One of the proposed trails would have run partially along a power line right-of-way that goes through Huntley Meadows. (Fairfax County image)
A new report by county planners recommends removing two long-planned but never built trails at Huntley Meadows Park from the county’s comprehensive plan.
Compiled by the Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, the staff report endorses two proposed comprehensive plan amendments to take the trails off the county’s maps. One of the trails had been proposed to run across the northern side of the park, connecting South Van Dorn Street with the park’s entrance at Lockheed Boulevard and Harrison Lane. The second, longer trail would run from Hayfield Road along the the southern and eastern edges of the park before connecting with Lockheed Boulevard.
The staff report said the proposed trails would improve connectivity and access to the park, but it cites a long list of reasons why building the trails would be a complex, costly undertaking that would negatively affect the sensitive natural and cultural resources unique to Huntley Meadows.
“Huntley Meadows Park is designated as a significant resource in the county with unique and valuable natural and cultural resources that would be negatively affected by the planned trail and shared use path facilities subject to this amendment,” said the staff report, which was released last week. “The need to protect these resources from the disturbance of the construction and operation of the trail connections outweigh the mobility and access benefits afforded by the planned connections.”
Construction of both the shared-use path planned for the northern edge of the park and the minor paved trail in the south and eastern edges would harm existing species and plants living there, the report said. High water tables and unconsolidated soils would also present problems, according to the report.
“Clearing trees and construction of the paved path would directly reduce the amount of habitat for uncommon or rare species and disrupt plant communities, diminishing their health,” the report states. “Land in much of the planned trail path has a permanently high water table and frequent flooding, which are engineering constraints not conducive to trail construction.”
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Legal requirements are also a challenge, the report says. Both trails would be subject to federal review and permitting before they were ever built. Those reviews, required due to the fact that Huntley Meadows was acquired by the county through the Federal Lands to Parks Program, would increase cost and complexity, the staff report said.
An archaeological survey would also be required before the construction of either trail, the report states. These surveys would be likely uncover new cultural sites in addition to the ones already known, and thus adding more potential impediments for constructing the trails, according to the report.
The minor paved trail planned for the southern and western edges also faces a unique challenge due to its overlap with testing areas once used by the military: the possible presence of military munitions.
“It is likely that Munitions and Explosives of Concern (MECs), specific categories of military munitions present in high enough concentrations to pose an explosive hazard are present within some of the planned minor paved trail route near Fort Belvoir and would require treatment to reduce risk to the public,” the report states.
Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay asked county staff in March to look into removing the two planned trails through the comprehensive plan amendment process. McKay said the Fairfax County Park Authority had long opposed their construction, and that by removing the trails sooner rather than later would permit the county’s overall bicycle master plan to move forward.
However some groups, including the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling, question whether it’s appropriate to remove the trails from the county’s plans before alternatives could be examined. State Sen. Scott Surovell, during a Twitter dust-up with McKay last month, also said the removal of the trails also raised questions about equity, since the minor paved trail along the southern and eastern border of the park would have given far easier access to Huntley Meadows for low-income residents who live along the edge of the park.
The county’s staff report said that alternatives for the minor paved trail outside of Huntley Meadows Park will be considered during the next countywide trails plan update. For the proposed trail at the northern edge of the park, the report said there is an existing alternative.
“An alternative is available to make these connections via the existing sidewalks and climbing lanes north of Huntley Meadows Park on Bedrock Road and Vantage Drive,” the report said. “This route has a slightly greater travel distance between Lockheed Boulevard/Harrison Lane and Telegraph Road/South Van Dorn Street.”
Public hearings on the amendments to remove the two trails will be held before the Planning Commission on Jan. 9 and the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 22.