With school out, the Fairfax County Park Authority is launching into its busy season. Michael Kane, director of the agency, recently answered questions from staff writer David Cho about what residents can expect in their local parks this summer.

Q Some travel associations observe that people are not vacationing far from home as much this year. Are you expecting more visitors than in previous summers?

A

Preliminary numbers indicate that we have more visitors in our parks this year than last. In other words, we had more visitors so far this year [3.4 million] due in large part to the nice weather. Anecdotal evidence indicates that in times of national crisis and uncertainty, people tend to stay local and enjoy their parks. Camping facilities have been full to date, and in April, we had 400,000 visitors. . . .

It is our hope that people will discover their parks right around the corner.

What special or new events are coming up this summer?

Probably the most exciting new facility is our skate park at Wakefield Park in Annandale. We opened this spring, and we have been tremendously busy ever since. The teenagers in our community really wanted this skate park, and we feel great about being able to provide it.

We are expanding our program offerings at our five nature centers and historic sites. And don't forget that you can sign up for any one of hundreds of summer camps as well.

What parks or park facilities are under construction?

The biggest is Cub Run RECenter. The 65,000-square foot RECenter costs $18.5 million, with funding coming from the 1998 park bond referendum and is being built adjacent to Westfield High School. The RECenter includes a swimming pool, a 9,600-square-foot fitness center and two multipurpose rooms. The fitness center is the largest in the Park Authority's [system]. . . .

Another exciting project is underway in the southern portion of the county. The Park Authority held groundbreaking ceremonies marking the start of construction on the Laurel Hill Golf Course, an 18-hole championship course that will transform the landscape of what once was the D.C. Correctional Complex at Lorton. . . .

One other project is the construction of two 60-foot diamond ballfields at Wakefield Park.

What will the money be used for in the upcoming bond referendum in November?

On Nov. 2, voters are slated to be asked to vote on a park bond question in the general election. It currently shows a $65 million referendum to acquire new parkland, renovate existing facilities and develop new facilities on existing parkland. The Park Authority board is currently putting together the specifics of the needs-based capital improvement plan and the contents of the bond program. We have heard from hundreds of citizens about what is important to them. It's a healthy process, which ultimately will be decided by the residents of this community.

What have your recent studies found about how frequently residents use the parks?

Our recent needs-assessment study reinforced our belief that the citizens of Fairfax County love their parks. We found that 80 percent of residents visited one of our parks or recreational facilities in the past 30 days. Walking our trails was the county's favorite activity. . . .

So with that information in mind, the Park Authority is working hard to meet expectations and provide the appropriate level of service to this community.

MICHAEL KANE