Off-leash dog park. Natural area. Rugby field. Small lake.
Mount Vernon District residents suggested these and other uses for the future of Westgrove Park Monday evening during a public meeting convened by the Fairfax County Park Authority. The park authority is beginning a master plan process for the park, located off Fort Hunt Road just south of Belle View Elementary School. The 21-acre gated park — the former site of a sewage treatment plan — has been gated and largely unused for years.
On July 19, following several delays due to procedural technicalities, the Fairfax County Planning Commission approved using 2 acres of the park as an off-leash dog park on an interim use basis for two years. Local environmentalists had opposed the dog park.
Mount Vernon District Supervisor Gerry Hyland spoke first at the meeting at Belle View Elementary School, acknowledging divisions in the community over the creation of the dog park and urging creative thinking on future park uses.
“This park has the opportunity for many uses that I believe would support a multitude of interests for the entire community,” Hyland said. “I hope all of us would agree on how to make use of this park and accommodate a variety of uses. … I hope we can come out of this with something the community can agree upon.”
The park authority conducted a master plan process for the park several years ago, but those plans stalled due to a lack of community consensus. Linwood Gorham, Mount Vernon District representative to the park authority, said he expects the master planning process to bear fruition this time around.
“I promise you, it will not be delayed this time,” he said. “It will go through no matter what.”
Steven Nixon, president of the dog park advocacy group Pumphouse Association for Canine Kindness, or PACK, told listeners that a dog park can co-exist with leaving the remainder of the park as a natural habitat.
“Having a park like this reduces the temptation for having dogs run off leash in more sensitive areas, like Dyke Marsh,” he said. “ … I think this a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together.
Another speaker, who did not give her name, told the crowd that dog parks help socialize dogs to both other dogs and people and provides them with greater exercise opportunities. “How can I throw a frisbee while I’m walking my dog?” she asked, to a standing ovation.
Eleanor Quigley of Fort Hunt spoke in favor of leaving the park as a natural area, cautioning that population growth in the area in coming years will leave even less natural space available for flora and fauna.
“Imagine 50 years from now, the parks and trees we take for granted now may be rare,” she said. “ … Westgrove is a critical stepping stone between the woodlands of Mount Vernon Park to the west and Dyke Marsh to the east.”
Mary Chambliss of Fort Hunt also spoke of preserving the natural environment.
“To me, it’s more important that when we have these modest opportunities, we try as much as possible to have a natural environment,” she said. “ … It really helps to have a place of peace and quiet and nature where you can hear the birds and the insects and nature.”
John Dacey of Fort Hunt wants to see a rugby field on the property. There are no purpose-specific rugby fields in Fairfax County, he said. David Hughes, coach for Fort Hunt Rugby, also supported the idea.
Ron Cunningham, whose home borders the park, expressed concerns about nighttime security at the park should authorities unlock the gates to the park. Fairfax County Police Officer Gregory Kottemann, a public safety officer for the Mount Vernon District, said most parks in the county are not secured at night.
“I wouldn’t foresee any really enhanced problem with the park unlocked at night,” he said. “Police cruisers would go patrol down there.”
June Molina, an area resident, suggested that part of the land should be used as a stormwater management pond, or small lake. That option would cost less than some other proposals and help mitigate flooding during severe storms, she said.
Sandy Stallman, park planning manager, said the next step in the master planning process is developing a draft plan. It will be published and brought back for public comment probably early next year.
Learn more about the master planning process on the park authority website.