Arlington Boathouse Closer to Becoming Reality

by Katie Pyzyk February 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm 7,793 62 Comments

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.”

Stout points out that other boat clubs along the river have been stretched thin, both for high school rowing and community access to non-motorized boats. He believes allowing Arlington to build a boathouse would benefit the area in general by alleviating stress on some other facilities, such as the Potomac Boat Club and the Anacostia Community Boathouse.

Rep. Jim Moran is recognized by all parties for his push to get funding for an EIS. He continues to support building an Arlington boathouse.

“We would not be where we are without Congressman Moran. He’s got a close working relationship with the Park Service and the Department of the Interior,” Stout said. “He’s helped to keep them at the table and push them along with this. That’s been incredibly helpful.”

Although NPS foots the bill for performing an environmental impact study, the funding for the potential building and staffing of a boathouse has not yet been determined. Such details are not included in the EIS, but would be discussed once a site gets final approval and a formal plan is drawn up. However, Sheffer notes it would be unlikely the Park Service would supply monetary support.

Once the federal register notice is published, public meetings will take place to explain more details of the EIS and what comes next. Public input would be taken into consideration for drawing up various drafts of an environmental plan. In the meantime, the county and NPS will hold internal meetings to sort out preliminary details. They’re getting together today to look at preparations for public sessions and to address potential issues that may arise.

An email newsletter is being set up to keep the public informed of developments and upcoming meetings in the next few months. Anyone interested in being added to the newsletter list can send an email request to [email protected]

“We’re making sure that we get a lot of voices heard in the public scoping process,” Sheffer said. “That really sets the process off on the right foot.”

  • Andrew

    Why have the NPS pay for an environmental study before funding for the boat house has been identified?

    • Wilbur

      BC you cant get funding until you do an EIS. EIS is the first step.

  • truth be told

    A trolley AND boats! I want a ferris wheel or roller coaster next!

    • Boogity

      Take the Donaldson Run Log Flume to work!

    • Wilbur

      Actually, there use to be an amusement park there, back turn of the century. I believe it was called Arlington Beach. But it succumbed to sufficient potomac river floods. Rossyln has had a history of being rather the colorful corner of WDC.

    • thelevyisdry

      Obviously a zip line into DC comes next.

      • Maria

        Well now there’s a way to relieve traffic congestion…

        • Richard Cranium

          Flying Squirrel suits?

          • Bluemontsince1961

            Good one, R.C.!

          • Maria

            I know it has nothing to do with ziplines, but all I can picture are men in business suits carrying briefcases and jet-packing across the Potomac.

    • Bluemontsince1961

      LOL! Don’t forget the carousel and the cotton candy stand.

  • CW

    Having trouble envisioning where the Upper Rosslyn site would be. The intersection named is at the elevation of the bridge pretty much; there’s a steep drop off to the Parkway, then the Parkway itself, then not really much land until the river. Where would it go and how would it be accessed?

  • Arlingtoon

    I may be a minority of one, but I think this is a great thing for the County. All three public high schools have crew teams; the Washington-Lee team was founded in 1949 and has won over 30 national championships.

    The facilities across the Potomac are both crowded and difficult to utilize — for example there is a significant shortage of parking, particularly since the NPS took over the portion of the Georgetown waterfront just below Key Bridge.

    It will also make it easier for Arlington residents to access the riverfront. Most other cities with a waterfront have public facilities that permit their citizens to take advantage of their proximity; in Arlington the GW Parkway really acts as a barrier that keeps us on one side and the Potomac on the other. To be sure you can get on the Parkway going north, and park by Roosevelt Island, but that isn’t very convenient; nor does it give you access to much of the Arlington riverfront.

    So like I said, I may be a minority of one, but I think it’s a great idea. (And I can promise you it will get far more use than the Artisphere.)

    • David

      Not a minority at all. I don’t have a problem going to Jack’s or Thompson, but having one in my county, I hope this goes through. It will be just a little easier to put in my SUP in Arlington, rather than DC.

      • drax

        I vote yes too. I hope it happens. And I think the getting people down to the water to appreciate, and have a stake in protecting, the water will mitigate any negative environmental impact.

    • dk

      Add me. I think it sounds great.

  • G::TheNativeArligntonian

    First of all it should made clear that this project has been in the works since 1992. It was first imagined and proposed by Washington-Lee Hs.’s legendary rowing coach, Charlie Butt , Jr. He had a vision for a boathouse on the Arlington side of the river offering access for rowers, kayakers, canoers, educators, and Arlington residents as a whole. Arlington County is the only jurisdiction in the area that doesn’t have direct and usuable access to the river by its residents. Furthermore, the only major roadblock to this project over the years has been the NPS.
    In any case, the project has a number of dedicated and knowledgable volunteers in the Arlington Boathouse Foundation (www.arlingtonboathouse.org) who have worked with county staff and NPS personnel to identify a site for the boathouse. Charlie’s original plan, and that of the Foundation, was to locate the boathouse near Key Bridge, where the GW parkway bends around the point near Roosevelt Island. This location offers access to a stretch of the Potomac River deemed generally much safer for small boat usage (i.e. rowing, canoeing, kayaking) than other potential locations. Many sites have been identified by the NPS, most of which have had particular issues based on safe conditions due to weather or motorized boat traffic. The general location near Key Bridge and Roosevelt Island is still deemed the best site by those volunteers involved with moving the project forward. The exact configuration of the site is a work in progress with many details already worked out. The only slow down with the project has been the continued wrangling and back pedalling on the part of the NPS. The current enviornment and situation appears to be a bright spot and one that is fostering positive movement forward for the project. Time will tell, however.
    Lastly it should be noted that funding for the project will come in part from the county, but that outside, private funding will be the major source for building the project. There is a vast network of Arlington rowers, enthusiasts, and former Arlington County high school rowing alumni who are ready to step in and help support the financial needs of the project to see it come to fruition. Currently over close to 250 Arlington high school students must cross the river each day to particpate in their sport. It is time that these students and all of the residents of Arlington have direct access to the river as is enjoyed by our jurisdictional neighbors.

    • brendan

      “Arlington County is the only jurisdiction in the area that doesn’t have direct and usuable access to the river by its residents.”

      I agree that there could definitely be better access… but there are at least a couple points already.

      Gravelly Point is actually a decent launch pt, but as the article and others have mentioned, wind is a problem for non-motorized boats. Another place you can launch from the Roosevelt Island parking lot, right next to the proposed site, though this requires you to carefully haul your boat down and up the rocky bank. Would a boathouse make launching rooftop canoes/kayaks easier here? maybe… but with all the additional traffic and parking issues it might also make it far more of a hassle to get your boat in the water than a few rocks.

      • Pentagonian

        Need a long flat dock to load/un-load crew shells, especially 8’s and 4’s. It’s no fun wading knee deep in water walking a boat in and out of the Potomac.

        • Roseanne

          I need a long flat dock too. Wait, what?

          • Pentagonian

            Or maybe you’re just looking a coxswain. Censorship in 3…2…1……………

    • Pentagonian

      Amen G. As a former rower (W-L) I’m excited for the next generation of Arlington rowers.

      • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

        W-L, class of ’87. Right on.

        • ArlingtonNative

          W-L Crew – Class ’83
          Sister, W-L Crew ’81
          Brother, W-L Crew, ’79
          Brother, W-L Crew, ’77

          The talk of the Arlington Boathouse has been around well before ’92 – I think that is just when they started the foundation.
          I recall plans and drawings at Crew Board meetings back when I was in HS.
          Unfortunately, the story is correct in that it will be a lonnng time before we have an actual facility to use. Good to see that others are keeping up the fight!

  • Rob Geeeee

    Non-motorized boats? Lame-o, bro. I was hoping to be able to cruise over in my 70 footer. Would’ve been nice to bask in the sun on one of the upper decks, eating lobster and watching the plebes in their peddleboats.

    • Wilbur

      And you can run your motorized boat up against the rocks like all the other morons that bring them this far up river

      • Virginia

        One word: Jet Skis

  • nunya

    they’ve been talking about this *forever*. i agree, having something on the VA side would be nice for all the schools, clubs and residents/tourists using the DC side.

    hope it gets better traction this time. my vote is the Lower Rosslyn site. they could use the TRI parking lot, or extend it and go up from there to Key Bridge. i think the TRI channel would be a good place starting off point.

    • Andrew

      That parking lot is already packed on the weekends. I imagine you would have to signifcantly expand it.

      • nunya

        well there’s only so much land available.

        you could always add a deck up to the height of GW Pkway. not pretty and no matter how many spaces you add, you’ll always not have enough.

        there are plenty of parking spaces in Rosslyn itself that go unused at night and weekends. encouraging usage of those spots is probably better. the walk down would do most people good anyway. would be a boon for pedicabs as well for people too lazy to walk that extra bit.

    • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

      The boathouse would not use TR Island parking. Parking would limited for the facility. Use of public transportation, biking, etc would be the primary mode for getting to the site.

  • LNE

    This is a good idea in principle but I don’t see how it’s feasible in or near Rosslyn given the current configuration of roads. Where would you put an access road? And wouldn’t you need to build a bridge in almost every scenario over the GW Parkway, which would be expensive?

    • Wilbur

      There is currently a pedestrian bridge across the GW. However, it unintelligently dumps pedestrian traffic at a point where it must enter and travel along the parking lot. This could be an opportunity to rebuild the bridge so that the pedestrian traffic crosses over the GW and over the parking lot, and dropped at a point where it never has to enter, cross, or travel in the parking lot.

  • edobson22207

    Right now Arlington County residents have very limited access to the most amazing natural and cultural resource that is literally in their backyard — the Potomac River.
    The Boathouse will provide access to the river for athletic purposes but also for academic and recreational purposes. The Potomac River is one big science project — water quality issues, water flow, wildlife, among other things. It is also an important academic resource in understanding the history of this region and the settlement patterns both before and after 1609. The Potomac River is also an amazing recreational opportunity for weekend warriors to have a new outlet for recreating.
    We need access to the River.
    The site preferred by the rowing community (Key Bridge) used to be the site of a pier and offloading facility for oil into the industrial wasteland of Rosslyn. It has been a dock and can be once again.
    As is pointed out, the Arlington Boathouse Foundation has and will raise considerable amount of money from a group of people who knows how important a resource the Potomac River is for our community. The only impediment right now is getting the site selection so people know how their money is going to be used.
    We need access to the River.
    Glad to hear that this is moving forward.


    • Wilbur

      By “limited access to the Potomac” are you referring to Windy Run, Donaldson Run, TR Island, The Mount Vernon Trail, Graverly Point, Roaches Run, Columbia Island Marina, Gulf Branch, Pimmit Run, or the National Park along the rivers edge??

      • Boogity

        It is limiting him and his handful of buddies who can not be bothered to cross Key Bridge to use Jack’s Boathouse or Fletcher’s Boathouse or the other new Boathouse that the Park Service is reviewing directly across the river from where they want to build this one.

        • G::TheNativeArlingtonian

          Arlington rowers do it everyday. The kids do it everyday which is a safety issue given the traffic. Its also a time issue as the travel time, which can be up to an hour each way for some of the kids, takes away from study time in the evenings. There is no need for it, and would be moot if there was a facility in Arlington.

          • Zoning Victim

            It takes Arlington kids an hour to reach the Potomac River? Using what route?

          • edobson22207

            yeah, surprisingly it does.
            the students are taken to Crew practice by school bus. The time it takes to get home in afternoon rush hour on a school bus thru the heart of Georgetown and/or TR Bridge traffic just gradually adds up. And, no, we do not want two dozen teenage kids driving to crew practice in Georgetown rush hour.

          • ArlingtonNative

            edobson and the other W-L rowers on here from the 80’s will remember when the majority of the team drove/car-pooled to Georgetown for crew practice. That ended in the late 80’s after some notable accident’s going to/from practice by student drivers as well as the decreasing parking below Whitehurst as the waterfront developed.
            It may be anecdotal, but the practice of using school buses (mandatory now, I believe) also coincided with a decline in the success of the programs as the practice time was significantly reduced.
            When students drove, practices started earlier and went later. The available time for practice is now largely dictated by the school-bus schedule. Having a resource on the VA side of the river could easily add an extra hour of practice time to the teams schedule.

          • Deez

            Such a ridiculous niche project. I assume the schools are going to pay for this?

          • Hope

            WL Crew does have a bus, but they usually run down from WL to the boathouse in Georgetown. A parent drives one car down with all their crew gear bags. Exercise. The bus brings them back in the evening (which causes the most delay G-town traffic at rush hour). They could already be home doing homework instead of sitting in traffic.

      • brendan

        wilbur, most of the places you cited are impossible to launch boats from. that’s the point of a boathouse… there are a few options but think you missed the point of the article and comment.

    • TJLinBallston

      Two thumbs up for useful information in a posting instead of bluster ‘n blather.

    • Baja

      The Boathouse is a great idea! However, that website has no “contact us” / subscribe for more info / get involved, etc. Not v. effective…

  • Tax Payer and Citizen

    I think this is truly wonderful to see some forward progress on this issue after years of inaction. It’s sad that GW Parkway effectively blocks almost access to the river for its entire course through Arlington. Let’s hope this moves forward and allows people real access to the river. Good luck!

    • Rob Geeeee

      It’s a dense, urbanized metropolitan area. If you want river access, take a drive south.

      • drax

        That’s like saying you should drive south for something because of the traffic.

      • Josh S

        Mind-bending, isn’t it?

  • It’s a wonderful idea to add more boathouse capacity on the Potomac, especially the Virginia side. You always have to go to DC to rent a canoe or kayak – the closest boathouse in Virginia is in Alexandria. Even the Anacostia has an increasing number of boathouses. Getting more people out on the river to enjoy this tremendous natural asset is a good thing in my book. Right now most people just drive over the Potomac to work and ignore the river.

    Tangential to a boathouse is that I’d love to see more water taxi services on the Potomac. It’d be cool someday to have a service that can drop people off at multiple points on both sides of the river, similar to what Baltimore has in the Inner Harbor. It would take more cars off the road and help bring more business to Georgetown, Waterfront, the ballpark, Long Bridge Park, Alexandria, National Harbor, and so on.

    • Lee-n-Glebe

      Water taxi from DCA to DC and Virginia. VA boat house could be a stop, part of the taxi fee could go to pay for the boathouse. I can think of several good locations for Georgetown stops. You can’t tell me that Congresscritters wouldn’t be THRILLED to not have to drive across a bridge to get to DCA.

      The Delta shuttle in LGA used to have a water taxi and it was fantastic – you knew exactly how long it would take you to get from Manhattan to LGA and didn’t have to worry about traffic.

      Of course, it didn’t make money and had to close. Additionally, the DCA terminal doesn’t exactly come right up to the water, so that would have to be solved for. So those are negatives.

      As for profitability I think the weather is more conducive to a longer operating season here.

      And hey, we’re dreaming anyway.

  • CarolR

    The Virginia shore is one of the nicest viewsheds you will find on the east coast for an urban river. We should allow that to continue and not build this project.

    • Southeast Jerome

      watch it Carol…..remember this isnt an “urban” area.

      If it was, shouldnt Arlington have tall buildings and density, oh wait, you always argue against that if its near your house.

      • CarolR

        Are you projecting some sort of argument? It’s like you have confused yourself with your own rhetorical paradox.

  • JimPB

    — RE: FINANCIALS. Is the vision that user fees will pay fully for the construction, care and operation of the boat house?

    — RE: STUDIES. How many months were required to design, prepare the site and build the Pentagon?

    • Josh S

      What does the Pentagon have to do with the price of rice in China?

      • Quoth the Raven

        Maybe the boat house will have 5 sides too?

    • Zoning Victim

      If that were the case, a private company would be proposing the project, but since it’s not a profitable venture, the government will have to pay so that a tiny percentage of the population can have some place to launch boats from that isn’t a 10 minute drive away or “windy.”

  • dallynd

    I think it’s a great idea. Columbia Island Marina is a good example of constrained use and access. It would be nice to have a public boat ramp for paddlers.

  • Stitch_Jones

    Already got a nice convenient place to launch my kayak in Arlington for free. Not too interested in new crew boats quite personally.

    Here’s hoping this study takes forever.

  • John

    Crew is a sport that makes Arlington high schools so special in all of the U.S. There are very few areas that have strong public school participation in crew. (Boston and Philly come to mind; and their rivers are beautiful despite, indeed partly due to, their architecturally appropriate boathouses.)

    This sport fosters teamwork, fitness and dedication to long term goals. When I returned to the DC area after moving away briefly, I chose to live in Arlington because of the community spirit, good schools and access to a crew program for my two sons. My oldest son is in his second year rowing at YHS and his character, strength, confidence and work habits have multiplied ten-fold since he started in this great sport. If the county and NPS can build this facility, our kids would have another source of pride in their schools and their county.

  • Mickey

    I guess that we can park in Richmond and commute to the boat place? Wonderful idea.


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