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Progressive Voice: Popularity of Rocky Run Park

Peter OwenProgressive Voice is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

Meeting the diverse interests of Arlington residents about how best to make use of available open space is not an easy challenge. The recent renovations at Rocky Run Park meet that challenge and are a tremendous success. Walk by any summer afternoon or evening and you will see Arlington’s residents out enjoying this newly updated park.

The park reopened in early April and the joy felt by park users is nearly palpable. Improvements to the 2.4 acre site include:

  • Playgrounds for both tots and school-age children
  • A new picnic shelter for birthday parties and social events
  • Two lighted hard-surface courts; one can be used for both basketball and volleyball
  • A lighted multi-use synthetic turf field for pick-up games
  • Exercise stations, benches and chess tables
  • Substantially improved ADA accessibility
  • Extensive landscaping, including additional planting near the adjacent substation

In addition, the county relocated the labyrinth previously located at Arlington’s Whitman Walker Clinic to provide a quiet and contemplative green space within the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor.

How did these renovations occur? I credit the successful collaboration between the community and county government.

The Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association’s Neighborhood Conservation Advisory Committee (NCAC) Plan adopted in 2007 pointed to the park and its oversubscribed and outdated equipment as an opportunity for improvement. Kristine Wood, our hardworking NCAC representative, brought neighbors together to request action. Responding to her leadership, county staff initiated a conversation with the CCCA to scope the redevelopment of Rocky Run as an NCAC project.

Following months of dialogue, NCAC citizen volunteers recommended the project to the County Board for funding, which was accomplished through a combination of pay as you go and park bond funding.

With the funding plan in place, Department of Parks and Recreation staff met with a CCCA work group comprised of active and interested members of varying ages. Neighborhood children were directly consulted on playground and other aspects of the park. Feedback was sought from elderly neighbors about making the park attractive and accessible.

By the spring of 2011, a collaborative, conceptual design for the park was in place. After our Civic Association unanimously approved the concepts, county staff worked with project engineers to refine and finalize a construction design that earned support from the county’s Park and Recreation Commission and Environment and Energy Conservation Commission.

When the plans were widely publicized on ARLnow.com, most residents were pleased, but some neighbors expressed concerns about certain parts of the plans and their understandable expectation for more direct notice than that provided mainly by civic association volunteers. (Since then, I have seen the county make improvements in how it provides similar notices.)

Even at this stage in the community planning process, County Board members and staff met with nearby neighbors in the summer of 2012, heard their concerns, and ultimately made additional refinements to the park design. In November 2012, the County Board unanimously approved a $2.95 million contract to fund the first stage of park improvements.

What do we have to show for this investment of time and resources? Living a block away from the park and walking by it daily, I see how popular the park is with Arlington’s parents, children, amateur ballplayers and other residents.

As one online reviewer stated: “Other than the schools this park may be the single greatest benefit to having kids in Clarendon-Courthouse area. I brought my 11-year old niece here and she immediately wished she lived with me so she could play here forever.”

If I were 11, I’m sure I would feel the same way.

The park is a success for local homeowners as well. Within weeks of the park opening, real estate agents were already advertising the park as a key amenity. Concerns about parking do not seem to have been realized as many users of this park live within walking distance. I understand that police have been responsive to nighttime noise complaints.

Rocky Run Park is the result of a vision established through an extensive and collaborative community process. Thanks to neighborhood leaders, NCAC volunteers, the County Board, and county staff for helping develop, shape and realize this vision.

Peter Owen has lived in Arlington for more than 15 years, and has had many volunteer roles including President of the Clarendon-Courthouse Civic Association, Chairman of the Civic Federation’s Executive Committee, and Chairman of Arlington County’s Transportation Commission.  

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