Chalk it up as a victory for the Fairfax County Park Authority. After a long struggle, the authority recently added more than 1,200 acres to its park holdings--land that will enlarge several existing facilities and add 10 parks to its system.
The new tracts, including a Civil War site near the Prince William County line, are primarily undeveloped and include environmentally sensitive spaces with streams and forested areas. The tracts are in every magisterial district in the county--from a 260-acre new park in Springfield to an eight-acre parcel in the Mason District.
"This is something that has been talked about for years," said Merni Fitzgerald, Park Authority spokesman. "Everyone here is very pleased about this" because the land is now certain to remain in its natural state.
The parcels--1,226 acres in all--were donated to the county over the years by developers, with the intention that they become parkland. But not until May did the Fairfax Board of Supervisors vote to turn over the land to the Park Authority.
Supervisor Michael R. Frey (R-Sully), who pushed for the transfer, said he never thought the tracts would be developed, even while under the authority of the supervisors. But Frey said that officially moving the land to the Park Authority's jurisdiction guarantees that the property will be maintained properly.
"There's clearly the perception among people that it's safer when the Park Authority owns it rather than the county [supervisors]," Frey said, referring to those who wished to keep the land in its natural state. "It makes people feel secure. That's why we did it."
Among the transferred properties is the Union Mill area near the Balmoral development west of Clifton. Considered by the Park Authority to be one of the county's top Civil War sites, the property includes two fortifications that are significant above-ground archaeological sites.
The Confederates constructed the areas to help defend the railway junction at Manassas. But unlike fortifications in areas such as Centreville, which were dismantled after the war, Union Mill remained largely intact.
Now that the land is under Park Authority jurisdiction, Fitzgerald said, officials may put up more interpretive signs to help visitors better understand what they're seeing. Fitzgerald said fencing would be considered for more sensitive areas if necessary.
Some of the 1,200 acres are already known as prime hiking and walking terrain. Others parts, Fitzgerald said, may be largely unknown even to those living nearby. That may be the case with a new park in the Braddock District near Bonnie Brae Elementary School that includes a small lake where drainage storm-water collects.
"This land is beautiful," Fitzgerald recalls saying when she first viewed that particular parcel. "When I saw the lake, I couldn't believe it was hidden back there."