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.