Just the suggestion last year that the Fairfax County Park Authority could allow more activities in Riverbend Park outraged many Great Falls residents who treasure the 400-acre natural park.
County park planners have worked to revise Riverbend Park’s master plan, which was last updated in 1975.
The latest iteration of that plan, which would allow little future change in the park, primarily drew praise from park users attending a public-comment meeting last month.
“The current proposed draft is thoughtful and well-balanced,” said Tim Hackman of the Friends of Riverbend Park board of directors.
The 1975 master plan, essentially just a single-page park map, included features that were never constructed: an equestrian center, a large camping area and a youth hostel. Those were removed from the updated plan, a more extensive document that details the park’s history and plans for its future.
One of the biggest proposed changes in the draft master plan is a reconfiguration of the park entrance and parking areas, creating 200 more parking spaces and preventing park traffic from backing up onto Jeffery Road, which is an issue on peak days.
Those changes could be made without adding more pavement to the ecologically sensitive park, Park Authority planner Andy Galusha said.
Some park users expressed concern about allowing more parking, fearing that bringing more people into sections of the park where most activity takes place would degrade the experience for everyone.
“I think there ought to be a lot of serious thought given to what the impact would be,” said Richard Bliss, a longtime Great Falls resident and former Park Authority board member.
The plan proposes improving a maintenance road so visitors can use it to move between the two main park activity areas, the waterfront and the nature center.
The visitor center at the park sits in a floodplain and has flooded multiple times during heavy rains. Ultimately, it will be replaced by a larger facility out of the floodplain with more space for staff offices and other uses.
The draft plan also would allow for educational offerings at the park to be expanded, anticipating that the park’s nature center will be replaced by a larger facility that can accommodate more people, More outdoor classroom space and a nature-watching tower near the meadow will be added.
Additional development of features at Riverbend would occur in areas already disturbed by human activity and are not part of the protected areas of the park, Galusha said. The draft master plan is expected to go before the Park Authority Board for approval this spring.