"The general sentiment is God Bless the George Washington Memorial parkway bicycle path, but keep it away from me," said a speaker about the controversial 1.5 mile section of the popular bike route near Fort Hunt, which the National Park Service plans to relocate.
A half dozen proposed new routes discussed at the crowded public hearing at Mount Vernon Inn last week generally pitted residents of the east side of the parkway against those on the west, with the National Park Service caught in between.
No single proposal was endorsed by the vast majority of the 150 persons who attended, though most agreed in principle that the bike route - which now attracts more than 200,000 bicyclists a year - should be taken off public roads and put on parkland where possible.
The trouble is that in the builtup Collingwood-Wellington Villa section, where the bike route follows narrow park and county roads, there is insufficient park land to build it.
The alternate route most frequently endorsed by the 38 speakers at the three-hour meeting was to return the bike route to the east or riverside of the parkway (most of the speakers live on the west side), which is where the Park Service planned to build it originally but stopped for lack of funds.
The Park Service will decide next month, after all written comments are in, whether to take the high road west of the parkway or the low road by the river. Anyone may make a written comment on the proposed relocation until March 31.
In addition to the seven proposals - which include routes on both side of the parkway through the Collingwood-Wellington Villa neighborhoods, some of which involve huge concrete and steel bridges over the parkway and side roads - citizens at the hearing also suggested closing one lane of the parkway for about a mile for the exclusive use of bicyclists (similar to the narrowing of the parkway near Spout Run) or building tunnels instead of long unsightly bridges. One proposal was to construct a 1.5 mile-long bicycle boardwalk along the river's edge.
But many of the speakers at the hearing felt there was no good solution. "All of the solutions advanced adversely affect large numbers of people. . . that's the reality of these alternatives," said one west-aide resident, Carol LaBonge Jr. He suggested the "should be acceded to" and that the bike trail should be moved to the east side of the parkway.
Frank P. Miller, a prosecuting attorney for the District who said he has lived on the east side in Wellington Villa for almost 50 years, "indicted" the Park Service for "turning west against east and east against west" and warned officials not to enroach on property rights of east side residents.
Carol Ann Coryell, co-chairman of the Mount Vernon Council of Civic Associations, "which represents 42 associations and 64,000 residents," said her group favors putting the trail on the east side of the park-way because it would keep the trail all on one side of the parkway and not require any bridges.
An east-side route, besides keeping the trail all on the riverside of the parkway, would have the advantage of putting bicyclist, hikers and joggers on roads that have an average of only about 100 cars a day and which belong to the National Park Service - except for a one quarter-mile section which belongs to the county. Most of the 100 homes along the proposed east-side route were built after Congress created the George Washigton Memorial Parkway in 1930 and many treat portions of parkway land as their property, some even fencing it off, according to Parkway Superitendent Charles A. Veiti.
This is also true to a lesser extent of homes along West Boulevard Drive, which is half county-owned, but which is much busier, with 300 to 1,000 cars a day on different sections and up to 2,600 cars a day on roads the present bike route must cross.
There were no official spokesmen for the 200,000 bicyclists, hikers, Boy Scouts and even military reserve units that use the bike path or for the millions of motorists who travel scenic parkway to Mount Vernon every year - for whom the parkway was built.
William B. Dodge, a member of the Potomac Pedalers Touring Club, one of the Washington area's largest bicycling clubs with almost 1,200 members, told the hearing his group has no official position favouring a bike route on one side of the parkway or the other, but is opposed to any route which would require bycylce bridges over the parkway and shich would require bicycle bridge over the parkway and sught some of the citizen outcry upon itself by building a bike trail that attracts 200,000 bikers a year "but not adding a single rest room." Many Collingwood-Wellington Villa residents have complained about bikers resting on their lawns and asking to use bathrooms or even telephones. There are restrooms at Mount Vernon and inside Fort Hunt but only one facility actually along the trail, at the Belle Haven picnic ground.
The Park Service could build an east-side bike trail for about $400,000 using existing small roads and almost a mile of new trail along the river. Parkway Supt. Veitl has said it would appear bicyclist could continue to use the west side even if an east-side route were constructed. Bicyclists can use Park Service and county roads and there are no plants to close down the small through-the-woods section of trail now used by bikers on the west side of the parkway. One of the Park Service proposals is to put the west-side route almost entirely on Park Service land by building a separate trail from Collingwood Road to Fort Hunt, which would cost about $150,000.
Congress added $524,000 to the Park Service budget in 1975 to relocate the bike trial. The relocation proposals and environment impact assessment of them are the result of that appropriation.