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Thursday Hearing to Consider Off-Leash Dog Park in Westgrove Park

The Fairfax County Planning Commission is deciding whether to make part of the park an interim off-leash park for dogs.

Dog owners have long taken their canine friends to Westgrove Park in the Mount Vernon District, the 22-acre site of a former sewage pumping station, to run free. In recent years, animal control officers have stepped up enforcement of the leash-only policy, leading a group of dedicated dog owners to challenge the park’s rules on dogs and leashes.

The site is perfect for letting dogs run and play off-leash, said Steven Nixon, president of the Pumphouse Association for Canine Kindness, or PACK.

“It’s flat and mowed land and grass that is shielded from the community on all sides by big trees, and it was a sewage pump plant,” Nixon said. “It’s difficult to conceive of alternative uses.”

On Thursday, the Fairfax County Planning Commission will take up the issue with a public hearing on whether to allow dogs to run in the park off-leash on an interim basis in one section of the park. The meeting will start at 8:15 p.m.

Not all are happy with the new plans. In a Friday letter to the editor of The Connection newspaper, Mary Jo Detweiler with Friends of Westgrove Park commented that, while dog parks are needed, Westgrove Park should be maintained to enhance the ecology and public health of the area. Detweiler told the newspaper that true restoration could provide some connectivity between Mount Vernon Park and the Dyke Marsh Wildlife Preserve.

The Mount Vernon Council of Citizens Associations takes the other side. Betsy Martin, chair of the environmental and recreational committee of the MVCCA, said committee members worked closely with PACK to formulate a resolution allowing interim use of Westgrove Park as an off-leash dog area. The resolution passed in March 2011.

The resolution contains several conditions for MVCCA support of the off-leash plan, including that the park authority communicate with residents and institutions, that a “dog owners’ sponsoring organization” monitors use and restricts the area of the off-leash acreage, among other conditions.

Also, Martin said, “There’s a stream that goes through there, so we proposed protected areas and for that and other streams that go through this area, as 'no-go' zones.”

According to the park authority, the new dog park would cover only 1.72 to 2 acres and be fenced. Whether the dog park would become permanent depends on the details of the park authority’s master plan process and experiences during the interim use.

Nixon, with PACK, said off-leash dogs at the park would not pollute the water, disturb birds or knock down trees.

“It’s just a pretty, wonderful place to take your dog down there and socialize with each other and have your owners socialize with each other,” he said.

Persons interested in speaking at the public hearing, either in person or remotely from the South County Building, can contact the planning commission at 703-324-2865 or through the commission's website.

Susan L. Hahn May 15, 2012 at 03:54 PM
I am a resident of Westgrove and a member of the Westgrove Citizens Association which strongly supports keeping Westrgrove Park as an off leash dog area Betsey Martin has it right! The proposed use of this space as an OLDA is a responsible, well thought out, practical, environmentally sensitive and neighborhood safety conscious proposal that is much needed by the residents of this area of the county and their pets. Two Paws Up! (And oddly, we have never heard of any organization called "Friends of Westrgrove." We just live here.)
Lisa M. Stella May 16, 2012 at 01:08 AM
As a former residenct of the City of Alexandria (which has 18 dog parks within it's 16 square mile city limits), I was shocked that Fairfax County has only 7 off-leash dog parks countywide! As a dog owner and a resident of the neigboring Westgrove community, I am delighted at the prospect of Westgrove Park becoming an OLDA.
Wildermann May 17, 2012 at 03:14 AM
I support keeping the site in a natural state. An interim use request of Westgrove Park, in my view, is subverting the master planning process, but more importantly, if approved, will degrade the site. Decision makers need to be informed about the ecological facts and natural resource potential regarding this site. Westgrove plays a vital connective role in protecting a natural ecosystem. The river terrace uplands and the lowland forests and grass and shrub habitats of Westgrove Park are the skin of Dyke Marsh. Like the skin of an animal or the bark of a tree, it is the first line of defense against a wide range of outcomes that can undermine the ecology of Dyke Marsh. I have witnessed a steady succession of compromises involving land use that result in sacrificing natural areas to the special interests of developers and groups that see such areas as theirs for the taking. It becomes the environment and ecology that is compromised which results in the Belle Haven Watershed having the poorest water quality in all Fairfax County. I am not against OLDA's and support the need for more. Why not consider other existing land resources. Stop going to the pool of natural areas and staking claims on our shrinking resource areas. We've reached a critical point where continuing this practice is tipping the scales and only worsening the annual reports regarding water quality issues for the Potomac River ecosystem.
James Carmalt May 17, 2012 at 01:53 PM
In fact the site will remain in a most natural state and will be kept in better condition than before. There is NO evidence that that ANY type of degradation will take place in ANY form and misinformation concerning ecological and natural resources have been over-stated and dis-proved from the outset. We have all witnessed changes throughout our lives. Some for the better, others not so much, however; in an effort to provide a vast majority of citizens an opportunity to run their dogs freely in a convenient, enclosed, natural enviroment (in an area that is desperate for this very need) is a comprimise that is long over due. If the Fairfax County Park Authority understands that their citizens SHOULD NOT be victimized, threatened or persecuted by Fairfax County's Animal Control agency, and we can all start working together to make this area what it should be (a beauitiful park with an off leash dog area) we will all begin to enjoy a truly successful venture with all of the citizens of Fairfax County
Wildermann May 18, 2012 at 01:41 PM
No thorough scientific studies that a master planning process would require have been conducted to dis-prove anything. The assertion that it will be kept in better condition than before verifies that the off leash dog squatters using the site for years are hardly inculpable for their lack of environmental concern. Those in violation of the off leash ordinances are victims of persecution? Other people used this area for purposes other than a place to run their dogs. Inviolate walking and simple nature study was within the realm of park ordinances but the Park Authority chooses to favor the group that demands an interim use to solve their dilemma of getting cited for violating the rules. Freezing out people that used the site while following the rules hardly seems like working together. The real lesson here is that Fairfax County officials are intimidated by a vocal group to the point that they will cave and reward bad behavior. I am not at all surprised given the fact that developers in Fairfax County have long engaged in a practice of asking for forgiveness rather than having sought permission for environmental infractions. The Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors are too often forgiving when such circumstances occur. "The vast majority of the citizens" and "we can all start working together" is a misleading perception of Democracy at work. This is and remains a case of 5 wolves and 3 sheep deciding what is for dinner.

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