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Improvements Proposed for Potomac Overlook Regional Park

by Katie Pyzyk February 26, 2013 at 1:15 pm 1,832 48 Comments

Treetop shelter similar to one proposed for Potomac Overlook Regional Park (photo via NVRPA)

Improvements have been proposed for Potomac Overlook Regional Park, and one of the suggestions is to add the park’s first actual “overlook.”

The park land is managed by the Northern Virginia Regional Park Authority (NVRPA), which held a meeting last night (Monday) to present the proposed improvement plans.

One of the ideas is to construct an overlook in the tree canopy where visitors could rent equipment and participate in educational programs. The site could also potentially be rented out for events.

Some of the other proposed improvements are:

    • Create bus drop off plaza/welcome area with information kiosk and covered area for up to 75 persons.
    • Relocate and/or improve park signage.
    • Move gate further down entrance road and add parking — can add approximately 20 head-in spaces in clearings on each side of road with minimal tree loss.
    • Add new asphalt cap to park roadway.
    • Expand area of amphitheater to hold larger events by trimming back the vegetation on the upper side of the bowl.
    • Add rock climbing, zip lines or large swings or similar features to attract groups, and help rent shelters.
    • Replace existing stage with a shelter that could be rented, or used as a stage when needed. This new shelter would use the existing solar panels on its roof. Improve the interpretation of the solar shelter.
    • Implement a small 2-acre urban farm or community garden, and develop interpretation of Donaldson farm and the historic foundations located near center of park, just off the paved path.
    • Renovate and expand the aging birds of prey facility — an extremely popular destination for school groups visiting the park.
    • Remove outdated and dilapidated elements such as “simple pleasures trellis,” solar fan bench and toddler terrace.
    • Add scout camping area in cleared area behind the Indian Garden.
    • Consider reestablishing a healthy orchard area to do a “pick your own” program.
    • Request long-term lease or gift of Marcey Park from Arlington County.

Site plan for Potomac Regional Overlook ParkIn addition to upgrading the existing facilities, the plan suggests revamping programs offered at the park. The ideas include the following:

      • Expand the number of weeks summer camps are offered.
      • Drop camps for older kids that do not fill.
      • Expand camps for younger kids that are in demand.
      • Offer half day camps.
      • Institute on-line registration process.
      • Use more summer seasonal staff, and reduce distance of field trips.
      • Offer merit badge programs with scout camping for a value-added experience.
      • Do fewer concerts with bigger names to improve returns.
      • “Yappy Hour” events using tennis courts on scheduled evenings.
      • Explore after school nature programs for area elementary schools.
      • Partner with external organization to operate the Urban Agriculture area.

Funding for the project would come from the NVRPA, with the possibility of some assistance from the Northern Virginia Regional Park Foundation.

So far no start date has been set for the beginning the work because the plans are preliminary. NVRPA is currently focusing on soliciting comments and suggestions from the community, which can be emailed to [email protected] NVRPA will hold at least one more meeting with community members regarding finalized plans before renovations begin.

  • clarendon

    “aging birds of prey facility ” is that like a retirement home for hawks?

    • jlb

      You’re not that far off. It’s a sheltered row of pretty-much bare-bones but good-sized outdoor cages for birds of prey – hawks, owls, eagles – that have been injured by collisions and the like, and lose an eye, suffer a crippled wing, etc. Unable to survive on their own, they’re provided with food and care, and used to educate kids and adults alike about raptors, their life cycles (and the dangers wild creatures face when they come into contact with civilization.) They’re on display during daylight hours at the park (I think they’re closed on one weekend day. The captive birds don’t look thrilled at their situation – but hey, the alternative is that they’d be dead. On the plus side, thousands of visitors can see these magnificent. elusive creature close-up, and students learn from naturalists while going eye-to-eye with the real thing, instead of staring at a picture on an iPad.

  • Novanglus

    They have an exhibit on “Aging Birds of Prey”?

    • flux

      It makes them much more tender and flavorful

  • Josh S

    I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, this stuff sounds great and the existing park is definitely a bit shabby, but on the other hand I would not welcome the crowds. Even on a weekend, you can often hike here without running into that many people. (Sure, it’s a short hike.)

    • ph7

      Agreed. On weekends, and especially weekday evenings, I can usually hike with my dogs off leash there, because I rarely see anyone, other than other hikers and other off-leash dogs. You can take the trail down to the river, and walk the river down to Teddy Roosevelt Island and beyond.But I recommend Windy Run off of Kenmore for good secluded hiking to the River. You can also walk from Marymount or the Home for Wayward Priests through Donaldson Run to the river for a more social hike.

    • No Changes

      I live near this park, and personally disagree with you. Some of the ideas sound purposeful, and would improve the park, such as expansion of the Birds of Prey exhibit, but other features, particularly the camp grounds, sound much more unappealing. I do agree with you about the crowds. We definitely don’t need the crowds, and also we do not need THE TRAFFIC! Also how much pollution will there be? Light pollution, noise pollution, ground pollution. It’s all very troubling. Nobody in our community asked for this, so why is it happening here?

  • AbLab


  • AbLab

    This park is a haven for wildlife and the natural process of a forest restoring itself. It is a joy as it is for those of us–and we are many–who hike through these woods with or without dogs, etc. Groups of school kids already take advantage of its beauty. An overlook perhaps since the park seems mis-named as it is. An upgrade on the trails etc, but NOT camping, buses, zip lines ….this plan is breathtakingly reckless and poorly thought through.

  • Norbert

    I’m with the “less people” crowd. I lost my virginity in that parking lot in the backseat of a 74 Maverick. I would hate for that experience to be denied to others because of crowds.

    • ph7

      Dad, is that you?

      • Dad

        Yes it is, son. It’s time for you to log off the computer and come up from the basement – you will be late for your Cub Scout meeting and Timmy said it was your turn to bring the gummy bears.

    • park ranger

      I think I found your virginity. Please come pick it up, it’s starting to shrivel.

  • Ashton Heights

    To pour a little gasoline on this fire: I was at a meeting last night to “discuss” the planned improvements. The presenters tried to sell their shopping list, and the audience (maybe 80 people) unanimously and loudly opposed it (there were maybe 1 or 2 in the audience who did not object to everything on the list). This park is historically, legally, and by use a nature park. The proposed “improvements” totally lose track of the nature of the park. Hard to say what my personal favorite is for stupidest recommendation: I think it’s a tie between zip lines and an urban agriculture farm.

    • ph7

      But is it safe to assume the meeting attendees were largely Ashton Heights residents, who prefer to keep the park unimproved and to themselves, and not have other county residents driving through their neighborhood? A valid concern, but it may be as much NIMBYism as it is concern over which improvements maximize enjoyment of the nature park for all county (and regional) residents.

      • Since you impugned…

        ph7: you are wrong. This is not NIMBYism. I, for one, don’t live in Ashton Heights. The park is open and accessible to all today. This misguided proposal is a solution seeking a problem that is not there. We don’t need another mall or Disneyland like adventure park with zip lines and welcome centers. Leave nature parks to nature, it’s not that complicated.

        • Josh S

          This park is hardly wilderness. There is no spot from within the park where you can’t hear the rush of traffic on the GW parkway or the roar of planes overhead landing at National Airport. Most places in the park have views of neighborhood homes. There is not much nature to spoil here.

          Putting ALL of these things into place is probably not even feasible, let alone wise. But some of the features I think would add some fun and perhaps character / whimsy, which is always a good thing.

          • Big Yellow Taxi

            Yup, it’s already near the parkway, so lets just keep paving to add “character/whimsy” – seriously?

          • speonjosh

            Who said anything about paving? I think of all the items on the list above, the bus turnaround/plaza/welcome area is the most ridiculous.

            It really is possible to use a bit more imagination and realize that it’s possible to have a nuanced response to an issue.

          • DCBuff

            “There is not much nature to spoil here”–yes, with all those other parts of ArlCo with more than 67 acres of largely forested, undeveloped land, PORP really doesn’t have “much nature” in comparison. Your post demonstrates you haven’t spent much time in the park or understand its place in the ecosystem or contribution to the community.

          • Josh S

            Err, not to start a pissing contest, but I’d put my hours in the park against your hours in the park any day.

            I don’t doubt that having that much forest in the middle of an urban area is a nice thing. But Central Park is ten times bigger and no one claims it’s some sort of wilderness area. Potomac Overlook is hardly a “nature park.” It’s a park. A big one and on hilly ground. But to add an orchard or scout camping area or an urban farm area are all things that the park can easily absorb, would not significantly alter its character or its “place in the ecosystem” and might actually increase some people’s appreciation of the outdoors.

          • drax

            There is plenty of nature to spoil there, Josh. It’s not a giant parking lot, yet.

        • ph7

          DCBUff see me straight on AH (then called me foolish, LOL).

          • Since you are confused..

            dude..wrong guy, “Ashton Heights” is not me…I just agree with him/her…

          • DCBuff

            What, if “AH” had registered as Tara or Penrose you wold have said that 90% of the attendees were residents of those neighborhoods and they were NIMBY’s. AH is nowhere near PORP, so an AH’s resident can hardly be accused of NIMBYism. Get ArlCo geography right before you make foolish comments.

          • ph7

            Easy, cowboy. You’re right about Ashton Heights. I was thinking Woodmont (see The Fellowship reference). I stand corrected (and still stand by the NIMBY claim).

          • Geographer

            Not in Woodmont either. Keep guessing.

        • No Changes

          ph7: The park is no where near Ashton Heights. It’s in Bellevue Forest, Beechwood, Donaldson Run, and Rivercrest.

      • Geographer

        The park is not even in Ashton Heights. Not from around here, I assume.

        • ph7

          I’m from here, just got it wrong. Walk my dogs in Potomac Overlook, and Windy Run, couple times a week when the weather’s warm.

          • Piling on

            Don’t let your dogs get run over by the tour buses, scared by kids zipping overhead on lines or spooked by big name bands jamming in the otherwise serene setting (despite Pkwy nearby and planes overhead…it’s a nice respite in an otherwise urban area, after all).

          • speonjosh

            It’s a freaking little regional park. Is the hyperbole / exaggeration / fear mongering really necessary?

    • Mark

      Agree with those who oppose the list of new entertainment do dads for the park. Leave it alone – Arlington has too little open space as it is.

    • Courthouse Diva

      Good for the audience! those of us who use the park love it the way it is.

      • speonjosh

        “The American people understand that what we need is…….[insert personal opinion here]…..”

  • Concerned

    These aren’t improvements. The Park Authority will ruin a rare wooded preserve to increase its revenue.

  • Since you asked…

    Indeed it’s a wonderful park and green space, nestled in the peaceful woods with short
    trails that connect to another trail that winds all the way to the Potomac. It
    already has a nice amphitheater, education center, picnic area, tennis/basketball
    courts, bathrooms and bird sanctuary. With all that, everyone is welcome to come
    and enjoy it’s natural scenic beauty and abundant wildlife. So…why yes…let’s
    now make it more like a mall because people need to be entertained: add bus
    stops and a turnpike-like “welcome plaza.” Create Zip line rides for the kids who
    find nature too boring itself. Bring in “bigger names” for pricier
    concerts. Heck, I bet we can get a combo Starbucks/Chick-fil-A mini-food court while
    we are at it! Maybe show movies on some outdoor flat screen to watch nature in
    high def too…

    Ok. Yes, put in a few extra parking spaces, fix up some of the existing
    shelters/buildings, but leave it at that. People are free to go faux rock
    climb at Dyno-rock and go enjoy big name groups at Wolf Trap. Let Potomac Overlook park stay just that: a park. Sheesh.

  • drax

    This kind of reveals the mindset of some of these ideas:

    “Do fewer concerts with bigger names to improve returns.”

    Returns? Is that the goal? Is this a business?

  • DonEnrique

    This park is a nature preserve, enjoyed by thousands of Arlingtonians every year, and just fine the way it is. The proposal and plan, which was passed completely under the radar without community input, shows what happens when bureaucrats need to find reasons to keep their jobs expanding no matter what the rationale. How many tens of thousands of dollars were spent on the two studies, and how many hundreds of thousands will be spent on these so-called improvements that are mainly aimed at increasing revenues? Meanwhile, a perfectly good and valued nature preserve gets ruined. It’s almost enough to turn me into a Republican.

    • drax

      “NVRPA is currently focusing on soliciting comments and suggestions from
      the community, which can be emailed to [email protected]. NVRPA will
      hold at least one more meeting with community members regarding
      finalized plans before renovations begin.”

      And Republican? Why? Are you under the impression that this is an Arlington County park run by the county board?

    • acdc hack

      Welcome to Arlington of 2013 !!

  • Abe Froman

    There is something missing from this article, a $. How much? How about we trade the street cars for it? Or an aquatic center.

  • GreaterClarendon

    Love the park as is, but would like a few more kid friendly adventure / activity (basically points of interest to discuss) when hiking on trails — but watch out for the poison ivy everywhere – just seeing it makes me break out.

  • MicheleWoodward

    I’m a neighbor of the park, living right down
    the street on Marcey Road. I am extremely concerned about the changes
    being proposed. The park doesn’t exist in a vacuum – there is a pool,
    and a tennis facility, and a basketball court, set among residential
    homes and served by small surface roads. With the increased traffic and
    the increased noise, I fear we would be creating an unsustainable
    monster under the proposed plan. It’s not like people can take a freeway to Potomac Overlook – look, nature! one exit away! – but rather, they must drive through densely populated residential neighborhoods. And there is already a lot of traffic to the park area. Did anyone consider the traffic situation?

    • YorktownStudent

      Not to be snarky but where it seems like you live has a lot of traffic in the first place. Maybe you should have considered that when you moved there? I don’t think that the park is going to have a crazy amount more of traffic. If anything it would be more school groups during the workday. I’m sure the county will deal with the traffic once it becomes an issue.

      • MicheleWoodward

        Well, I used to live on Lee Highway and also on Columbia Pike, so I know a little bit about traffic. 🙂

  • YorktownStudent

    All of the improvements sound great minus the Zipline/Rock wall. A lot of aspects of the park need repair. In terms of summer camps/school groups I think introducing ” Arlington city kids” to nature is a wonderful thing and something the park should help promote. I don’t think though there will be significantly larger crowds on the weekend maybe in the shelter areas/amphitheater and looking at the animals but not on the farther trails. Also if you’re looking for a hike this park really isn’t the place to go. Urban agriculture is actually a really cool idea and a new wave of the future. It be cool to something implemented and spread possibly around the county. FYI my perspective is coming from someone who’s worked with the Student Conservation Group and likes backpacking/hiking.

  • Ashton Heights

    For ph7 – there were only two of us from Ashton Heights. Potomac Overlook is a long way from Ashton Heights. The audience seemed to be partly from the park area and partly from elsewhere. This is not a NIMBY issue, but rather about preserving the ONLY nature park in Arlington County.


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