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In field fight, animals divide Fairfax County residents

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Fairfax County

Rugby players, dog owners and bird watchers in Fairfax County are locked in a fight over the future of 2 acres of largely unused park land in Mount Vernon.

The site, near the center of Westgrove Park, currently serves as an interim off-leash dog area, but county planners want to find a permanent use for the land.

So each of the three special interest groups has reached out to the county to tout their respective plans, each of which they say is the best long-term option for the community.

"The site is almost perfect for a rugby field," said Fort Hunt Rugby President John Dacey. "Nowhere in Fairfax is there a purpose-built rugby field ... We've been making due by practicing on football and soccer fields."

Dacey proposed the construction of a rugby field to the county's Park Authority, even offering to fund the project, but said he's all but come to terms that the site will be used for something else.

"We're highly outnumbered by old people who own dogs," he said.

Fairfax County allows residents to let their dogs run free in only eight off-leash dog parks countywide, so Braddock Dogs Association President Erin Mays said it's important that the site stay as an area for dogs to roam free.

"There are quite a few dog owners in the area who would really benefit from being able to take their animals and families to the park," Mays said. "A well-socialized dog that's exposed to humans, children and other dogs is going to be a much better behaved dog."

Members of a third group of residents, seeking to preserve the park as a wildlife corridor and natural park, say the habitats of many animals -- especially birds, foxes, butterflies and salamanders -- would be harmed by a rugby field or dog park.

Dogs would hurt the park's wildlife, while the rugby field would create traffic, said Mary Jo Detweiler, a resident who created a petition against the numerous competing interests for the land.

Instead, she said the Park Authority should work to preserve the land and the animals living on it.

"Wildlife's habitats are being stolen at every turn," Detweiler said. "We shouldn't be fragmenting the land."

County planners expect to host a public comment session and decide on the future of the park by early May.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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