jan. 4 news release, Blake Lane Park was chosen for the grant to the Fairfax County Park Foundation “due to the high density of Ailanthus altissima, and strong community volunteer support” for the FCPA’s Invasive Management Area program (IMA).

“Conservation and restoration of our parks and woodlands requires a communitywide effort and our Invasive Management Area program is a shining example of a community-forward approach to achieving those aims,” FCPA Resource Management Director Laura Grape said. “We are very grateful to Dominion Energy and to our community volunteers for their tremendous dedication to environmental stewardship and helping us make a lasting difference at Blake Lane Park.”

The grant went to the Fairfax County Park Foundation, which raises private funds and obtains grants for the park authority to supplement its public funding. The FCPA will match the grant to “provide long-term maintenance and community engagement” at Blake Lane Park, according to the release.

Located at 10033 Blake Lane, the 10-acre park features a forested trail, a dog park, two soccer fields and an open play area. It was targeted for development as a new elementary school, but resident opposition — and the realization that the Dunn Loring Center could be converted instead — nixed that plan.

The park is one of 65 sites in the IMA program, which recruits volunteers to help remove invasive plants and restore habitats. Program Manager Patricia Greenberg previously told FFXnow that 70 to 75% of the county’s parkland is covered by invasive species.

The park authority says the grant for Blake Lane Park will cover enough seedling purchases to plant 100 stems per acre.

“We know how important it is to care for our air, water, and land — including the wonderful parks in our communities,” Dominion Energy spokesperson Peggy Fox said. “We’re proud to support the Fairfax County Park Foundation with an education and stewardship grant to enhance our local parks.”

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The mini golf course at Fairfax County’s Jefferson District Park (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

It could be a little more expensive to visit some Fairfax County parks this upcoming year.

The Fairfax County Park Authority is soliciting public feedback on a proposal to push up fees at local park facilities.

The increase would be, in part, to help pay to keep up with Virginia’s minimum wage increases.

“The FY 2023 budget included a 4.01% market rate adjustment for all employees, in addition to fully funding performance-based and longevity increases,” the proposal said. “The Park Authority Revenue Fund is also significantly impacted by the Minimum Wage increases that continue in 2022 and 2023.”

The park authority said it also had to offer signing and retention bonuses for difficult-to-fill summer positions, like lifeguards and camp counselors, to remain competitive.

“The estimated total for all increases was $1.8 million in FY 2023,” the proposal said. “While the FY 2024 compensation increase is currently unknown, it is anticipated to be similar to FY 2023.”

Retirement contributions and healthcare benefits also rose.

The county’s golf courses and rec centers are funded by user fees, not taxes. In the proposal, the park authority said the fees need to be adjusted to ensure operating costs can be met, as well as repair and replacement needs.

The proposal would increase fees at indoor swimming pools, recreation centers, golf courses and more. Rental of picnic areas, ampitheaters, volleyball courts and more would also get a little more costly.

The proposal also offered some insight into park usage. While the total number of rounds of golf decreased by 7% over the last year, attendance at rec centers increased dramatically over 2021 — though they remain lower than pre-Covid attendance and revenue levels.

If the fee adjustments are approved by the Park Authority Board at a meeting on March 22, it will take effect on April 1.

The park authority started accepting public comments on the proposal today (Wednesday) and will continue to do so through Feb. 2. A community meeting will be held virtually at 7 p.m. on Jan. 18.
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People walk on a trail at Scott’s Run Nature Preserve on a warm fall day (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

Fairfax County’s trails are ready for their close-up.

With 2023 right around the corner, the Fairfax County Park Authority and Fairfax County Park Foundation are once again inviting community members to take a hike and submit their best snapshots for potential prizes.

The annual First Hike Fairfax photo contest will return this weekend, encouraging both professional and amateaur photographers to capture the scene at any park authority-owned trail.

“The contest joins countless First Day Hike programs throughout America’s state parks and is open to hikers and photographers of any age and skill level,” the FCPA said in a news release. “It’s a great way of getting out and enjoying the new year with friends, neighbors and family.”

A link for submissions will go live on the contest website at 5 a.m. Saturday (Dec. 31) and close right at midnight on Monday (Dec. 2).

Prizes will be given in seven categories:

  • People’s Choice: $100 Park Authority Gift Card or 25-visit FCPA Rec Center Discount Fast Pass (valued at $175)
  • Judges’ Choice: $100 Park Authority Gift Card or 25-visit FCPA Rec Center Discount Fast Pass (valued at $175)
  • Director’s Choice: $100 Park Authority Gift Card
  • Best in Show (Scenery/Landscapes): $75 Park Authority Gift Card
  • Best in Show (People): $75 Park Authority Gift Card
  • Best in Show (Wildlife): $75 Park Authority Gift Card
  • Best in Show (Pets): $75 Park Authority Gift Card

Each person can only submit one photo, though families or groups can send in individual submissions. Photos must be provided as a JPG or PNG, and they should include a date and the park or trail where they were taken, according to the FCPA.

The park authority oversees over 334 miles of trails, not including regional facilities like the Washington & Old Dominion Trail.

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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.

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Rendering shows an expansion and a renovation for the Mount Vernon RECenter (via Fairfax County)

The Mount Vernon RECenter is closing at the end of the month for a two-year, $74 million renovation project.

The nearly four-decade-old recreation center right off Belle View Blvd is set to close at 4 p.m. on Dec. 31 to allow for a massive expansion and renovation.

The plan is to add about 75,000 square feet to the rec center, which is set to include a two-story fitness center, building upgrades, an indoor track, a remodeled pool, and a second “NHL-sized” ice rink. The project is expected to take two years, with a reopening scheduled for the early part of 2025.

The Fairfax County Park Authority’s board officially approved the upgrades to its “oldest and most popular” facility back in March.

The recreation center, which opened in 1974, has had a myriad of problems in recent years, requiring workarounds and hundreds of thousands of dollars in short-term fixes. That includes renting ice chillers and dehumidification systems as well as fixing a failing roof.

While closing the entire facility for two years was a “tough” decision, it was the best option of several the county considered, FCPA director Jai Cole said in a press release:

The decision to close the entire facility for two years was a tough one; but it is the best option when it comes to delivering the most desirable outcome and limiting the impact of the closure on our customers. We have worked very hard to create a schedule that has enabled the facility to remain open for as long as possible prior to construction and to condense the closure period as much. While we understand that the temporary closing is challenging, we very much look forward to delivering a top-notch, state-of-the-art facility that will serve this community well into the future.

The total project is set to cost just over $74.4 million, an 83% increase over the proposed 2021 budget. Last year, county officials set the budget at $40.7 million, but it became clear that number was unrealistic.

According to a May 2022 presentation, bids came in much higher due to supply chain delays, building infrastructure challenges, and “complex construction phasing with market uncertainty.”

Even in the six months since then, the budget has risen again by another $7 million.

“The total project budget is $74,431,381 — an increase of $33.73 million over the original 2021 budget,” FCPA spokesperson Ben Boxer wrote FFXnow in an email. “The cost increase has been driven by ongoing supply chain challenges and inflation. The cost increase is consistent with construction cost increases across the board on all projects.”

The 24-month closing of the facility is also expected to cost the county $1.3 million in revenue.

The additional money needed for the project will come from a reallocation of other bond funds that had been marked for other projects as well as $25 million from American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) that was provided to the county, per Boxer.

Residents who have countywide rec center memberships will be able to use it to access the county’s eight other eight centers. The George Washington Rec Center near Mount Vernon High School will expand its hours on Jan. 2, 2023 to accommodate the closure of the Mount Vernon center.

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The baseball diamond at Linway Terrace Park (via Fairfax County Park Authority)

Grass may soon be passé at Linway Terrace Park in McLean.

McLean Little League (MLL) has offered to fund a conversion of the park’s baseball diamond from grass to synthetic turf, the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) announced Wednesday (Dec. 7).

Located off of Kirby Road in eastern McLean, the 10-acre park at 6246 Linway Terrace already has artificial turf soccer and lacrosse fields, along with tennis and basketball courts and a playground.

MLL board member Bryan Orme says converting the baseball diamond into synthetic turf “will offer countless benefits to the community”:

Regardless of weather, children will be able to play ball and exercise together, while reducing upkeep and allowing broader access to the park for the community. We’ve seen this successful approach work just steps away on the soccer and lacrosse field. Linway Park is a special place and doing this for the children today will benefit generations to come.  McLean Little League is proud of the close relationship we have with Fairfax County and the thousands of families who are brought together each year to enjoy Little League baseball and softball and we look forward to working together on this project.

The park authority and Dranesville District supervisor’s office will host a virtual meeting next month on Thursday, Jan. 12 to discuss the project in more detail. The meeting will launch a 30-day public comment period ending Feb. 10.

The FCPA board will then vote on whether to move forward with the conversion.

The park authority told FFXnow that it’s too early in the process to determine how much the project would cost and what McLean Little League will contribute.

“We are very early in the process, and the public meeting scheduled on January 12, 2023, will be the first step in gaining community input that will guide the partnership between McLean Little League and the Park Authority,” FCPA spokesperson Benjamin Boxer said by email. “As such, it is premature to speculate about potential contribution amounts or timeframes.”

McLean Little League was founded in 1955 and supports both baseball and softball teams, according to its website.

One of the league’s coaches, Ramón Santiago, got an honorable mention at the Little League World Series in August for his continued support of players despite a cancer diagnosis. The 51-year-old died in October, just as his favorite baseball team — the Philadelphia Phillies — was making a run for the World Series, FOX29 reported.

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Stabilizing and drainage work to be done at Burke Lake (via Fairfax County)

Burke Lake’s marina is being closed for a number of months, and the lake will be lowered by two feet to help stabilize the beach area and improve drainage.

The $1.5 million project aims to stabilize the beach area as well as add “armoring” — the use of physical structures to prevent further coastal erosion — to a large portion of the shoreline. Drainage will also be improved around the existing boathouse and restroom buildings.

“Gravel from the shoreline has eroded and deposited in the shallow area where [Fairfax County Park Authority] boats are launched, creating challenges when launching boats and causing damage to the boats,” spokesperson Judy Pedersen told FFXnow. “In addition, existing storm outfall and foot traffic are causing erosion to the shoreline adjacent to the marina.”

Paid for by county voter-approved bonds, construction is expected to start next month. The marina is already closed until the spring.

“Contingent on the weather, the marina is expected to reopen at the end of April 2023,” the park authority says on the project page.

To help with the construction, Burke Lake is now in the process of being lowered by two feet.

A “controlled drawdown” is underway, with 2 to 4 inches of water being pumped out of the lake a day. It’s estimated that Burke Lake will hit the 2-foot goal “on or before” next Monday (Nov. 19), based on a predicted lack of rainfall over the next several days.

The lake is expected to remain at this lower level until at least the end of March 2023, but its normal elevation will eventually return through natural runoff.

The rate and timing of the lake level’s rise is “contingent on precipitation,” the project page notes.

While the marina will be closed and water levels will be lower than usual, Burke Lake will remain open to those looking to fish and spend time on the water.

However, the park authority is asking boaters, canoeists, and kayakers to proceed with caution since “numerous obstructions will be exposed or may be present just under the water’s surface.”

The 218-acre public fishing lake is owned by the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. The lake is located in Burke Lake Park, which is owned and operated by FCPA.

The park sits on land originally purchased by the federal government as a potential site for an international airport. When airport plans shifted to Chantilly, the nearly 900 acres of land were handed over to the county. The park opened to the public just about six decades ago, in 1963.

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Farmers market (via Fairfax County)

While the onset of winter usually heralds the end of farmers markets, Fairfax County announced last week that three markets around the county will brave the chill to continue into December.

“The Fairfax County Farmers Markets have extended the season at three popular market locations,” the Fairfax County Park Authority said in a release. “The Reston Farmers Market will remain open until Dec. 3, 2022; the Burke Farmers Market is open until Dec. 17, 2022; and the McCutcheon/Mt. Vernon Farmers Market will be open until Dec. 21, 2022.”

Along with the extended season, some of the markets will be getting a handful of new vendors and new wintery items typically not available in the other seasons.

“Our farmers and producers will continue to bring an abundance of winter squash, greens, apples, potatoes, fresh-baked breads, locally raised meats, and unique prepared foods,” the release said. “Extended season vendors will bring new products, such as macaroons, bagels, kombucha, Moroccan sauces and more. Be sure to visit Burke, Reston and McCutcheon/Mt. Vernon to support your favorite vendors through the season, and to welcome our new vendors.”

The farmers markets with extended hours are:

  • Burke (5671 Roberts Parkway): April 16-Dec. 17, from 8 a.m. to noon
  • Reston (1609-A Washington Plaza): April 30-Dec. 3, from 8 a.m. to noon
  • McCutcheon/Mount Vernon (2501 Sherwood Hall Lane): April 20-Dec. 21, from 8 a.m. to noon

Customers and vendors had requested a continuation into December for the Mount Vernon market — typically the last one to close just before Thanksgiving, according to Park Authority spokesperson Judith Pedersen.

The Burke and Reston markets were also chosen for extensions, because they’re held on Saturdays, are the park authority’s largest, and “have vendors with enough products and product mix to sustain a vibrant market,” Pedersen told FFXnow.

“Unfortunately, the weather is too unpredictable to extend through the winter,” she said. “However, all vendors from the other markets are invited to participate in the extended season at these markets if they have product to sell.”

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Fairfax County set to celebrate the importance of protecting the night sky (Photo via Mindaugas Vitkus/Unsplash).

The Fairfax County Park Authority will celebrate the importance of protecting the night sky on Saturday, Nov. 12.

The free event, which takes place in McLean at Lewinsville Park from 6:30-8:30 pm, will feature live demonstrations, hands-on activities, and opportunities for the public to learn how to fight light pollution.

Tammy Schwab, project manager, tells FFXnow that there will be stations for people to learn about artificial light’s effect on plants, animals, and people. If the weather permits, there will be telescopes and binoculars to view constellations.

“We will also have information about the small actions folks can take to help reverse light pollution in their neighborhood.”

Schwab said it’s essential to educate the public on light pollution because it causes harm to animals and plants that are adapted to dark nights.

“This artificial light at night, especially those with high color temperatures like bright white and blue, have been shown to cause harm in humans as well by interrupting our circadian rhythms. Additionally, light pollution is a waste of energy,” Schwab said, adding that unlike other forms of pollution, humans can easily reverse light pollution with a switch.

The park authority is partnering with the McLean Citizens Association, the Analemma Society, and Dark Sky Friends. Registration is encouraged but not required.

Photo via Mindaugas Vitkus/Unsplash

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The Fairfax County Park Authority has converted one of the Lewinsville Park tennis courts into pickleball courts (via FCPA)

Fairfax County’s inventory of pickleball facilities has expanded with the arrival of 10 courts dedicated to the increasingly popular sport.

Newly renovated courts at Lewinsville Park in McLean and George Washington Park in Mount Vernon will officially open on Saturday, Oct. 15, the Fairfax County Park Authority announced yesterday (Thursday).

The festivities will start at 9 a.m. with a ribbon-cutting at GW Park (8426 Old Mt. Vernon Road) led by Mount Vernon District Supervisor Dan Storck. Park officials and local pickleball advocates will also make remarks, and there will be time for photos and “light refreshments,” according to the news release.

The park authority began demolition work on the GW courts this spring, one of five court renovation or maintenance projects planned for this year.

The park’s four tennis courts have been converted into six courts dedicated to pickleball and two courts that can be used by both sports. The $202,306 renovation also added new surfacing, fencing and nets.

Lewinsville Park (1659 Chain Bridge Road) will get its ribbon-cutting at 4 p.m. Expected speakers include FCPA Executive Director Jai Cole, Board Member Tim Hackman and Fairfax County Advocates for Pickleball, the release says.

Costing $650,000, the Lewinsville project resurfaced and added new fencing for all six of the park’s courts, but only one was turned into dedicated pickleball courts, a downsizing from the park authority’s original plans to repurpose two or three of the facilities.

Tennis players had argued that the county doesn’t have enough courts for their sport to cede or share that many with their pickleball-playing counterparts, a conflict that has emerged as a top challenge to the county’s efforts to add more pickleball facilities.

“The improvements align with recommendations in the recently completed Pickleball Study and are an effort to introduce a greater variety of court sports to accommodate the diverse users across the county,” the FCPA said of the Lewinsville and GW renovations. “Interest in pickleball locally and countywide is growing quickly, and the introduction of pickleball at these locations will address the need for additional facilities for this emerging sport.”

This summer, the park authority celebrated the launch of the Wakefield Park Pickleball and Tennis Complex in Annandale, a $410,000 renovation project that installed two pickleball courts and accessibility improvements.

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