Park Board Ratifies Plan For Undeveloped Lands

By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Fairfax County plans to build trails and athletic fields in Sully Woodlands under a new blueprint for future use of one of the county's few remaining areas where parkland is available.

A master plan for the Sully Woodlands -- which consists of 4,400 acres of oak and hickory forest, gently rolling meadows and streams that wend through the communities of western Fairfax -- has been approved by the Fairfax County Park Authority board. The document sets out a plan for future use of the land, which includes athletic fields, equestrian trails, and spots where model airplane and rocket enthusiasts can launch their creations.

Much of the county's remaining undeveloped land -- about 25,000 acres -- is in western Fairfax. Over the past five years, park officials have intensified efforts to buy open space to augment area parks, such as Ellanor C. Lawrence Quinn Farm and Poplar Tree.

Last week's action by the park board officially ties together the assemblage of land, an area bounded by Loudoun County on the west; Interstate 66, Greenbrier and Fair Lakes to the east; Dulles International Airport and Chantilly to the north; and Bull Run Post Office Road to the south.

"It's kind of the last frontier of park footprint we've got left in Fairfax County," said Harold L. Strickland, park board chairman.

The land is also considered critical to the county's environmental health. It drains into the Occoquan Reservoir, one of Northern Virginia's primary sources of drinking water. Preserving the land in a largely undeveloped state would help safeguard the condition of the Bull Run and Cub Run watersheds.

Park officials say they want to strike a balance in the Sully Woodlands, serving the county's recreation needs while protecting one of the last great swaths of undisturbed land, part of which is home to wildlife (owls, hawks and otters) and many historical and cultural artifacts, including remnants of the Manassas Gap Railroad and Native American sites.

The master plan approved by the board calls for the county to "treat Sully woodlands as a large outdoor laboratory to educate citizens about natural and cultural resources."

Strickland said the first priority for the next couple of years will be to shore up the area's trail network, building paths and connecting them to existing ones. Part of the county bond referendum that will go before voters Nov. 7 asks for $5 million to underwrite trails and stream crossings. That amount includes about $800,000 for improvements to Sully Woodlands, including a trail and stream crossing linking Cub Run Stream Valley Trail to Schneider's Branch Trail.

"We'd like to plan a trail network that can get people in Centreville and Chantilly out of their back doors and into the parkland," Strickland said.

The Sully Woodlands will eventually help increase the county's inventory of athletic fields. A needs assessment commissioned by the park board found that the Sully District, based on its population, needs as many as 24 rectangular fields, 58 multi-use courts and 32 playgrounds. But Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully) said the new park will be more than a local asset.

"We look at it as far more than a district park," he said. "It's a tremendous resource for the whole county."

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