Dranesville Tavern, Sully Plantation and Colvin Run Mill are among a number of Fairfax County parks and recreation centers where services were ordered reduced in the past week.
Squeezed by inflation, limited funds and disappointing attendance at its revenue-producing parks, the county Park Authority board unanimously approved austerity moves expected to save the county about $136,000 through next March, when additional park system changes will be considered.
Other Northern Virginia jurisdictions also are facing park budget cuts, but not as extensive as those in Fairfax. Arlington officials say they may make some cuts next summer in both staff and programs; Alexandria reduced hours at some of its recreation centers and pools last summer. The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, which underwent a major retrenchment three years ago, expects to make few, if any, reductions.
Historic county park sites in Fairfax will be hit hardest, with roughly 10 percent of their budgets cut compared to just over 2 percent cut for recreational parks. Dranesville Tavern, on Route 7 near Reston, which opened only three years ago after the county spent $525,000 to restore it, has been closed indefinitely as a public museum. The 1824 tavern still can be leased by private groups for parties and special events, as can most other historic properties owned by the park authority.
The use of Dranesville as a working tavern, similar to Gadsby's Tavern in Alexandria, is still being considered by the park authority.
At the two other major county historic sites, Sully Plantation and Colvin Run Mill, some outbuildings will be closed and hours and programs will be reduced. Also, the county school system next year will be asked to help support Sully's nationally recognized museum-history program. Some 5,000 county schoolchildren take the course every year, and the cost to the park authority exceeds the 75-cent fee by about $3.50 a child.
The park board decided to make its cuts mainly in the history division because the county Board of Supervisors in 1973 stopped direct county support of historic sites and programs, and ordered that they be supported by revenues from the park authority's 12 money-making projects, such as the recreation centers.
The recreation centers, however, have not produced as much money as anticipated this year. As a result, the park authority is cutting back programs and centers which have the lowest attendance and thus make the least money.
In addition, Burke and Greendale, two of the county's four golf courses, will be closed for almost three months this winter. Operational hours will be shorter at the Wakefield, Lee and Providence recreation centers. The lights will be turned off at outdoor tennis courts in the Nottoway, Mason and Jefferson district parks.
In a simultaneous move to stimulate attendance at parks that charge admission, nonresident fees are being dropped at both Lee and Mount Vernon regional parks. The park authority may forgo the nonresident fees at Providence Park, which is expected to open Jan. 1.
Wakefield Center, however, will continue to charge nonresidents $1 and $2 fees. The county's most popular park complex, Wakefield last year brought in $1.2 million and was the park authority's single biggest moneymaker. Nonresident fees were imposed at all three centers two years ago to help curb crowding caused by nonresident visitors.
"This is not the end of the steps that we will have to take to reduce expenses," said Joseph Downs, executive director of the park authority. "We're not cutting all of our losses by any means, and in the spring season I expect we will have to make more cuts."
Almost 50 percent of the park authority's $9.5 million budget comes from parks such as Wakefield, Lake Fairfax, Burke Lake and the golf courses. The revenues usually exceed park expenses from April until October, but Downs said there is always "a down cycle" in the fall. He added that the ranks of seasonal employes will be reduced sharply this winter.
"We're doing it more dramatically this year," he said. The park system usually reduces its 250 seasonal employes to 150 in the fall, but by Dec. 1 this year it will have fewer than 100 part-time employes, Downs said.
The financial picture of the county park system has become bleaker as it has expanded, especially in the last five years. With 290 parks developed and as many as 25 new neighborhood, district and county parks being opened every year, the park authority is finding there is not enough money to operate and maintain them.
Downs said the park authority warned the supervisors and the voters when the last five-year park bond issue was approved in 1977 that the $39 million to buy or develop 78 new parks would cost an additional $2 million a year to operate and maintain. Allowing for inflation, that figure translates to an extra $3 million in operating funds, park officials estimate.
Arlington's parks division, like other county agencies, has been asked to prepare for a 5 percent reduction in staff and a growth of no more than 6 percent in its fiscal 1982 operating budget -- far below the rate of inflation. No specific reductions in park programs have been identified at this point, according to Frederick Louis, chief of the parks division.
Alexandria, which has a limited park and recreation program, lost two full-time employes this year. To save money, its seven swimming pools were closed two hours early this summer and morning use of its Charles Houston Recreation Center was eliminated, said parks director Joe Hensley.
Alexandria's major new expense will be in its capital, not operating, budget. It has designed but not yet approved bond financing of its first indoor pool complex, a $2.5 million recreation center at Chinquapin Park next to T.C. Williams High School.
The Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, supported by Fairfax, Arlington and Loudoun Counties and the cities of Alexandria, Falls Church and Fairfax City, is apparently in the best financial condition of all area park systems.
The 22-year-old regional system, which owns more than 8,000 acres of park land, operates almost a dozen major regional parks, most of them revenue-producing. Arlington and Alexandria have almost no revenue-producing parks, although Chinquapin is expected to support itself largely through swimming fees.
Fairfax park reveneus this year are expected to cover just under 50 percent of operating costs, while regional park authority parks will take in about 63 percent of what it costs to run them -- a percentage that has been growing steadily every year.
The regional parks have had no cutbacks this year and none are foreseen, said park authority spokeswoman Dorothy Werner, "because we had an extensive streamlining in 1977" when the full-time staff was reduced from 95 to 62. "We have tripled our facilities and doubled our revenues since then (1977)," said Werner, but "we have added only six full-time positions."