Strap on your hiking boots or rollerblades. The chance to trek across Fairfax County--from Lorton to Great Falls--may come sooner than you think.
Fairfax County officials, flush with money from a voter-approved parks bond referendum last fall, are seriously considering a plan to connect many trail fragments into a single cross-county path.
Once completed, the county trail would offer county residents an opportunity to hike, bike, walk or roll on a trail that winds for 36 miles through parkland and along stream beds.
"It would be a marvelous addition to our trails and parks," Supervisor Gerald E. Connolly (D-Providence) said. "To my way of thinking, anything that can enhance open space and recreational opportunities for Fairfax citizens is a good thing."
Connolly and other supervisors joined a weekend of hiking last month with members of local hiking clubs. The group attempted to cross the county but had to resort to busy streets and private property where there were no public trails. Connolly wants to change that.
"We need to identify what connections don't exist that need to exist and what that would cost," he said.
Last month, Connolly pitched the idea to other members of the Board of Supervisors, who voted to investigate the idea further. The goal: finding out whether there is enough money to build the trail, erect signs along it and maintain it.
Bill Niedringhaus, president of Fairfax Trails and Streams, thinks there is. He said his group would like to see a trail that could be maintained by hiking enthusiasts in much the same way that the Appalachian Trail, which stretches along the entire East Coast, is maintained by hikers.
Niedringhaus said an estimated 1,500 members of the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club live in Fairfax County. And there are others who might be willing to help maintain a hiking trail that is closer to home.
"What we're trying to do is do something like that locally," he said. "We think there's a lot of people that would want to do that here."
The Washington and Old Dominion Railroad Regional Park Trail crosses the county from east to west, but it is maintained by Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority, not the county.
Park officials say a cross-county trail would be a benefit to residents.
Park Authority spokeswoman Merni Fitzgerald said the efforts by the trail club and by Connolly have generated momentum for the idea. In addition, the recent bond referendum directed $4.2 million to be spent on trails during the next six years.
"We think that a countywide hiking trail is a wonderful idea," she said. "Trails tie us all together."
Still, Fitzgerald said the parks agency faces many challenges before a single, cross-county trail could be built.
Chief among them will be finding the proper route for such a path. Some of the trails are already built, but constructing others would mean buying private land or negotiating permanent rights to cut a path across private property.
That can be difficult because many residents are wary of public paths near their property. They fear the noise and litter that can accompany the trails, and they wonder whether people who stray from the path onto private property can sue the homeowners if they get hurt.
"Not every Fairfax County resident looks forward to having a countywide trail going past their back yard," Fitzgerald said. "We have the not-in-my-back-yard syndrome. It's the same challenge we have many times when placing public facilities."
In addition, building a single countywide trail would require parts of the trail already built to be brought up to safety standards, although Fitzgerald said the trail would not necessarily be totally paved. Instead, she said, parts of the trail would be pavement, and others would remain in a more natural state.
"What you are doing here is taking existing trails and connecting them," she said.
The directive by supervisors requests that the Park Authority report with a plan of action by September. Connolly said that he hopes the report will conclude that the trail is affordable.
"If we're in the tens of millions, we'll have to take a fresh look at this. But it's my fervent hope that we're nowhere near that number," Connolly said. "Land doesn't get cheaper. The time to do this is now."