Letter to the Editor: Trails foster appreciation, preservation and conservation of Huntley Meadows

The location of where one of the planned trails would run along the southern edge of Huntley Meadows. (Image courtesy of Alexis Glenn)

Dear Editor:

It is unfortunate and misleading that Cathy Ledec and the Friends of Huntley Meadows Park (FOHMP) claim oversights in the process to collaborate on the Trails and Bicycle Master Plan Processes (see letter to the editor, Feb. 1).

When compared to the relatively short Plan Amendment process being used to remove trails, the Trails and Bicycle Master Plan Processes are open, thorough, and lengthy in order to carefully collect and consider the needs and wants from residents Countywide. It is unfortunate that members of FOHMP did not take one of the many opportunities afforded to them to participate in the process.

The Bicycle Master Plan and Countywide Trails Plan establish a vision for bicycling and walking that the county should be striving towards. Removing trails piece-meal with nebulous processes like Plan Amendments is a disservice to the hundreds of participants in the planning process.

If the Board of Supervisors approve these amendments, they will perpetuate the use of car-only access to parks, which further deteriorates the environment the Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling (FABB) and FOHMP aim to protect. It is bad governance to take the potentially least impactful and safest non-vehicular routes off the table before completing a holistic evaluation.

Despite its conclusion to remove the trails, the county staff report produced as a result of these Plan Amendments also concluded that impacts to sensitive areas of Huntley Meadows would be mitigated with simple re-routing of portions of the trails within the park. It is FABB’s position that the better process would be to collaborate with FOHMP and all stakeholders at the next round of the trails and bicycle master plan process, expected to happen this year. With collaboration, we could work together to find an acceptable solution that both protects park resources and provides safe access to our community treasure that this area of Fairfax County desperately needs.

Among many misleading and plain untrue statements that have been made about trails, people who bike, and the trail/bike planning process, it is a mistake for Ms. Ledec to characterize trails as “threats” to our environment or Huntley Meadows Park. Trails are present on public lands with fragile ecosystems across the Commonwealth. Trails foster appreciation for our natural spaces, just as the trails built over the most sensitive wetland areas of Huntley Meadows have inspired the many residents who love the park. Carefully designed trails would support the careful wetland/hydrology management processes already in place within the park.

In her public testimony to the Planning Commission, Ms. Ledec indicated that FOHMP had collected 6,541 “expressions” of support for removing trail plans. It is unclear what is meant by “expressions.” In materials submitted to the Planning Commission for the record, FOHMP only submitted 331 signatures from their petition. Of those 331, only 51 identified themselves from Northern Virginia and 3 signatures were duplicates.

FABB collected 618 signatures of support for keeping trails on County plans. 279 of supporters identified themselves as residents of Northern Virginia. FABB submitted these materials to the Fairfax County Planning Commission for the public record.

The Board of Supervisors needs to end this divisive and nebulous Plan Amendment process. The Plan Amendment process is appropriate only in specific zoning cases, which park trails are not. Supporting these plan amendments serves the special interest of a few, rather than goals and vision of the whole Fairfax community.

Again, it is unfortunate that members of the FOHMP did not take one of the many opportunities afforded to them to participate in the trail planning process. I hope they will participate later this year when the Trails, Sidewalks, and Bikeways Committee expect to revisit the plan again. For the record, hundreds of individuals across dozens of organizations, businesses, law enforcement, local and state governments, and County departments participated in the the Bicycle Master Plan process, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2014.

The process included:

  • A series of eight public meetings in different areas of the County in fall 2011 through spring 2012;
  • A pre-workshop planning meeting held in each of the eight outreach areas involving Supervisor staff and Supervisor District representatives on the Trails and Sidewalks Committee
  • Two countywide public meetings held in spring 2012.

Stakeholder involvement also included:

  • Regular meetings with a Bicycle Advisory Committee (BAC) formed specifically for the Master Plan development process
  • A series of focus group meetings covering economic impacts, biking and health, bike safety education, school transportation, and law enforcement issues; and technical outreach meetings with key stakeholders, including the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) and the Fairfax County Park Authority.

Additionally, this process consisted of stakeholders from the Fairfax County Park Authority, each Supervisor District, each Fairfax township, FCDOT, VDOT, local and state police, many health, education, and cultural advocacy organizations, local schools, businesses, and individual citizens. I invite anyone who cares about parks to join the Fairfax community in 2019 to provide your input on the trails and bicycle plans, for the future of safe, equitable, and environmentally sustainable recreation and transportation.

Sincerely,
Alexis Glenn, Board Member, Fairfax Alliance for Better Bicycling

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