Munson Hill Park is a three-acre patch of grass in the middle of one of the most urbanized areas of Fairfax County. For the 4,500 people of Long Branch, Lee Boulevard Heights and Glen Forests in the Mason District, Munson Hill park is not much of a community Park.
There are no basketball or badminton courts, no playgrounds, no adult areas, none of the things a community park is supposed to have. "It's just a raw piece of ground," says Louis A. Cable, assistant director of the Fairfax County Park Authority.
What happens to Munson Hill Park - whether it will be transformed from a raw piece of ground into a multi-use community park - will depend on the outcome of the park bond referendum that goes before Fairfax voters June 14.
Munson Hill is one of the 132 community parks that would be developed by the county authority if voters approve the referendum. The emphasis of the authority's proposed five-year spending plan would be at the community level. In fact, almost 72 per cent of the $39 million the authority would spend in bond money would go for acquisition and development of small neighborhood parks from less than an acre to 30 acres.
The $12.1 million balance of the $51.1 million bond program would be used by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority to acquire and develop parkland in Fairfax. Most of the acquisition would involve filling in missing links in the green buffer along Lake Occoquan at the southwestern edge of the county and purchasing the Washington and Old Dominion Railroad right of way that runs from the Blue Ridge to Alexandria.
Getting a $51.1 million referendum passed involves some drum beating, especially when voters will be asked on the same day to decide on another expensive referendum - $24.8 million to build new schools and renovate old ones.
The chief drum beater for the park bond referendum is Lorraine F. Foulds, chairman of the Fairfax County Loves Its Parks Committee.
Unlike the school system, the park authorities have never had one of their referenda defeated by the voters. The referenda have all passed by sizeable margins.
The Fairfax County Taxpayers Alliance, is against both the parks and school referenda June 14. But no sizeable opposition has emerged to either one.
In a move obviously aimed at attracting support throughout the county, the Fairfax Park Authority has prepared fact sheets detailing proposed acquisitions and development in each district.
For example, residents in Mason can learn from their fact sheet that the referendum would provide $4,540,175 for their district, including $305,000 to add two acres to Munson Hill and develop it with ballfields, pay areas and other features.
Voters will not be able to support or reject different parts of the overall $51.1 parks referendum. Either the entire referendum passes, or none of it does.
While the county authority proposes to spend most of its bond money on community parks, some needs in urban areas would still remain unmet. The neighborhoods around Munson Hill, for example, would still be short about seven acres of parkland based on the standard formula of about 8.5 acres per 1,000 population.
"We're obviously not going to meet that goal everywhere," assistant director Cable said.
Acquiring parkland in densely-populated areas like Mason is expensive. The two acres that would be added to Munson Hill would cost the authority $175,000. For $75,000, the authority could buy - and plans to do so - 10 acres on the fringe of Herndon near Floris in Centreville District.
Parks are scarcest in the inner part of the county where land is most expensive. When Mason and other older sections of Fairfax were developed in the 1940s and 1950s, the county did not ask builders, as it now does, to set aside part of their acreage for parks.
But even outright donations can be expensive. In the early 1970s, the late David Lawrence, founder of U.S. News and World Report, donated 640 acres of farmland and woods to the county. But development plans, which would be carried out if the referendum passes, would cost $1,098,000 - the biggest item in the $5,497,785 five-year spending program for Springfield District.
While the county authority is emphasizing development, the regional authority is stressing acquisition. During a ride on a sightseeing pontoon boat in Lake Occoquan, director Darrell Winslow pointed to the unbroken green shoreline on the Fairfax side. Most of the land is already owned by the regional authority. But parts, though still undeveloped, are in private hands, their owners waiting to see if the referendum passes.
"I think it's the last chance in Fairfax County to protect some of these big chunks of land," Winslow said. "We won't be around to see this during the next bond referendum, because by then, the land will be gone."