(Updated at 2:40 p.m.) Arlington House, the former home of Robert E. Lee on the grounds of Arlington National Cemetery, received a major donation this week.
D.C. philanthropist David Rubenstein, co-founder of private equity firm The Carlyle Group, donated $12.35 million to the National Park Service “to restore and improve access to Arlington House.” The donation will fund a project that will restore Arlington House “as it was in 1860,” including more attention to the slave quarters. The money will also fund technology investments, with more mobile and web “assets,” an audio tour and a virtual tour, NPS said.
“I am honored to support the National Park Service’s renovation of historic Arlington House built in honor of George Washington and located on hallowed ground atop Arlington National Cemetery,” Rubenstein said in the release. “I hope that upon its restoration, Arlington House will appropriately remind visitors of America’s rich history and our country’s good fortune to have such a unique site to honor our veterans, especially those who gave the last full measure of devotion on behalf of this nation.”
Arlington House went through a round of renovations 2-3 years ago — including work done to repair damage from the 2011 mid-Atlantic earthquake.
The Washington Post reported that Rubenstein, a billionaire, decided to make the donatation after funding half of the Washington Monument’s post-earthquake repairs. NPS Director Jonathan Jarvis suggested the $12.35 million repair project for Arlington House — described as languishing in “embarrassing” condition — to which Rubenstein simply replied, “be glad to do that.”
Arlington House was built by George Washington Parke Custis — and, the NPS points out, his slaves — between 1802 and 1818 as a memorial to George Washington, before it was the home to Lee and his plantation. The plantation was used as a base for Union soldiers during the Civil War, as a community for freed slaves after the Emancipation Proclamation and, later, as a military cemetery.
The NPS says more than 650,000 people visit the house every year, making it the country’s most-visited house museum. Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.), the ranking member on the Interior and Environment Appropriations Committee, which oversees the National Parks, issued a statement after Rubenstein announced his gift yesterday.
“On behalf of 8th District voters and local history buffs I’d like to thank Mr. Rubenstein for his generous gift,” Moran said. “I’ve been a supporter of Arlington House, the Robert E. Lee Memorial, throughout my 24 years representing the people of Northern Virginia. Mr. Rubenstein’s philanthropy allows the flexibility needed to restore this historic site, working beyond the constraints of public funding to build on the restoration work already completed by the National Park Service.”
Sunday’s Army Ten-Miler race won’t take place on an altered course after all, now that the federal government shutdown has ended.
Earlier this week, ARLnow.com reported that the government shutdown had forced a route change for the race, in order to avoid National Park Service territory affected by the shutdown. The altered course would have covered more land in Arlington.
Today the Army Ten-Miler’s Facebook page was updated to inform participants that they will be running the original race course because the federal government has re-opened.
The Marine Corps Marathon, scheduled for next Sunday (October 27), was also in jeopardy due to the shutdown. It could have been postponed or canceled because about 60 percent of that race is run on National Park Service property. Today, organizers confirmed the original plans have been restored, posting the following message on the marathon’s website:
“A special thank you to MCM and MCM10K participants for your patience during the recent period of uncertainty. It is with great pleasure that the MCM can officially announce we are on. We are SO on. See you at the start line!”
There will be a number of roads closed on Sunday for the Army Ten-Miler. The full list, after the jump.
Trash cans have been removed from the Iwo Jima memorial and a number of other National Park Service properties in the area, including Netherlands Carillon, Roosevelt Island, LBJ Memorial Grove, and the Roaches Run waterfowl sanctuary.
The trash cans were removed following the Boston Marathon bombing — when there were incorrect rumors of the bombs being placed in trash cans — but the timing is coincidental. The removal was actually done as part of a larger “Trash Free Park” campaign, and timed to coincide with Earth Day.
“It is a solid waste management strategy of removing trash receptacles from all or sections of a park,” NPS’ George Washington Memorial Parkway branch wrote in a fact sheet last month. “Visitors are expected to carry out the refuse they generate and dispose of it properly at home or at another appropriate destination.”
National and local parks around the country have been getting rid of trash cans as a way to save money and discourage visitors from generating trash at parks to begin with. According to NPS, benefits of a “trash free park” include:
- Fostering a partnership between visitors and the park by encouraging people to take an active role in maintaining a trash-free park.
- Encouraging people to adopt a carry in, carry out Leave No Trace principle.
- Encouraging people to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
- Reducing odors in the picnic area.
- Increasing visitor safety by reducing the number of stinging insects, rodents, and other wildlife in the picnic area.
- Allowing staff time and funds spent on trash collection to be applied to other projects and improvements within the park. (These projects include facility and grounds maintenance, and resource preservation.)
- Reducing the amount of litter in the park.
- Establishing a commitment to park sustainability and responsible park use that will carry on to future generations.
When Fairfax County considered going trash free at county parks in 2010, the annual savings was estimated at $1.8 million.
Not everybody thinks it’s a good idea, though. Some say it’s confusing visitors and resulting in trash being left on the ground, including one recent visitor to the Iwo Jima memorial.
“I watched a war veteran (as indicated by his baseball hat) look for a garbage can to place his empty coffee cup… not finding one he placed it next to another discarded coffee cup,” local resident Lindsey Paola said in an email to ARLnow.com.
Arlington House Rededicated — Arlington House, the family home of Robert E. Lee and an iconic symbol of Arlington County, has been rededicated by the National Park Service following a six year restoration effort. The ceremony was held on Saturday, on the 152nd anniversary of Lee’s decision to lead the rebellion in the Civil War. [Sun Gazette]
County’s Bond Ratings Reaffirmed — Arlington County has had its top Aaa/AAA debt ratings reaffirmed by rating agencies Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The ratings will allow Arlington to borrow money at a lower interest rate. “The Aaa rating reflects the county’s strong long-term credit characteristics including a sizeable and affluent tax base, stable and carefully-managed financial operations with sound reserves, and moderate debt position with manageable future borrowing needs,” Moody’s wrote of Arlington. [Arlington County]
Garvey: Streetcars Fail Cost/Benefit Analysis — In an op-ed in the Washington Post, County Board member Libby Garvey says streetcars on Columbia Pike “are not a good investment for anyone.” Streetcars would not solve transportation challenges on the Pike, and would instead “siphon resources away from other important needs,” Garvey wrote. [Washington Post]
Arlington to Help Train Vets in IT — Arlington County has accepted a $150,000 state grant that will help train military veterans for high-demand Information Technology (IT) jobs. The grant will go to a joint Arlington/Alexandria job training program, which is expected to serve more than 50 veterans over an 18-month period. [Arlington County]
(Updated at 2:15 p.m.) A large stretch of the northbound George Washington Parkway will be shut down this weekend due to rock stabilization work.
All northbound lanes of the parkway will be closed from Spout Run to Chain Bridge. The closure is scheduled to be in place from 7:15 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 5, to 5:30 a.m. on Monday, Oct. 8, according to the National Park Service.
“Detours will be posted, variable message boards have been placed, but alternate routes are strongly advised,” NPS said.
One possible way around the closure for GW Parkway drivers is to take the northbound Spout Run Parkway to Lee Highway, Lee Highway north to Military Road, Military Road north to Glebe Road, Glebe Road northeast to Chain Bridge Road, and Chain Bridge Road north to back to the GW Parkway. Another alternative route, for drivers heading to the Beltway, is to take Spout Run to Lee Highway to westbound I-66.
The rock stabilization project is being performed through Dec. 19 by the Federal Highway Administration. The goal is to stabilize the “rock slopes” of two sites near Spout Run that experienced recent “rock fall events.” The second site, just north of Spout Run, had a boulder fall onto the parkway as a result of the Aug. 23, 2011 earthquake, according to FHA.
In addition to the closure this coming weekend, one of the three northbound lanes of the parkway near Spout Run is closed through the end of the project, and a second (middle) lane is closed during non-rush hours. On top of that, two additional full weekend closures are also planned this month.
“A second and third full weekend closure at the north slide is tentatively scheduled for the weekends of October 13th and 14th and October 20th and 21st,” according to the Park Service.
Photo via the Federal Highway Administration
Arlington Newlyweds Climb Mountain in Tux and Gown — Bob Ewing and Antonie Hodge Ewing, a newlywed couple from Arlington who happen to be avid rock climbers, have attracted national media attention by climbing a summit in Seneca Rocks, W. Va. while wearing a tux and a wedding dress. A small wedding party, including the bride’s mother, also completed the climb with them. [ABC News]
McDonnell Gives Speech at GOP Convention — Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell delivered a speech at the Republican National Convention last night. McDonnell said the election “is about restoring the American Dream” and implementing the kind of fiscally conservative policies that have benefited Virginia. [NBC Washington, Transcript]
Boathouse Comment Period Extended – Updated at 12:30 p.m. — The National Park Service is now accepting public comments about preliminary alternatives for a Potomac River boathouse in Arlington County through Sept. 30. Of the four possible locations identified for the boathouse, two are just south of the Key Bridge, one is near Gravelly Point, and one is on Daingerfield Island. “The boathouse facility and its amenities would enhance public waterfront access in the vicinity of Arlington County for non-motorized recreational activities,” NPS says. [National Park Service]
Photo courtesy Andrew Clegg
Boathouse Meeting Today — A public meeting regarding a proposed boathouse along Arlington’s Potomac River shoreline is being held tonight. The National Park Service is holding the meeting at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street) from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
Senor Pan Closes — After just 6 months in business, Columbia Pike-area cafe/bakery Senor Pan has apparently closed, according to the Pike Wire Twitter feed. Senor Pan was located at 922 S. Walter Reed Drive.
Student Production Plays at Fringe Fest — Mindset, a “surrealist rock opera” created, directed and choreographed by H-B Woodlawn students, is currently playing at the Capital Fringe Festival. The show originally featured all Woodlawn students, but now professional actors have been added to the cast. [Sun Gazette]
Flickr pool photo by Damiec
Because all of Arlington’s land along the Potomac River is actually NPS property, the EIS is mandatory by law. It formally began earlier this year, and assesses the impact a boathouse for non-motorized crafts would have on the natural and cultural resources in the area.
During the public comment portion, which began this week, residents are asked to examine the options in the proposal and voice suggestions or concerns.
There are four possible sites included in the proposal. Two options involve building the boathouse near the Key Bridge in Rosslyn, and another looks at a space near Gravelly Point. One alternative examines Daingerfield Island, which is in Alexandria. The final option is to take no action, meaning no boathouse would be constructed.
The proposal includes a facility with indoor space for storing equipment, training areas and floating docks. The plan has been in the works for years to ease the burden on boathouses in Alexandria and Washington, D.C., all of which are said to be operating at capacity.
A public scoping meeting will take place on Tuesday, July 24, at Washington-Lee High School (1301 N. Stafford Street). From 6:30-8:30 p.m., NPS employees will be present to answer questions and to accept written comments.
The various proposals can be viewed online and feedback can be submitted there as well. The public comment period ends on Friday, August 31. If all goes according to plan, the EIS will continue through winter of 2013.
(Updated at 3:05 p.m.) The National Park Service will be installing a series of safety improvements along the George Washington Parkway, intended to make Memorial Circle and several Mt. Vernon Trail crossings across the parkway less dangerous.
The improvements were announced this morning by Rep. Jim Moran (D). Work on the improvements will start next week and will wrap up by the fall. Among the planned changes, according to Moran’s office:
- “Replacing many of the directional and regulatory signs in the Circle and on Memorial Bridge”
- “Installing rumble strips bumps to alert drivers before each of several specific crosswalk areas”
- “Painting directional arrows, information, and symbols directly onto the pavement to help drivers select proper lanes early”
- “Moving one crosswalk area from where there are two lanes to where it is only one lane wide”
The announcement comes just three days after a cyclist was struck by a car and injured at a trail crossing just south of Memorial Circle. Several other accidents and close calls have been reported at GW Parkway trail crossings over the past two years.
“It’s a confusing area and unfortunately we have a lot of accidents involving bicyclists and motorists and joggers,” U.S. Park Police spokesman Sgt. Paul Brooks acknowledged earlier this week.
Moran says the changes should help make things safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.
“The health and safety of those commuting to work or simply exercising along the Potomac River should never be threatened due to poor infrastructure planning,” the congressman said in a statement. “I am pleased the National Park Service has agreed to put needed fixes into the trails and roads surrounding Memorial Circle. With the scheduled improvements, tourists, commuters, pedestrians, and cyclists will be able to truly share the road.”
(Updated at 3:45 p.m.) The National Park Service is seeking public input on a series of changes proposed for Gravelly Point and the Roaches Run Waterfowl Sanctuary, which are located along the George Washington Parkway near Crystal City.
The proposed changes, which have been in the works since 2008, are intended primarily to improve access to Roaches Run and reduce trail use conflicts along the Mount Vernon Trail at Gravelly Point. Other changes will “enhance the visitor experience… and enhance the safety of pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists.”
The proposal includes:
- The addition of a boardwalk/pedestrian trail from the Crystal City pedestrian underpass to Roaches Run
- A removable, floating boat launch at Roaches Run
- Either widening the congested trail area at Gravelly Point or building two separate trails — a “through route” and a “pedestrian route”
- A permanent “waterless restroom” located in the southwest corner of Gravelly Point
- Converting the dusty, over-used field at Gravelly Point into two rotating fields or one permanent field with either reduced use or more intensive turf management
- “Interpretive sites” at Gravelly Point that will include “signage detailing cultural and natural histories of the area”
- Improved landscaping at Gravelly Point that will remove invasive species and “frame parkway views across the Potomac to Washington, D.C. based on historic planting plan”
- Additional safety features along the Mount Vernon Trail where it parallels the GW Parkway near Reagan National Airport. Safety features may include reflective lines, protective barriers, or protective plantings.
The National Park Service will be holding a public meeting from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 5 to gather input on the options for the Gravelly Point field and the Mount Vernon Trail safety improvements. The meeting will be held at the Indigo Landing Restaurant on Daingerfield Island, located off of the GW Parkway near Alexandria.
Interested parties can also submit comments via the project website. Comments will be gathered through June 22. There will be another opportunity to comment on the options later this year, after an environmental assessment is released for the project.
Once the environmental assessment is released and final project decisions are made, park planner Thomas Sheffer says it could “take a number of years” until the entire project is complete. The timeline is still very much up in the air, and depends on the project’s ability to receive federal funding. Some work, however, may be completed sooner.
“Smaller actions would be considered for more immediate completion by Parkway work crews,” Sheffer told ARLnow.com.
The decades-long mission to build a boathouse for non-motorized vehicles on Arlington’s side of the Potomac River has moved one step closer to reality. After several failed attempts, an environmental impact study is now underway.
Arlington cannot proceed with building a boathouse without approval from the National Park Service, because the waterfront land along this side of the Potomac River actually belongs to NPS. By law, NPS is required to perform a study about how such a venture would impact the cultural and natural resources in the area.
Estimated to take from two to three years, an environmental impact study is the longer and more thorough of two main studies that can be performed. The other is an environmental assessment, which is done on less controversial matters and typically takes one to two years. Environmental assessments had previously been initiated for an Arlington boathouse, but due to various limiting factors including staffing and lack of resources, they were scrapped. This time, all involved parties are dedicated to seeing the EIS through.
“The real emphasis is to make sure it’s really done thoroughly,” said National Park Service Environmental Protection Specialist Thomas Sheffer. “Because with a couple of false starts, we want to make sure this comes to a conclusion.”
The process was re-initiated in late summer, and Arlington was approved as a cooperating agency in the fall. A federal register notice has been submitted, but the process cannot move forward until the notice is officially approved and posted publicly.
Three main sites are being examined for the boathouse. The first is called “Lower Rosslyn” and consists of the area directly along the river near the entrance to Theodore Roosevelt Island. The second is called “Upper Rosslyn,” close to where Lee Highway, I-66 and the Key Bridge converge. A multi-level hybrid of the two Rosslyn locations could be a possibility. Another site is Gravelly Point, which allows for a more spacious facility but has less ideal conditions for rowers because of wind and motorized boats. Daingerfield Island, though not in Arlington County, is also being considered.
After the EIS concludes and a site is chosen, it will be some time before Arlington residents actually get to use a finished boathouse. Public meetings would ensue, followed by final approval of a plan, and a competitive process to find a company to construct the boathouse. Considering the EIS portion isn’t even expected to be finished before the winter of 2013, a completed structure is likely years away. Additionally, the entire idea could be abandoned if no sites are deemed acceptable. However, Arlington is hopeful the boathouse will eventually reach fruition.
“The County is excited to be at this point in the process and excited about the opportunity presented by the Park Service to be an operating agency in the EIS,” Arlington County Federal Liaison Brian Stout said. “It appears they’re taking a very thoughtful approach to this.”
The Park Service has voiced a number of concerns about development on Arlington’s side of the Potomac. Some of those include harm to species along the river, negative impact on cultural sites such as Theodore Roosevelt Island and the area’s position along a flood plane. Arlington County thinks the concerns are valid, but can be worked around.
“We think they can be overcome, and there are answers,” said Stout. “We think there are a lot of ways for us to achieve all of the goals of increased access to the water while staying true to the Park Service goals as well.” (more…)