Planning commission votes to remove planned Huntley Meadows trails from plans

Wooden sign at Huntley Meadows that reads Wildlife Sanctuary, No Bikes Beyond This Point

The Fairfax County Planning Commission voted Wednesday evening to support two comprehensive plan amendments that would remove a pair of planned bicycle trails at Huntley Meadows from the county’s plans.

The trails had been on the county’s maps for years, but there had been little movement on either one, due in part to the Park Authority’s opposition to them. One trail would have connected Lockheed Boulevard with Telegraph Road (see map), while the other would have run from Hayfield Road around the southern and eastern perimeters of the park to Lockheed Boulevard (see map).

Prior to the vote Lee District Planning Commissioner James Migliaccio said he had come to the conclusion that not allowing the trails was the right choice due to the impact they would have on Huntley Meadows’ natural resources.

“I am convinced that even if we had the money and capacity [to build the trails], it would not be the correct choice,” Migliaccio said.

The commission’s unanimous vote in support of the comprehensive plan amendments was followed by another unanimous vote on a motion calling for the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors to direct county staff to immediately begin looking for alternatives to the two trails. Next month the Board of Supervisors is expected to vote on — and likely approve — the two comprehensive plan amendments.

Lee District Supervisor Jeff McKay, who supported removal of the trails from the county’s plans, said in a December letter to the Fairfax County Trails and Sidewalks Committee that he would make a motion to direct county staff to examine alternatives once the board had taken its vote.

“The motion will direct County staff to immediately begin identifying connectivity alternatives in advance of the Countywide Trails and Bicycle Master Plan update so that we have data and options to consider,” McKay said in the letter. “This will ensure we don’t delay the process and so that we can continue to enhance and expand our bike and pedestrian facilities in the County.”

McKay had proposed the two amendments in March 2018 after the approval of the Embark Richmond Highway plan. McKay argued that the trails would never be built at their current alignment, and that the sooner they could be removed from the county’s plans, the less likely they were to stall the county’s overall bicycle master plan.

But many bicyclists, including the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling (FABB) and State Sen. Scott Surovell, had opposed the removal of the trails from the county’s maps. While sympathetic to environmental concerns raised by county staff, the cycling advocates hoped for a compromise that would allow modified trails to be built. Those trails, they argued, would ultimately be a net positive to the environment while also increasing access to the park, particularly for residents who live along its southern and eastern borders.

Supporters and opponents of the planned trails presented their arguments in a lengthy public meeting on January 16. Each side created online petitions supporting their positions and more than 80 comments were submitted to the planning commission by the public, Migliaccio said.

“While this process is not perfect, it has allowed a spirited debate on this topic,” Migliaccio said.

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