As mentioned in earlier postings, the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority identified a tract of land north of Leesburg for development into a park named for Civil War partisan ranger and local businessman Lt. Col. Elijah “Liege” White at the site of White’s Ford. Plans call for a 275-acre addition to NVRPA which will include a home once occupied by White, in addition to river side tracts where the actual ford was located. But the nearby residents are now expressing concern over the park’s creation, voicing them during a November 19 meeting:
Neighbors Worry About Potomac River Park Plans
By Erika Jacobson Moore
While a park can be established within current zoning rules on land north of Leesburg along the Potomac River specific plans for the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority’s White’s Ford Park are raising concerns for many residents who live along the rural roads in the area.
During its public hearing Thursday, the Planning Commission heard comment on the commission permit to approve the park use and the special exception application to allow for a boat rental facility and launch into the Potomac River, and many residents living along Limestone School Road and Hibler Road, where the park would be located, said they were worried about the impacts such a use would have on their properties and quality of life.
One of the main concerns brought forward by residents was the ability of the two two-lane roads to handle the increased traffic the park would bring. County staff members have recommended the addition of a right-turn lane from Rt. 15 onto Limestone School Road, a condition neither NVRPA nor the residents feel is proper.
“[Hibler] Road is not designed for the traffic this will bring,” resident Andrea Bendo said. “Anyone can purchase a season pass, received a gate key and come and go as they please.”
Many of the residents pointed to the traffic on their roads during Temple Hall Farm’s Corn Maize event in the fall as evidence another park would only bring additional issues.
“There is a real issue with traffic safety, but the rural character will be negatively impacted with the improvements needed, a Catch-22 that is shown through the proposed high-intensity uses,” Taylorstown resident Patrick Ryan said.
Many of the residents expressed concerns with the use of motorboats on the Potomac River, even with the limitation that prohibits any boats with more than 10 horsepower. Colleen Gillis Snow, the attorney representing NVRPA, said the authority envisions at least 60 percent of the boats to be non-motorized.
“I would not object to canoe rental and concessions, but I am here to object to the ruining of our beautiful Potomac River with motorboats,” resident Betsey Brown, a former representative of the Catoctin District on the Board of Supervisors, said. “The Potomac River is one of Loudoun’s most important natural assets. Please preserve it.”
NVRPA presented county staff with an assessment by the Williamsburg Environmental Group that showed, with five motorized boat launches anticipated per day during peak usage times, the potential for streambank degradation is minimal.
Residents were also concerned about a part of the application that is not before the commission: proposed campgrounds. The campgrounds would only be considered by the Board of Supervisors because it only requires a minor special exception application. But for many of those at Thursday’s hearing, the campgrounds are a major concern.
“While we understand the proposed park is meant to operate and normal waking hours, who is there to stop the late-night partying and drinking around the campfire?” Mike Miller, president of the White’s Ford Neighborhood Association, asked.
Another resident noted that “camping, bass fishing and beer drinking go hand in hand” and another was concerned about the disposal of beer cans along the rural roads as campers leave the site.
“This is not the place to put this kind of park,” Doug Scott, who lives outside the area, but came to give his opinion as a former campground owner. “I have a lot of great experiences, but I also have a lot of not so great experiences. It’s about the ability to manage the people who come to the park. To think that you can control the atmosphere in this campground and not allow people to drink is na•ve at best. This kind of atmosphere invites that kind of behavior.”
If approved by the Board of Supervisors, the minor special exception would allow for the development of a maximum of 10 cabins. As proposed, camping would cost $30 per day, for a maximum of 14 days consecutively, Snow said.
Many of those present, even those requesting denial of the application as proposed were in favor of a park at the location.
“We have the opportunity have a park run by a responsible manager,” William Wilken, a history teacher at Stone Bridge High School, who noted he was not representing the school, said. Wilken urged the commission to work to create a middle ground between NVRPA and neighboring residents. “Find a way to get this beautiful piece of property into stewardship for my students and their children and grandchildren.”
“I hope you can figure out a way to make this work. Loudoun County has very little public land,” Bill Niedringhaus said. “I’d like to hear some ‘can do’ talk. I think we can figure out a way to deal with some of the legitimate issues here. If we don’t find a way to get a [multi]-hundred acre park the chance won’t come again.”
Before the commission voted to send the application to committee for further discussion, Snow encouraged residents to continue working with the NVRPA to find the best solution and while no dates have been set, Snow said the authority is still committed to working with the residents.
“We’re serious. We think that it’s an important enough mission for NVRPA not to just throw up our hands and walk away,” she said. “But with that in mind, the interests of the residents are also important enough to continue to work on this.”
From my perspective, I agree that something should be done with regard to traffic flow off US 15 to the proposed park. The nearby Temple Hill Farm park, while excellent in concept and presentation, strains the ingress routes during the busy fall season. Temple Hill Farm park is located on Limestone School Road (CR 661), which also would support the proposed White’s Ford park on Hibler Road (CR 656). Often the turnoff requires traffic control officers posted on US 15, adding more congestion to an already heavily traveled corridor. Certainly something must be done to ease the impact on traffic.
Maybe it is not this simple, but Loudoun is having difficulty finding “projects” to apply approximately $1.5 million in stimulus funding. I figure a turn lane on US 15 at the intersection is a “shovel ready” type project. Gotta hurry though, we only have two more weeks to apply for the funds!
I would note that NVRPA has a long track record of engaging “friends of…” groups in the area to help protect the parks. Such might allay fears regarding the upkeep and appearance of the park in years to come.
The good note, as mentioned at the end of the article, parties are looking for ways to make this park happen. There is nothing here that good planning (and a little bit of funding) cannot overcome.