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FOHMP Supports Bike Transportation But Not These Trails: FOHMP encourages and supports bicycle trail transportation--just not these paved bike trails, because they would be in the wrong place. Some locations are not appropriate as transportation corridors because of the resulting harm to sensitive natural and cultural resources present in these areas. These 4-8 feet wide “shared-use” and “minor paved trails” (paved bike trails), including the substructures needed to support them, are equivalent to narrow paved roads.
Unfortunately, the construction of these paved bike trails within HMP would severely damage nationally significant historic resources; eliminate vernal pools and other wetlands; harm rare plant and wildlife species and their associated habitats; and change the water flow regime, leading to greater flooding risks in adjacent communities.
Importance of Huntley Meadows Park: HMP is a premier Fairfax County Park Au-thority property, established in 1975. We are lucky to continue to have this important natu-ral area conserved and protected. The Park’s natural resources provide many ecosystem services for our region. These include wildlife habitat, flood prevention, cleaning the air of pollutants, noise buffering, erosion control, storm water absorption and filtering, stress reduction for healthier lifestyles, reduced urban heat island effect, and more.
HMP is also an internationally recognized nature and wildlife tourism site that brings tourism revenue to the County. With a Trip Advisor Certificate of Excellence, HMP is rated as #2 of 97 things to do in Alexandria. Fairfax County’s Economic Development Agency uses the County’s nature and wildlife to attract new residents and businesses, as seen in recent full-page ads in Birding magazine. It is important to protect these tourism revenues by conserving the diverse natural habitats and abundant wildlife that make HMP such a special place.
HMP’s freshwater wetland is one of the rarest habitats left in Fairfax County (Stallman, 2015). Fairfax County regards the protection of this habitat as a high priority, as evidenced by its 2014 investment in a $3 million Wetland Restoration Project. This project is intended to sustain a healthy wetland habitat for the long term, supporting diverse plants and wildlife (including many rare species) while fulfilling important flood protection functions for the surrounding area. In 2014, the Virginia Natural Heritage Program (Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation) classified sections of HMP as Coastal Plain Depression Swamp in very good condition. This is a globally uncommon natural community (Rhur, 2016; Stallman, 2015).
Threat to a Unique Historical Resource: There is a nationally significant historical resource located in the area proposed for the southern paved bike trail. In this portion of HMP property are the northern boundary markers of George Washington’s estate. These valuable historical resources are eligible for listing in the National Register of Historic Places due to their association with George Washington, our nation’s first president. These property boundary markers, double ditches with earthen berms, would be severely damaged or destroyed by construction of this pro-posed paved trail.
Damage to Rare Natural Resources: Both paved bike trails are likely to have significant adverse impacts upon HMP’s rare species and ecosystems. Both trails and their associated substructures would have a significant footprint on the ground, eliminating important vernal pools and other habitats used by State-designated rare wildlife and plants. Moreover, because of the low-lying, often wet ground and unconsolidated soils, both paved bike trails would likely need dikes or similar structures to elevate them. Each paved trail, with its supporting structure, would therefore likely function as a dam, changing the water flow regime and probably also the surrounding vegetation. In addition, these paved trails would inevitably lead to increased human disturbance to adjacent sensitive habitats and rare species. Small animals such as frogs and turtles would be run over by fast-moving bicycles.
Construction of the northern paved trail would destroy multiple vernal pools within a densely forested area. It would threaten two, documented 200 year old County Co-champion Swamp Chestnut Oak trees.It would likely also affect the water flow that sustains the central wetland and its abundant wildlife and diverse plant community. Clearing of trees for bike trail construction might warm the wa-ter flowing into the central wetland, potentially disrupting the delicate environmental balance that has been restored through Fairfax County’s $3 million investment in the Wetland Restoration Project.
In addition to destroying an important historical site, the southern paved bike trail would also threaten highly significant natural resources. This trail would pave over, and otherwise alter, an ecologically significant grassy wetland with several rare plant species. It would also pass very close to the Coastal Plain Depression Swamp.
Among the rare, locally-occurring species that stand to be harmed by the construction of either or both of these paved bike trails are two State-rare reptiles, five State-rare plants, breeding habitat for six State-rare breeding birds, and habitat for an International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List species that is under review for federal listing (Rhur, 2013; Gardner, 2016).
Neighborhood Flooding Risks: By acting as dams and changing the water flow regime, these paved bike trails might also increase the flooding risks for adjacent neighborhoods. In the case of the northern paved trail, any obstruction of water flow from the Park’s upper watershed into the central wetland could lead to greater storm water-related flooding in the surrounding neighborhoods.
Alternative Routes In Place And Being Used Bike transportation and commuting alternatives are already mapped into the Comprehensive Plan and Bicycle Master Plan and are being actively used. Jeff Todd Way is a direct link between Telegraph Road and Richmond Highway. This route was opened in November 2014 and includes a separate, dedicated bike and pedestrian trail through a long, wooded stretch of Fort Belvoir. In the Stoneybrook and Woodstone communities sharrows (shared vehicle and bike lanes) have also been mapped and striped; they are actively being used as a second link between South King’s Highway and Lockheed Boulevard leading to Richmond Highway. The neighborhoods to the southeast along the HMP power line easement also have alternative routes that have been identified, mapped, and striped and are actively being used. All these alternative routes are already included in the Comprehensive Plan and in the Department of Transportation’s Bicycle Master Plan.
Previous Transportation Project in Same Area Denied by Department of Interior In the late 1980s Fairfax County requested, as required in the November 26, 1975 Quit Claim Deed for the HMP property, approval from the United States Department of the Interior (DOI) to convert the northern portion of the Park for road (transportation) purposes. In its review of this project, the DOI determined that the “…protection of these unique natural resources must take precedence…” and denied the County’s transportation proposal. The November 30, 1990 denial letter from DOI states: “Huntley Meadows Park is presently (1990) demonstrating increased signs of stress from urban development and the risk of irreversible damage to the wetlands from the construction of Lockheed Boulevard across their water source is too high to permit the project to go forward…To build the proposed road through the park perpendicular to the ground and surface water supply presents too high a risk, since it would be irreversible.Its potential to adversely impact this ecosystem through alteration of water flow and the introduction of pollutants and sediments is obvious and technologically unmitigable. Although studies could be conducted, they could well result in more costly measures which attempt to protect the park but offer no guarantees; the potential for failure remains high and the potential for irreversible destruction of the park indicates that little would be served by further pursuit of the road proposal.”
The current Fairfax County Department of Transporta-tion (DOT) proposed paved bike trails are specifically intended for transportation and commuting. Construction of the northern proposed paved trail would entail the same conversion of this portion of the Park to a transportation corridor as was proposed in the late 1980s. Due to the deed restrictions for HMP property, pursuing such construction would most likely require federal approval and additional costly actions, including a detailed, site-specific environmental review which has never been done for these proposed trails.
Please Help Protect the Park: We need you to express your support for removing these two paved bike trails from the Comprehensive Plan and Bicycle Master Plan. Please send an email expressing your support on or before September 15, 2018 to firstname.lastname@example.org. We will present these emails to the Fairfax County Planning Commission and the Board of Supervisors in advance of the public hearings. We also encourage all our supporters to provide public testimony. Please let me know if you need any guidance on this by e-mailing me at email@example.com.
Thank you for your support as we work to conserve and protect HMP for future generations to experience.
Gardner, M. 2016. Environmental Comments on Dominion Virginia Power Transmission Line Project. Fairfax County Department of Planning and Zoning, February 2, 2016. Rhur, R. 2016. Environmental Review Memo for DEQ 16-003S Belvoir-Gum Springs Transmission Line Re-build Project. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, February 3, 2016. Stallman, S. 2015. Environmental Review Comments on Supplemental Environmental Assessment and Finding of No Significant Impact for the proposed Army Residential Communities Initiative Properties at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Fairfax County Park Authority, December 18, 2015.
Cathy Ledec, President