Monday, August 21, 2006

Use of W&OD Trail on the Rise

On Agust 18th the Washington Post ran a front page story titles Bicycling on Popular W&OD Trail No Longer a Breeze. This story focused on the increased use of the W&OD trail and several cycling accidents over the last year an a half. Below is a letter to the editor that I sent in response to this article.

Dear Editor of the Washington Post,

Your August 18th article about cycling on the W&OD Trail and other popular trails in our area pointed out how many more trail users there are today than in the past. In the most recent park needs survey in Fairfax County, 54% of households had used walking/biking trails in the last 12 months, and 64% of households expressed a need for such amenities in the future. With interest in trail use on the rise at the same time our population continues to grow in Northern Virginia, it is little wonder that so many trail users are finding their way to the W&OD. This is the premier multi-use recreational trail in our region, stretching 45 miles from Arlington to Purcellville. In many ways the W&OD is the community commons for Northern Virginia. It links our communities, creates opportunities for healthy recreation, and is a unifying thread through a very diverse region. It is great news that so many in our area are making healthy choices to increase their physical activity, spend time outside with family and friends, and seek clean alternatives to our congested roads. Expanding use of the W&OD and other trails in the region argue for more interconnected trails making non-motorized travel easier.

I appreciate the Post highlighting trail rules and etiquette. Following these simple guidelines will enhance the experience of all the users of the trail, from equestrians, walkers, skaters, and cyclists. It is also very important to note that the four accident related fatalities in the trail’s 31 year history were all the result of cyclist riding into cross streets without stopping at posted signs. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority has installed stop ahead, and stop signs at every cross street, this fall we will be adding rumble strips and large lettering on the trail surface letting cyclists and other trail users know that they are approaching a cross street and need to stop and pay attention to road traffic. We are also working with the Virginia DOT to improve the safety of these crossings, with better signage, and grade separated crossings or traffic lights wherever feasible.

Even with the inherent risks of crossing streets, the Trail is a very safe place to recreate. I have cycled long stretches of the W&OD with my young daughter on the back of my bike and never felt the trail offered anything less than a family friendly place to recreate with beautiful scenery and interesting lessons in history.

For a complete list of rules and tips for playing it safe along the W&OD trail, I would encourage your readers to visit the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority website at

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Governor focuses on Environmental Challenges

Governor Kaine will be hosting a Natural Resources Leadership Summit this year to tackle some of the most challenging environmental issues of the Commonwealth. The Summit will deal with four issue areas:

  • Land Conservation
  • Outdoor Recreation, Fisheries & Wildlife Resources
  • Water Quality and Water Resources
  • Air Quality

The goals will be to both generate creative ideas for solving these challenges, and building a degree of consensus in the environmental community on what resources are needed to achieve these goals.

In 2003, Governor Warner held a similar Summit that resulted in a high degree of success. In 2003, there also was significant underfunding of state agencies with environmental responsibility like the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR), the Department of Forestry and others. That issue has improved since 2003. One of the largest challenges today is land conservation.

The Chesapeake Bay 2000 agreement has a number of specific goals that the states of the Bay Region agreed to meet by 2010. One of these goals is to preserve 20% of the land in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. With just three years to go, Virginia has some catching up to do. Governor Kaine has set a goal of conserving 400,000 acres between now and 2010. Achieving this goal will help assure that Virginia meets its Chesapeake Bay agreements.

The best way to advance all of the environmental concerns on the Governor's list is to acquire more parkland next to our streams, rivers and lakes. Forested buffers to bodies of water provide a natural filter for pollutants that would otherwise be washed into our waterways. Parkland next to waterways provides some of the best trail and boating opportunities for the public, as well as connected wildlife habitat. And mature forests are an excellent filter for our air quality.

These are not new ideas. In the 1960s, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority acquired over twenty miles of parkland along the north shore of the Bull Run/Occoquan Rivers. This parkland provides fantastic recreational opportunities for boating, hiking, camping and other activities, in addition to being an important natural filter to the Occoquan Reservoir, which is the drinking water source for 1.3 million people. The Regional Park Authority also owns 13 miles of parkland along the Potomac River, which protects our drinking water and provides numerous recreational opportunities.

There are other ways to achieve some of the environmental benefits that we need, but I know of no better solution than expanding public parkland to reach our goals in land conservation, water quality, outdoor recreation and habitat enhancement all at the same time. The challenge will be to find new ways of funding parkland expansion. We have not had a state park bond since 2002. Local park expansion is usually funded with local bonds that need to compete with other public needs like schools, public safety and other local government priorities. Are there other potential revenue sources that could be targeted to meet these goals? How do we best coordinate and prioritize state, regional and local efforts at parkland expansion to get the greatest environmental and recreational impact? Whatever the answer is to these and other questions, it is helpful to have the Governor bring a focus and priority to these issues.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

New Funds for Park Expansion

The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA) was awarded a grant from the Virginia General Assembly in the amount of $125,000. The grant will help fund parkland acquisition.

“We are focused on growing the park system in Northern Virginia,” stated NVRPA Chairman Bill Dickinson. “Just this year, we acquired historic Aldie Mill a 19th century gist mill in Loudoun County from the Virginia Outdoor Foundation. Our organization is involved in a number of negotiations regarding land gifts and bargain sales aimed at expanding our land holdings. This grant will help us to expand the 10,000-acre park system that NVRPA operates in Loudoun, Fairfax and Arlington Counties and the Cities of Falls Church, Fairfax and Alexandria.”

”Conserving our important historic sites and natural areas is vitally important to our quality of life,” remarked Delegate Vince Callahan, Chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. “We are fortunate to have a strong regional park system. I was pleased to help appropriate additional funds so the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority can continue to expand and serve the public,” continued Callahan.

Delegate Joe May, who also serves on the House Appropriations Committee added, “being able to support parks that will be used by millions of area residents over time, is one of the most rewarding parts of serving in the General Assembly. I was happy to help pass this appropriation for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.”

“Conserving land is a team sport. We are very grateful to have the partnership and support of the General Assembly to assist our effort to expand the parkland of our region,” said Paul Gilbert, Executive Director of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.