With more than 47,000 acres of recreation and park land in Northern Virginia, area residents have more than 10 times the play area and more than twice the open space they had only 15 years ago.
And there will be several thousand more acres of parkland set aside for the area growing population if Fairfax and Loudoun County voters approve the parks bond issue next month, and it voters in Arlington and throughout the state vote similar park bond issues next fall.
Parks and open space have not come easily to Northern Virginia, and the purchases proposed in the five-year bond issues "are really the last gasp, especially for Fairfax County, because of tha land is not bought now for parks it will be gone in five years," says Dorothy Werner, spokeswoman for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority.
In 1950, when Washington's suburban fields and farms were beginning to be bulldozed for subdivisions and shopping centers, there was little parkland in Northern Virginia. The state of Virginia had no Northern Virginia parks, except the postage stamp, 10-acre George Washington Grist Mill near Mount Vernon. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority didn't exist. Most counties and cities had little public open space except playgrounds around schools and a few run-down tennis courts - and in some places, like Fairfax County, there were no public tennis courts until the early 1960s.
The National Park Service had several thousand acres of woodland and mowed the Mall and parkways, but it had not yet invented its popu lar Summer in the Parks program, now copied in cities across the country, and Washington boasted none of the magnificient park floral displays that tourists and area residents now take for granted: the 600,000 tulips and daffodils that bloomed this spring and the 130,000 summer flowers Park Service gardeners are now planting.
The buying of parkland began in the late 1950s after Alexandria's former reservoir, Lake Barcroft, and several other lakes and stream valleys in the area were sold to private developers. Both Congress and the state of Virginia were uninterested or even hostile to local efforts to preserve parkland or the reservoir - which Alexandria now wishes it had as a back-up water supply.
Virginia, for instance, created almost no stream and river valley parks under the 1930 federal Capper-Cramton Act, which built the George Washington Memorial Parkway and which Maryland used until the act expired in 1960 to create much of its regional parkland.
Congress itself was so antagonistic to preserving parkland here that in the early 1960s it banned Maryland, Virginia and the District from sharing in a federal matching grant program to buy parkland - the only places in the antion to be excluded. And several key congressmen also successfully blocked the building of a parkway along the Maryland side of the Potomac River between Fort Washington and the District, to parallel the George Washington Memorial Parkway in Virginia, although the parkway was mandated in the Capper-Cramton Act.
With their open space vanishing and faced with indifference from state and federal governments, Northern Virginia residents in 1959 created their own park authority. To date it has saved more than 7,000 acres of woodlands and fields and created eight regional parks, including the largest area park, along the 22-mile Occoquan Reservoir and historic Bull Run, where hawks and eagles soar overhead and beavers swim up beside the rental rowboats.
But development of many of these parts - some are still closed to the public - and the purchase fo another 3,750 acres of regional parkland are now in doubt.The additional acres depend upon Fairfax County residents who go to the polls June 14 to vote in the party primary and on school and park bond issues. Fairfax will in effect decide the future of the regional parks for Alexandria, Falls Church, Fairfax City and Arlington and Loudoun Counties as well as its own residents, since Fairfax contributes the most money to the regional park system and its votes and money are crucial to major projects.
Part of the $28.5 million park authority bond issue (the Fairfax share is $12.1 million) would develop seven new parks, add to many of its eight existing parks, build a 29-hole gold course near Mount Vernon and creat a 42-mile linear park and bike trail from the edge of Alexandria to the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the abandoned right of way of the Washington and Old Dominion railroad - part of the right of way already is used as a bike path in Falls Church.
Fairfax citizens also will vote June 14 on whether 58 new community parks and 15 stream valley parks are to be bought by the county's own park authority, and whether 132 existing community parks are to be developed. It is the first ocunty park bond issue in five years, and would put the community parks in almost every developed area of the country.
Loudoun County, which has no parkland whatsoever, except athletic fields at some of its schools, is asking its voters to approve $400,000 on June 14 for the county's first park bond issue, to creat a park near Leesburg in the center of the county. Loudoun has been leasing Firemen's Field for county sports programs - it is used seven days a week and sometimes three games a day are scheduled on it - but the field is being solf for a housing development.The park site has not yet been determined.
The city of Alexandria, which has less publicly owned open space, fewer playing fields, tennis courts and other recreation facilities for its residents than almost any other jurisdiction around Washington, according to a city study, has spend more than $3 million in the last seven years to buy 140 acres of parkland. City planners are urging the purchase of an additional 118 acres but because of sky-rocketing costs of land it is unlikely that the city will purchase the acreage.
However, the City Council two weeks ago approved $647,000 - to be matched with $647,000 in federal funds - to buy 13 acres along Hunting Creek and create what would be Alexandria's largest single park, a 60-acre linear park with playing fields and a bike trail that would stretch more than seven miles from the western end of the city to the Potomac River, where it would connect with the George Washington Memorial Parkway bike trail.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority is considering putting a regional tennis complex there, with as many as 21 tennis courts, which would make it one of the largest public tennis facilities in the Washington area. Alexandria now has only 26 tennis courts, or one for every 4,538 residents, according to city figures. Ratios for toehr Northern Virginia jurisdictions vary from one court for every 1,375 residents to one court for every 2,484 residents. One court for every 2,000 residents has been considered the optimum by park planners.
Virginia, critized by a state commission in 1966 for having an "inadequate" state park system and almost nothing in Northern Virginia, bought 1,800 acres on Mason's Neck on the Potomac near Gunston Hall the following year when developers threatened to build a Reston-like new city there. The peninsula, one of the last nesting areas of the southern bald eagle, is now owned largely by the federal government and the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority. The state and some regional park authority sections are closed to the public, but $1.1 million is allotted for "passive" development of the state park in the $125 million bond issue that goes before Virginia voters this fall. It includes a total of $5 million for parks in the state.
Arlington, like Alexandria, became highly urbanized before officials realized there was almost no parkland in the county left to preserve. But it has made a small park system out of its Four Mile Run stream valley and has managed to create dozens of mini parks around the county.
"We're proud of our little park system," says Frederick Louis, chief of the park division, "and while we have less parkland per capita than we should we do have at least one small park in almost every neighborhood in the county - or we will have if we purchase an additional 30 acres or so."
Louis says he hopes the county will put a $3 million to $4 million parks bond issue before voters this fall to buy about five major properties "that have not yet gone to apartment hosues" and develop somenow empty lots owned by the county, such as Utah Field in Fairlington and a large area in Pentagon City, where the county would like to develop a major sports complex.
The area's two little cities, Falls Church and Fairfax City, also began buying parkland when it was already almost too ate. Neither city ahs public swimming pools, but otherwise Fairfax City officials say "we're doing quite well, with over 115 acres of parkland in a city of only 6 square miles." It has four large parks, several small parks and a plentiful supply of tennis courts. It has no plans to buy additional parkland.
Falls Church park planners want the City Council to appropriate $35,000 this June to buy several avres of land to add to the city's tiny parks. "The city is so built up there's hardly anything left to buy for parkland," says Kenneth R. Burnett, director of parks and recreation. "All our parks are small, 2-3 acres, except for the 15 acres around city hall, so we now depend a whole lot on the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority." CAPTION: Picture, Some area residents got a head start on summer at Burke Lake Park where visitors can rent rowboats for $3 a day. By Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post