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The Fairfax County Park Authority’s Providence RECenter (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Fairfax County Park Authority wants to know how community members are using its park facilities.

The park authority has launched an equity survey, open through Monday, April 1, as part of its ongoing work to improve access to park programs.

“The Park Authority has intentionally been applying an equity lens to our park system in order to ensure that the accessibility and variety of our program offerings align with the present-day values and interests of our community,” Park Authority Executive Director Jai Cole said. “This latest outreach effort is important to help us identify the barriers that yet need to be overcome such as economic, cultural, transportation and others so that we can continue to make the benefits of parks accessible to everyone.”

The survey asks about the use of parks, rec centers, summer camps, golf courses, nature centers and historical sites. In several cases, respondents have space to explain why they don’t use a given resource. Respondents are asked to provide some personal information, including race, ethnicity and home ZIP code.

“We’re particularly interested in understanding potential barriers that you experience which prevent you from taking full advantage of recreational opportunities,” the survey instructions read.

The survey builds on a recent equity study that found FCPA’s approach to funding some of its programs, including summer camps and rec center memberships, is not consistent with national best practices and is a barrier to their accessibility.

The current model requires fees to cover 100% of both direct program costs, such as equipment, and indirect overhead costs, such as building utilities. In contrast, the median cost recovery from fees across parks and recreation agencies nationally is 25%, and cost recovery typically does not include indirect costs, the study says.

Conducted by the consulting firm HR&A, the study points to greater racial diversity and diversity in household income in Rec-PAC, a recreational program that doesn’t have to recover 100% of its costs, compared to summer camps and other work operating with full cost recovery.

In the case of summer camps, 71% of campers come from households making at least $150,000 per year, even though just 40% of the county’s population meets that income bracket; 69% of summer camp participants are white, compared to 50% of the county’s population.

“These high fees make many programs unaffordable and therefore inaccessible to a large portion of the population, and it hampers the park authority’s ability to provide equitable services,” HR&A Managing Partner Stan Wall told the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors when presenting the study’s initial findings in January.

The equity study includes two main recommendations. First, for an estimated $9.4 million, FCPA could reduce some fees across the board by factoring community benefit into its cost recovery requirement. For instance, children’s swim lessons would not require full cost recovery.

Second, FCPA could offer targeted subsidies to help lower-income households take advantage of recreation programs and resources.

In total, the study estimates it would take $17.2 million to implement a sliding fee scale for certain programs and flexible annual vouchers to cover some recreation expenses for qualified households, including costs for administrative work, outreach and software.

To fund these programs, the county could consider “a dedicated tax stream,” according to the presentation.

“The good news is that many other places have dedicated tax streams for parks and recreation, whether property tax levies or other creative funding streams, and these measures consistently have high levels of voter support,” Wall said.

The equity survey’s results will help inform the FCPA’s recommendations to its board and the Board of Supervisors, which are expected to come this fall.

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Reston resident Tracey Long won a Recreation.gov contest with her essay about whitewater rafting on the Colorado River (via Tracey Long)

After triumphing over the Colorado River, a local Restonian has won an annual, nationwide contest for her account of the experience.

Recreation.gov, the federal government’s travel planning and reservation platform, invites amateur writers to share stories of their experiences with national parks, forests and other federal recreation locations.

Tracey Long was named the grand prize winner of the 2023 “Share Your Story” contest for an essay about whitewater-rafting with her friends on the Colorado River.

Submitted on June 24, 2023, Long’s essay titled “My Brilliant Whitewater Grand Canyon Adventure” detailed her experience:

We left civilization from Lee’s Ferry, passing under the last vestige of civilization, a giant bridge and headed off for 7 days in the wild. Our days were spent on the river, either calmly floating enjoying the incredible rock formations or riding the incredible rapids in the “bathtub” up front of the raft. This is where you literally have a bathtub of cold water dumped over you (50 degree water mind you) numerous times when going through the rapids and little splashes from the side surprise you just in case you didn’t get enough the first go ’round. I held on tight and laughed with joy the entire time.

Second and third-place grand prize winners were also selected in the contest. They were all awarded REI gift cards and a pass giving them access to federal recreational sites across the country.

A panel of judges also chose winners for each month of the contest, which was open from January through September, and in different categories, including Activities and Adventures, Reaching for the Stars, Traditions (Old and New), Family or Group Travel, and Reflection Journeys.

Sponsored and administered by the consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton, the contest is intended to highlight the “customer experience” at federal recreation sites.

“At Recreation.gov, we strive to empower people to dream, plan, experience and share our nation’s federal lands and waters,” Recreation.gov Program Manager Tommy Drake said. “As the government’s outdoor recreation system for 14 Federal agencies, we welcome the opportunity to encourage visitors to share their memorable experiences which also helps us deliver on our mission to continually improve our service based on what we hear and learn from our users.”

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Bob Williams will take over as Herndon’s parks and recreation director on Jan. 16, 2024 (courtesy Bob Williams)

The Town of Herndon will welcome a new parks and recreation director this month for the first time in two decades.

Appointed Monday (Jan. 8), Bob Williams will assume the position on Jan. 16 after longtime director Cindy Roeder retired from the job she’d held since 2003, per her LinkedIn page.

Town Manager Bill Ashton, who will oversee Williams, acknowledged that Roeder will be a tough act to follow, but he believes the town’s new hire will be up to the task.

“No question, Cindy Roeder’s shoes are hard to fill,” Ashton said. “We are confident that Bob has the experience, insights and expertise to maintain the department’s high quality of operations and programming while bringing new, fresh ideas that further its legacy. In particular, I look forward to new initiatives under his leadership that establish new events and traditions, build on our vibrant sense of community and celebrate the myriad cultures represented in Herndon.”

A certified parks and recreation professional, Williams most recently served as parks and recreation director of Martinsburg-Berkeley County in West Virginia, where he created the department’s first-ever strategic plan and “improved processes that greatly increased productivity as well as community and employee engagement,” according to Herndon.

He has also worked in the parks and recreation divisions for Alexandria City, Licking County, Ohio, and Chester County, Pennsylvania. He earned a bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation from Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in nonprofit management from Robert Morris University, also in Pennsylvania.

When he takes over Herndon Parks and Recreation next week, Williams will be charged with stabilizing a department in flux. On top of finalizing the retirement of its longtime leader this month, the parks and recreation department has undergone a complete staff turnover since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, officials told the town council on Dec. 12.

The turnover contributed to the town’s decision to permanently end its popular Herndon Festival, which was sponsored by the parks department, officials said.

According to the town, as parks and recreation director, Williams is responsible for:

staff management, recreation program planning and development, facilities operation and maintenance, and capital improvement planning. Williams will also oversee operations of Chestnut Grove Cemetery; will foster collaborative relationships with Herndon’s sports, schools, arts, non-profit and business organizations; and will provide leadership and oversight to the department’s five operating divisions: administration, recreation programs, facilities, aquatics and parks.

Williams will also oversee an update to the department’s strategic plan, since the current one ended in 2023.

“The department has been working on an update, in alignment with the Town Council’s strategic plan, and will continue the work with Bob Williams’ direction and input,” Herndon spokesperson Anne Papa said.

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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

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Reston’s Hunters Woods ballfield has finished its transformation from an underutilized baseball diamond into a park with walking paths, new trees and other features is now complete.

Construction on the redevelopment started on Aug. 11 and wrapped up last week, coming in not only four months ahead of schedule, but also about 10% under approximately $400,000 budget, according to Reston Association, which owns the park.

Chris Schumaker, RA’s director of capital projects, attributes the speedy timeline and cost efficiency to “good weather” and an absence of unexpected site issues that could’ve caused delays.

“This redevelopment project gives new life to valuable greenspace in Reston,” Schumaker said. “We’re thrilled to be able to work directly with the community to create a space that is beneficial to the surrounding neighborhoods. It’s really a win-win effort.”

RA approved a concept plan to repurpose the ballfield in 2020 at the request of the Hunters Woods Neighborhood Coalition. Though once used by Reston-Herndon Little League, the facility’s lack of parking and locked-in location near Breton Court behind the Hunters Woods Village Center made it difficult to access and inhospitable to larger gatherings, like a ball game.

While the new park still doesn’t have parking, it was designed to serve pedestrians and the immediate neighborhood instead of drivers, with footpaths and seating areas that encourage walking and other forms of passive recreation.

“We want people to travel there on foot, so that’s definitely doable with the walkways we added and the connection points to other pathways in the area for sure,” Schumaker told FFXnow.

The roughly 1-acre site is now encircled by a broad asphalt walkway, and a concrete path divides a new rain garden and a meadow reseeded with native plants, though they mostly won’t emerge until the spring. To emphasize the nature-focused setting, the concrete has been stamped with leaves from native trees.

Other amenities include benches, trash receptacles and a Little Free Library Nearby residents started to stock the green box with books as soon as fences around the site came down, according to Schumaker.

In addition to hopefully encouraging more usage, the new park designed by the architecture and landscaping firm Kimley Horn brings environmental and stormwater benefits, RA says.

The rain garden will control and filter runoff from the park and adjacent houses that previously just flowed into streams, Schumaker said. The project also led to 12 new trees getting planted on the site and preserved several existing, mature trees.

“It’s kind of just a nice place to look at right now,” Schumaker said. “I think once the meadow area…kind of grows in through the winter and early spring, it’ll really kind of add a big pop of color and a nice place to walk around and kind of see all the birds and the insects and things of that nature that will traverse the area now versus before.”

After the meadow grows out next spring, RA plans to host a formal ceremony celebrating the new Hunters Woods park.

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The Town of Vienna’s parks and recreation facilities include Waters Field for baseball (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

The Town of Vienna is moving forward with the creation of a parks system master plan.

The Vienna Town Council authorized parks and recreation staff on Oct. 23 to spend $236,230 to hire the consulting firm Kimley-Horn, which was selected from four potential vendors to develop the plan that will guide the town’s facilities and services over the next decade.

“The parks and recreation department has a strong commitment to provide fair and just access to high-quality parks, green space, recreation facilities and programs for all members of the community,” Vienna Parks and Recreation Director Leslie Herman told the council. “The park system master plan will set a vision to guide long-term future development, redevelopment and improvements to the town’s park systems, open space, trails and recreation facilities over the next five to 10 years.”

In addition to creating an inventory of existing amenities and their conditions, Kimley-Horn has been tasked with evaluating town-owned properties that could be used for parks or recreation in the future, including the Annex site (301 Center Street South) where the former Faith Baptist Church is set to be demolished and the Robinson family property at 124 Courthouse Road SW.

According to Fairfax County property records, the Town of Vienna bought the property where former mayor Charles Robinson and former council member Maud Robinson had lived for $1.4 million in December 2019, not long after Maud Robinson died. The 31,688-square-foot site has been designated as future park land.

As part of the parks master plan, the town has asked Kimley-Horn to recommend three options for developing the Robinson property, complete with conceptual designs and cost estimates.

Councilmember Chuck Anderson suggested that the consultant also look at how much the town could potentially get if it sold the property and used the resulting funds to support parks and rec initiatives.

“That, I think, is one option for that property,” Anderson said. “That’s just one I want to make sure is on the table.”

The council was initially scheduled to approve the funds at an Oct. 2 meeting, but the vote got deferred after members raised questions about the project’s cost and scope.

After getting a 23-page report from Kimley-Horn responding to those questions, council members said they’re now satisfied with the firm’s proposal for the master plan, which it anticipates will take about 16 months to develop.

In response to a question about the timeline from Councilmember Howard Springsteen, the firm said the project could take less time, but it recommended considering “this a 16-month effort at the outset so as to set realistic expectations.”

Springsteen said he was “ready to support” the master plan project after Kimley-Horn reassured him it would provide operating, maintenance and capital costs for its recommendations, along with comparisons to the town’s annual budget.

Springsteen said the master plan needs to provide “a good roadmap,” especially since it will be developed and implemented under a different council. All six council seats and Mayor Linda Colbert, who’s running unopposed, are on the ballot for this year’s general election, which will take place next Tuesday (Nov. 7).

Early voting has been ongoing since Sept. 22, with in-person locations operating through Saturday, Nov. 4.

“We have a lot of expectations out there, and we have to put things down in writing,” Springsteen said. “I too would like to have five extra homes, go to Europe 10 times a year, but there’s a cost involved [to] what we can or cannot do, so I look forward to you racking up these ideas.”

The town didn’t respond by press time to an FFXnow inquiry regarding a possible kick-off date for the parks master plan process. Public engagement efforts are expected to include surveys, stakeholder interviews and community workshops.

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The former Faith Baptist Church building in Vienna (staff photo by Angela Woolsey)

(Updated at 2:20 p.m. on 10/31/2023) The end is nigh for Vienna’s former Faith Baptist Church.

The Vienna Town Council gave town staff the green light on Monday (Oct. 2) to pay a contractor $327,608 to demolish the building at 301 Center Street South, where it has stood since the 1950s and remained vacant since the police department finished moving out in January.

The town’s public works department anticipates that the demolition will take place three to four months from now, according to Town of Vienna Public Information Director Karen Thayer.

“Unless something unexpected comes up, the building will likely be removed by early February,” Thayer told FFXnow.

Vienna bought the 3-acre property for $5.5 million in September 2020 to temporarily house its police officers during construction on a new, $14 million police station just down the road at 215 Center Street South.

However, the town has yet to settle on a long-term plan for the site, now known as the Annex. Council members debated whether to keep at least the church’s gym, but they ultimately voted on June 5 to tear it all down after seeing escalating costs of maintaining the two-story building and bringing it up to code.

The demolition budget increased as well from an initial estimate of $250,000. Coming out of a 2022 capital projects bond, the funds approved this week include a 10% contingency and the cost of removing asbestos that a survey found in August, acting public works director Adam Lehman told the town council.

“The asbestos has to be removed out of the building prior to tearing down the building itself,” Lehman said.

The demolition will be done by The Berg Corporation, which will also be responsible for removing the asbestos and “all concrete slabs and walkways” belonging to the building, town staff said.

“The contractor will provide tree protection, erosion control measures and will import clean fill and topsoil as necessary to provide positive drainage after the building has been demolished,” staff said in a summary for the council. “The contractor will provide seed/straw to stabilize areas disturbed by the demolition work.”

The property’s parking lot and driveway won’t be included in the demolition.

A study conducted this spring and summer to gather public input on a long-term use for the Annex suggested community members favor a recreational facility, but with a new parks master plan on the horizon, the council held off on a more in-depth evaluation of a potential project’s operational and financial needs.

The council deferred a vote on Monday that would’ve kickstarted the development of the new parks plan, by hiring the consultant Kimley Horn for $236,230.

“The Park System Master Plan will set a vision to guide long-term future development, re-development and improvements to the Town’s parks systems, open space, trails and recreation facilities over the next 5 to 10 years,” town staff said. “…The project will also update the inventory of existing parks, open space and trails, and provide a conditions report for each park and its facilities.”

The Annex is one of several town-owned properties that staff have suggested considering for recreational uses, including the water towers on Tapawingo Road and Wall Street and the Beulah Road site previously used for mulching.

As part of the planning effort, the town has asked Kimley Horn to propose three development options for the Robinson family’s property at 124 Courthouse Road SW. Already identified by the council as a site for a future park or recreational facility, the house has been vacant since former councilmember Maud Robinson died in 2019.

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Lake Newport Pool in Reston (via RA/YouTube)

A survey of Reston Association members found high levels of interest in maintaining and expanding current parks and recreation facilities instead of investing in new facilities.

The survey results — which included over 1,700 responses and is among the largest RA survey to date — will inform RA’s future decisions about parks and recreation, particularly a long-range plan for facility maintenance and upgrades.

“This successful survey response was achieved because of a carefully designed survey, education, community and outreach campaign,” RA staff said in a presentation for the board of directors.

The board was slated to discuss an initial overview of the survey results at its meeting last Thursday (Sept. 28), but it voted unanimously to instead discuss it at a later date.

The survey found that members who use RA facilities are most satisfied with them. Additionally, Reston’s paved paths are used by almost all RA members and are its most widely valued resource.

However, members said they were dissatisfied with its swimming pool facilities, flagging pools as the most pressing area for improvement.

RA’s leadership is expected to release the full survey data to members this month. The results will inform a work plan developed by the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee in the fourth quarter of the year. RA’s Board of Directors will consider the work plan in December.

In recent years, RA conducted surveys in 2005 and 2015. This year’s survey was conducted with the assistance of the consultant Noise Doctors.

The survey is intended to inform future parks and recreation planning, along with resource management. Survey results were collected over an eight-week period.

Photo via RA/YouTube

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Town of Herndon government offices (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

The Town of Herndon is considering reductions in its parks and recreation fees in order to reduce financial barriers and encourage underserved youth and families to use the town’s facilities.

At a Herndon Town Council meeting on Sept. 5, the council discussed the proposal. If approved, the town would identify specific single and multi-family residents that could benefit from a reduced admission fee for the Herndon Community Center, which includes an indoor pool, gym, fitness room and racquetball courts.

Qualification would be determined by using several data sets that identify equity emphasis areas and historically disadvantaged communities. The town may also filter for areas below the median income, which is currently $117,741.

Town residents within these areas would receive discounts if they provide proof of address. Residents who provide proof of residency and documentation of need would also receive discounts. Non-residents living within the Herndon High School pyramid will also receive discounted non-resident rates with required documentation.

The town also wants to hire more staff — preferably bilingual staff — during peak hours.

“The department is seeking to hire (preferably bi-lingual) staff to maintain a presence within the center, develop a rapport with those using the facility, educate patrons on the availability and proper use of amenities, discourage unwelcome outside influences, and enforce expectations of behavior,” the Sept. 5 staff memo states.

Adults would pay $4 instead of $7 for daily passes and $40 instead of $63 for 10 visit passes. A 25 visit pass costs $90 instead of $140.

The idea came about after staff and the town manager met with Cornerstones, a local nonprofit organization that promotes self-sufficiency,  to create a reasonable and equitable fee schedule.

As part of the proposal, the town would also increase the hourly light fee from $4 to $5 per hour for the lit fields at Bready Park.

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The Providence Rec Center swimming pool will be among those closed for deep cleaning starting Aug. 21 (via Google Maps)

As summer winds down, the Fairfax County Park Authority is gearing up to give some of its swimming pools thorough cleanings.

The pools and spas at the Cub Run, Providence and Franconia recreation centers will all be closed starting Monday (Aug. 21) for “deep system cleaning and necessary maintenance,” the park authority recently announced.

The closures will coincide with the first week of classes for Fairfax County Public Schools and continue through Labor Day. This period from late August to early September tends to see less pool usage “than at any other point throughout the year,” FCPA Regional Operations Branch Manager Kimeshia Junkins said in a press release.

“The Park Authority appreciates the patience and understanding of pool patrons as we conduct this work as quickly and efficiently as possible,” Junkins said.

The closure schedule is below:

Cub Run Rec Center (4630 Stonecroft Blvd., Chantilly)

  • Leisure and Competition Pools and Spa Closed: Aug. 21
  • Competition Pool Reopens: Sept. 5
  • Leisure Pool and Spa Reopen: Sept. 16

Providence Rec Center (7525 Marc Drive, Falls Church)

  • Pool and Spa Closed: Aug. 21
  • Pool and Spa Reopen: Sept. 6

Franconia Rec Center (6601 Telegraph Road, Alexandria)

  • Pool and Spa Closed: Aug. 21
  • Pool and Spa Reopen: Sept. 9

The park authority typically follows a two-year cycle to deep clean the pools at each of its nine rec centers. The George Washington Rec Center pool in Mount Vernon has been closed for maintenance since July 24 but is scheduled to reopen this Sunday (Aug. 20).

“The Park Authority is coordinating this needed work to minimize any inconvenience and deliver an improved experience for Rec Center members,” the FCPA said. “Projects include deep cleaning of the pools and pool decks, retiling in showers and addressing other improvements throughout each center.”

Photo via Google Maps

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