Trails And Natural Areas Lead The Public’s Park Priorities
FAIRFAX STATION (Jan. 4, 2008) More parkland. More open spaces. More historic sites. More natural areas.
The public has spoken and, according to a recent park needs survey, these are our region’s greatest needs. The survey, conducted by leading national park needs survey firm Leisure Vision/ETC Institute, polled 1,000 households in Northern Virginia. The answer, according to that survey, was quite clear: The number one interest of the public as it relates to parks is to acquire more parkland.
Eighty percent of the public were supportive of purchasing land to preserve open space, natural areas and historic sites. Nearly 67 percent of the public were interested in acquiring land for new athletic fields and recreation facilities. The difference between these two shows a clear bias towards passive, or natural parkland.
The survey has a 95 percent accuracy rating.
“As I look at the results of this poll, I am encouraged that the Regional Park Authority is playing a significant role in supplementing the outstanding service provided by local park systems. The Regional Parks focus on providing thousands of acres of natural areas, over 100 miles of trails, and preservation of some of our areas most significant historic sites. We also provide great recreational opportunities that draw the public from all over our area, we offer five pools/water parks, nature programs, and great water access,” observed Jim Mayer, NVRPA Chairman.
Almost as important as buying more natural or historic parkland was updating older parks and recreation facilities. Updating existing park features scored significantly higher than any of the options that included building new facilities.
“This result was counter intuitive in some ways. Many people would assume that the greatest pressure would be to build new facilities. As it turns out, the public is even more keenly interested in seeing their current park facilities maintained and updated to a high standard,” remarked Paul Gilbert, NVRPA Executive Director.
“For the last several years, the Regional Park Authority has made a big push to improve its park facilities with fresh paint and good preventive maintenance everywhere you look. I think it has a big impact when the public sees parks that are obviously well cared for,” commented Su Webb, NVRPA Board Member and Vice Chair.
The new park facilities that the public is most interested in also held some surprises with facilities like trails, nature centers and historic sites generating significantly more interest than the need to build new athletic fields.
“Trails are the number one most desired recreational facility. Over 75 percent of the public use trails on a regular basis. The reason we do not hear more about this is that trail users are generally not as organized and vocal as those involved in team sports,” remarked Gilbert.
According to the survey, members of the public noted the strongest support for the following park facilities (over 50% public support):
75.9% develop new walking and biking trials.
69.2% upgrade existing athletic fields.
65.1% support the development of indoor recreation & fitness facilities
62.3% purchase land to connect existing parks.
61.7% support the development of nature, history, and horticultural facilities.
57.1% develop a new teen center.
56.2% develop a new senior center.
54.1% develop new athletic fields
The survey broke down park interests by age and gender as well. Some highlights of this more specific look at park usage included the following:
Historic sites, while popular with the general public reporting a 58.2 percent interest, are particularly interesting to people from 55 to 64 years of age. In this age group, 68.2 percent enjoy visiting historic sites.
“Historic sites like Aldie Mill, Ball’s Bluff Battlefield and the Carlyle House are not only very popular with residents in our area, they also play a key role in the tourism economy that is key to Virginia,” added Webb.
Nature centers and natural areas were ranked as a high importance at over 63 percent usage by people from 35 – 64 years of age. Paved trails while popular with all age groups, ranked as almost 80 percent support by adults from 55 to 64 years of age. The longest paved trail in the region is the W&OD Trail, which stretches for 45 miles from Shirlington to Purcellville. Picnic shelters were of the most interest to people from 35 – 44 years of age, of whom 62.3 percent reported using such sites. Women were 10 percent more interested in picnic sites than men.
Outdoor pools and water parks were of high interest to those under 45 years of age, with 55.7 percent interest to those less than 35 years of age, and 60.3 percent interest to those from 35 to 44 years of age. NVRPA invested in a major renovation to the water park at Upton Hill Regional Park last year and witnessed a 50 percent increase in park usage. Another renovation is currently underway at the pool at Pohick Bay Regional Park, which will assume an all new pirate theme and be known as Pirate’s Cove at Pohick Bay.
“As a key part of this region, we’ve always felt that the needs of the public are a guiding force,” Gilbert added. “This survey confirms our mission, and helps forge our plans for the future.”