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Long-Sought Arlington Boathouse May Become a Reality

Thanks to shifting political winds and dogged determination, the decades-long quest to get a boathouse built on the Arlington side of the Potomac may finally result in action on the part of the federal government.

The National Park Service is expected to launch an extensive environmental and historical impact study for potential boathouse locations in the next several months, the first step in what is expected to be a lengthy but, at last, finite process.

The impact study would likely wrap up by the end of 2011. If it the boathouse then gets the go-ahead, and if funding can be secured for the project, the Park Service would seek bids for the planning, building and daily operation of the boathouse.

In other words, don’t hold your breath.

“We’re still a very, very long way away from the finish line, even if it is approved,” said Brian Stout, Arlington County’s federal government liaison. “There will be a lot of issues for them to study.”

The Park Service is a central player in the boathouse process because it controls most of the riverfront land in Arlington County. The Park Service would be responsible for building and running the boathouse, but county leaders hope the agency would allow “robust community and public access” to the facility. Among the local groups chomping at the bit for a new boathouse are Arlington’s three public high school rowing teams (Yorktown, Washington-Lee and Wakefield), which currently pay for access to crowded boating facilities in the District.

Stout says the county hopes the Park Service would choose to build the boathouse just north the the Roosevelt Island parking lot, near the pedestrian access from the Mount Vernon Trail to Key Bridge. That part of the river is uniquely suited for rowing facilities, he said.

In the end, a number of possible boathouse locations will be considered and studied for feasibility.

Stout credits Dottie Marshall, the new George Washington Memorial Parkway administrator under the Obama administration, for being “pragmatic” and open to the boathouse idea, despite the numerous challenges that will stand in the way of completing such a project.

“The Park Service has really for the first time decided to take a look at this,” Stout said. He also credits Rep. Jim Moran (D-Va.) for his behind-the-scenes support over the past couple of years.

The county has long sought a boathouse on its side of the Potomac River. Among the more recent efforts dates back to 1995, when the county created a boathouse task force.

Will it be worth the wait?

“We think it could be an important asset, not just to our community but to the region,” Stout said.

Flickr pool photo by Mark C. White

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