Arlington residents fight park construction

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland

The tents won't go up, the canoes won't be launched, and the tree house, it seems, won't be built following an outcry from residents seeking to halt construction in an Arlington County park.

Community members mobilized in February to prevent the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority from adding a tree house, campground and new stage to Potomac Overlook Regional Park along the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

The changes, opponents contend, would require trees to be cut down and could endanger wildlife and animal habitats around the park.

"The community is deeply committed to the long-term health and well-being of the park," said Michele Woodward, a member of an opposition group, Potomac Overlook Preservation Association. "We're all working together to protect this little jewel of a natural forest."

Plans for the future of the park were unveiled by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority on Feb. 25 and, at the time, included the addition of a rock wall, zip line and more parking for park patrons. The changes would have encouraged recreation and bolstered the park's amenities, officials said.

But community members immediately rejected the project and the changing of the park's landscape. They said they had not been included in the planning process and demanded park officials abandon their plans, even after officials agreed to scrap the rock wall, zip line and parking expansion.

Paul Gilbert, the regional park authority's executive director, said many aspects of the proposed plan were good ones, however, and that the process "simply got off on the wrong foot" because residents were organizing against it before the authority could even hold public hearings.

"While it was our intention and our actions to seek public input before we moved forward with any of these ideas, many in the community read our meeting minutes and reached the conclusion that we had made final decisions," Gilbert said. "In truth, we had not done any site-specific planning or determined the ultimate feasibility of these ideas."

The misunderstanding, Gilbert said, prevented the authority from ever being able to have a conversation with the community because opinions had already been formed. Now, the authority is expected to delay some of the proposals "for a year or so," said Paul Ferguson, one of two Arlington representatives on the authority.

That delay comes as good news to Woodward, who plans to remain on the Potomac Overlook Preservation Association to ensure the future protection of the park.

"I raised my children there," she said. "It's where they learned about the seasons. We've seen foxes and deer. It's a living, breathing resource."

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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