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Fort Hunt Park Improvements Face Public Concern

The NPS is striving to balance the use of the park's spaces, while community members are eager to retain all their current facilities

The discovery of several impeccably preserved and incredibly  World World II facilities has done more than get historians interested; it’s forced the National Parks Service to find the perfect compromise for the park’s natural areas, historical sites and popular demand of picnic spaces by the community. Last night the NPS held a public meeting at Fort Hunt Park to give the concerned community a chance to ask questions about the potential plans.

Major concerns from the community included changes to the walking and biking paths, loss of picnic pavilions and athletic fields, and the potential misuse of the $250,000 to build a visitor’s center that could end up costing much more.

“We’re looking long range, and not everything would happen at once. It would happen in phases, and there is no list of which improvement would happen first. All the potential changes can be adapted and combined, and every major action will require further review on a site by site basis,” Sheffer said. “Everything will depend on further archaeological and environmental review. We can’t just bulldoze a path through one of the largest swaths of forest on the East Coast to make a new trail. We have to work together to find the best use of the park.”

Park authorities reported an overwhelming use of the picnic facilities from locals and out of town visitors but are eager to give equal attention to other areas of the park. Many attendees refuted the reports of overcrowded facilities, except on the busiest holiday weekends, and were worried that any reduction in athletic fields or picnic space would be detrimental to the community.

“So much of staff time is spent on scheduling picnic times, instead of attending other park duties,” a park ranger said. “We looked at these alternatives to balance everything and be able to give our attention to the important untold history here.”

One local, Susan Elliot, has been coming to the park since the 1970s. "I feel very strongly about protecting this park. I come here several times a week to walk and I have concerns about pedestrian safety and the shrinking paths,” Elliot said. “I know it’s not overcrowded, and I’ve never seen it packed. I’m here at enough different times throughout the week to know. I’ve only seen it overcrowded at big events.”

According to NPS, two historic WWII sites are located near already established paths and those trails would need to be adapted for increased visitor traffic. A visitor center is another proposed option, but NPS is well aware of the cost of staffing and building the visitors center, and the potential cost may limit the building size.

“This is a rare case of a National Park that also serves as a heavily trafficked community park. The National Parks Service has to follow all the laws and rules that apply to a National Park,” Sheffer said. “The NPS goal is to protect and preserve natural and historical sites all over the country. The interpretive areas are extremely underutilized and by better interpreting the site, we can plan better for its use.”

The public has until Oct. 6 to submit comments, concerns and potential ideas online or by mailing them to Superintendent, George Washington Memorial Parkway, Turkey Run Park, McLean, VA 22101. NPS will review them before they release their suggested plan for the park, and all community comments will be released to the public at that time.

“The Park Service thinks the picnicking is overcrowded, and the public doesn’t. There is some disconnect there,” environmental scientist Brett Schrader said. “The are trying to make use of the interpretive areas of the park, while maintaining as many recreational services as possible. Protecting the natural and historical parts of the park is just as important and community use. The public is talking about losing things, but all the uses would remain. But they’d be a little bit different.”

Dave in VA September 24, 2011 at 01:28 PM
I live just north of the park, and my wife and I regularly bicycle there. I'm thoroughly opposed to removing the shelters and emphasizing the military history of the park. It's a superb location for concerts, reunions, picnics, and other community get-togethers--let's keep this gem of a public asset safe from development as a museum and allow it to continue as a dynamic, treasured community locale!
Linda Handy September 25, 2011 at 02:55 AM
I lived one block away from Fort Hunt Park for 40 years. In all that time I saw maybe 10 times it was so busy people were parking on the streets around the park. When we first moved there no one cared about the condition of the park and long time neighbors told me that at one point guns were found in buildings within the park that had just been left there after the Army moved out. Fort Hunt is one place you can walk without worry of being run over by bikes or cars. We quit walking on the bike path by the river 25 years ago because of the bike traffic. It would be really sad if they cut the neighbors off from this wonderful park and turned it into a sterile National Park site that could only be entered as an official "visitor". In the fall we would just drive through to see the glorious trees. All efforts should be made to keep it as close to its current useage as possible.
ET1221 September 26, 2011 at 06:10 AM
Some of the reasons people love this Park are its benefits to the community. The community uses it for school celebrations, scouts activities, sports celebrations, school reunion picnics, concerts, club gatherings, family reunions and picnics among other things. It is rarely, if ever, overcrowded and I resent the implications in these changes. There have been no community notices about these changes in the Alexandria Gazette, no mention from local politicians. I fear that these changes will be enacted without community input as they seem to be moving forward with little if any community involvement. This is not what the park neighborhood wants or needs. Keep the pavilions, the bathrooms, the picnic areas, the ball fields, etc. There is plenty of room to add an information center if desired, but please do not cut off this beautiful community park from use by its local citizens!
Steven Larsen September 26, 2011 at 06:03 PM
I question the spending of federal dollars on this project at all when there are many greater priorities within the GWMP: 1) Improving the bike trail for safety and speed (yes bike commuters/racers - now that the NPS has posted No-Bike signs on the parkway - perhaps separating commuter/other uses); 2) Improving the Belle Haven and Belle View intersections (among others); 3) Driver education on how to use a divided median highway (cause of most accidents on the GWP, i.e. NO “double stacking”); 4) Creation of bike/pedestrian overpasses; and 5) Removing invasive species & augmenting desired planting. Mount Vernon residents have raised these and many other issues over the years. We understand the historical significance of Fort Hunt Park, but removing pavilions, restrooms, a ball field, picnic grounds and constructing a million dollar visitor center is not wise. I my 21 years in this area, I too have never seen this park over crowded. Let's address what needs fixing and refocus the NPS efforts on more pressing issues
Erica Laxson September 27, 2011 at 09:27 PM
From my own understanding of the issue, the reason Fort Hunt Park specifically was given the $250,000 was to improve interaction with the WWI areas and increase awareness. Because Fort Hunt Park is a National Park, it is not subject to the same development approvals from the community, but Thomas Sheffer is dedicated to creating a solution that works for everyone. He urges everyone to submit their comments through the proper channels so your valuable opinions are heard and the community has a chance to have a voice.
Park PlanningGwmp September 29, 2011 at 10:30 PM
In order to give better opportunity for public response on the Fort Hunt Site Development Plan EA/AoE document, the NPS has extended the public comment period until November 5, 2011. Go to http://parkplanning.nps.gov/forthuntEAAoE to comment, as well as download the full plan or a copy of the public meeting presentation.
Cathy Hosek October 04, 2011 at 06:24 PM
I just went and left my comments. I have no improvements with the park, however, I don't think it should be at the expense of the people who use it the most, the local community! There is plenty of room in the park for a visitor center without disrupting the picnic areas we all enjoy.

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