Thursday, March 25, 2010
Udall and Regional Parks
Stewart Udall Looking for Future Parkland from a Helicopter
Stewart Udall recently passed away. The Secretary of the Interior during the Kennedy/Johnson years is best know for saving large areas of the West and expanding National Parks.
A story that has not been told is his role in growing regional parks outside of Washington D.C. in Northern Virginia.
Walter Mess Chairman Emeritus of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority who is now 97 years old told me some of this story just this week. And Rob Hartwell, son of our former Vice Chair Elizabeth Harwell confirmed the details.
Udall often traveled via helicopter because it offered such a great view of the land. Around 1964 or 65 a group of dignitaries were going to meet Secretary Udall at Ft. Belvoir in Fairfax County Virginia for a helicopter tour of Northern Virginia. Walter Mess and Elizabeth Hartwell who was the Vice Chair of the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority at the time were determined to get Udall's ear about land conservation.
Walter served in both the European and Burma/China theaters of WWII in the OSS (predecessor to the CIA) so he had military credentials to get Liz Hartwell and him on the base. They got on the helicopter before the rest of the group and as they began flying around Northern Virginia, Hartwell and Mess began telling Secretary Udall all about the land that they there flying over and their efforts to acquire the most sensitive areas as regional parks. A bond was formed and Stewart Udall went on to help the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority with millions in land acquisition funding that helped purchase many of the Regional Parks like Pohick Bay, the land along the Occoquan and the W&OD Trail, in the years that followed.
As we enjoy these places today, it is interesting to think that we may only know a little about the perseverance, dedication, and energy that it took to make these areas parks in the first place.
Just about every park has a story and a hero or two that helped to make that area a place where the public can engage with nature.
Elizabeth Hartwell and Walter Mess